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Building a Community of Solution Seekers

Oct 1, 2018


As environmental challenges become increasingly complex, the need for broadly focused approaches grows. That calls for an entirely new community to coalesce and learn from each other, according to Gabriele Bammer, a professor at the Australian National University.

Bammer visited Stanford recently as part of a larger effort to build a worldwide coalition around engaged science or transdisciplinary research. This approach is geared toward tackling real-world problems through the synthesis of disciplinary and stakeholder knowledge, understanding and managing diverse unknowns and providing integrated research support for policy and practice change.

“There is huge interest in tackling the problems of the world more effectively,” Bammer said in a separate interview.

Bammer spoke with graduate students in Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER), and held a video conference with fellows from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment’s Leopold Leadership Program, a training program for North American environmental researchers. Leopold and E-IPER share a focus on working collectively across disciplines and boundaries to find effective solutions.

Despite reasons for optimism, challenges abound. Academia is still largely focused on and rewarding of disciplinary pursuits. A more fundamental challenge: Describing engaged science, transdisciplinary or the knowledge to action pathway is not easily defined. Bammer acknowledged the issue in her conversation with Leopold fellows, but called for “tolerance to that messiness.”

Bammer is an evangelist for the transdisciplinary vision, working with researchers around the world to build community, influence related policy and funding decisions and lay the ground work for changes within the academic infrastructure to support focusing on complex problems.

Along the way, engaged science researchers can stay abreast of the field through the Integration and Implementation Insights (i2Insights) blog, and delve into a repository of resources in an overview website, which Bammer curates. The website features:

  • detailed advice about the process of engaging stakeholders
  • Integration and Implementation  concepts and methods for undertaking research on complex real-world problems
  • research integration and implementation practices guided by particular principles
  • case stories of applying I2S tools or approaches
  • journals that publish I2S-related research
  • professional associations and networks that bring together researchers who are focused on 'how' to better understand and act on complex real-world problems
  • conferences that cover I2S tools, approaches and cases

In the meantime, Bammer and others will continue to seek a way forward.

“If we want to honor our diversity, we can never have a perfect answer,” Bammer said after her conversation with Leopold fellows. “What we need to look for is a reasonable accommodation that minimizes inequality in this.” To find that accommodation will require “playing by the rules of academia,” Bammer said, demanding new approaches and guidelines  in terms of tenure, promotion and other career details, as well as integrating engaged science skills into  courses.

Read Leopold Leadership Program narratives of engaged science on Enabling Long-Term Planning in the Montérégie Region of Quebec and Leadership Lessons from an Initiative to Transform Iowa Agriculture.

Read about the Stanford Woods Institute’s Leading Interdisciplinary Collaborations program, which coaches early- and mid-career Stanford faculty on collective leadership, an approach that inverts traditional academic norms of one-way knowledge sharing.


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