Collaboration among diverse participants

“…the challenge of bringing into interaction not only a wider range of researchers, but a wider range of social agents, and to the challenge of keeping them working through differences and tensions until plans and practices are developed in which all the participants are invested.”

The quote comes from p.199 of my book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement Chicago UP (2005). In this book, I argue (quoting here from my website homepage) “that both the situations studied and the social situation of the researchers can be characterized in terms of unruly complexity or ‘intersecting processes’ that cut across scales, involve heterogeneous components, and develop over time. These cannot be understood from an outside view; instead positions of engagement must be taken within the complexity. Knowledge production needs to be linked with planning for action and action itself in an ongoing process so that knowledge, plans, and action can be continually reassessed in response to developments — predicted and surprising alike.”

The emphasis on “involv[ing] heterogeneous components” poses a challenge for such a process view of knowledge-making and reassessing, thus the question this session aims to address. The emphasis on “cut[ting] across scales” also sets up a tension that concerns me, namely, taking seriously the participation of diverse people whose livelihood is directly dependent on an ecosystem or city or…, and, at the same time, acknowledging researchers’ professional identities and abilities as people who can contribute analyses of changes that arise beyond the local region or at a larger scale than the local.

A 18 Feb. 2010 faculty seminar addressed these challenges through a post-it brainstorming and clustering (described elsewhere).   In brief, to generate ideas on post-its participants were asked to: “Imagine a project you’re working on or and endeavor you’d like to pursue. It’s 2-3 years in the future. You meet a friend and are telling them how wonderful it is that the project is managing to ‘bring… into interaction not only a wider range of researchers, but a wider range of social agents, and [kept] them working through differences and tensions until plans and practices are developed in which all the participants are invested.’ The friend asks what has contributed to making that possible.”  Each participant then grouped the post-its and named the resulting clusters, then grouped those clusers, etc.  This is my synthesis.

Later, I subject the clusters to back-of-the-envelope “interpretive structural modeling,” in which the cluster is lower in the diagram and linked to a cluster above it if the addressing or acknowledging the consideration reflected in the first cluster makes it easier to address the consideration reflected in the second cluster. The result is given in a prezi presentation, in which the clusters are also grouped within three frames as defined in the original synthesis, and these are grouped into one overall theme at the top.*

* This prezi can be viewed as a whole by zooming in or out using the + and – button. Or, by clicking the arrow you can trace the various pathways of the form addressing/acknowledging the lower consideration makes it easier to address the higher consideration. Or, by clicking the More button you can do this automatically and can see a full screen view.

It is interesting to note that addressing or acknowledging that “FEAR IS REAL, BUT WE HAVE HAD SECURE BASES” lies at the root. In the jargon of ISM, it is a deep driver. (Conversely, not taking time/space to address that makes it harder to make progress on the other concerns.)

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