Reflections from Wednesday morning session: “Tackling complexity by increasing complexity. Re-thinking knowledge processes through place-based transdisciplinary research”
Photo: Flickr Paolo Marchioro
In a nutshell: Some inspiring lessons from this session include the need to bridge: from local to global; between conceptual framing and practical application; as well as across multiple worldviews and perspectives to embrace different knowledge and ideas for sustainability solutions.
On the first day of the PECSII conference, five presenters talked about knowledge coproduction and tackling complexity in place-based transdisciplinary research. All five presenters (all women, to note) do not shy away from complexity, but rather are embracing it and fully engaging with it. They showed how local initiatives can be connected at multiple levels to engage in the process of global sustainability transformation.
Our transdisciplinary session included Maria Luisa Calderon Hinojosa, a Senator of the Mexican Senate, who talked about the Mexican Transdisciplinary Network (RETDES) that is overcoming gaps and difficulties, between actors from different groups, and societal domains. The network is facilitating a project to support artisanal potters to develop commercial outlets, and improve production techniques such as new kilns to replace the ones that have caused major health problems in the villages. The network connects local villagers, researchers, farmers, indigenous artisans and policy makers by overcoming language, cultural and trust barriers (see there lovely project video here).
Andra Horcea-Milcu (Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation, Leuphana University Germany) reinforced this, pointing out that, even within science, language is a barrier. In her semantic network analysis, she identified potential bridging concepts that can connect and synergise sustainability science and social-ecological research. “In this way, transdisciplinary “bridging” is achieved by increasing complexity,” she said.
Also in Mexico, in the tropical drylands, a transdisciplinary process is bringing together communities, NGOs, academics, government and media to deal with weather emergencies, in particular extreme drought. Ana L. Burgos (Centro de Investigaciones en Geografía Ambiental, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) told us about the successes and lessons learnt from this process including the importance of the media to ensure that regional problems achieve public status.
Meanwhile in Australia, My Sellberg (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden) is seeking to test the effectiveness and impact of the resilience framework for multi-actor natural resource planning. She presented four suggestions for applying the resilience framework. Firstly, assessing the opportunity context, second, establishing roles of entrepreneurs, interpreters and networkers, thirdly strategies to manage complexity and uncertainty, combined with managing in and up.
Across the Pacific to Quebec in Canada, freshwater ecosystem scientist, Roxane Maranger (Département des sciences biologiques, Université de Montréal), decided to try a more effective way to leverage sustainability at a regional scale. She and her colleagues set up the ReseauLab, to combine social innovation and open science movements to create a socio-ecological innovation system. This system is bringing together diverse kinds of knowledge to co-create ideas and solutions in an iterative process.
Roxane recognised that (according to Donella’s Meadows 12 leverage points system), scientific facts have a low leverage, whereas social values have very high leverage. “We need to work with partners to identify keystone natural asset: the highest social ecological leveraging point where we can build our scientific products and narratives for broad scale conservation,” she said.
Leverage Points and Keystone Natural Asset
In the end it is about people: bringing them together and strengthening networks across space, time and place. And this creates complexity in order to deal with complexity.
I am a transdisciplinary researcher at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany, far from my home turf in Australia. In between exploring Europe and riding Icelandic ponies, I work on knowledge coproduction in the Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation project, focusing on RETHINKing as a deep leverage point. With my family background in farming and my previous career in international agricultural research I am passionate about working in rural Southern Transylvania and Oldenburg in Germany.
When not diving the days away to find the perfect undiscovered fish I am a PostDoctoral researcher in the project Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation at the Leuphana University Lüneburg. Looking for deep levers for change I focus on how nature connectedness and landscape changes influence each other based on the examples of my home turf Germany and beautiful Transylvania. Through my interdisciplinary social science background my work is strongly based in the life experiences of the inhabitants of those changing landscapes.
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II CONFERENCE OF THE PROGRAMME ON ECOSYSTEM CHANGE AND SOCIETY