Knowledge formation and knowledge ecosystems

Knowledge formation and knowledge ecosystems

Enabling Strategic Intelligence on Energy and Environmental Security Impacts and Consequences, International Design Team Meeting, Glasgow, Scotland 8-9 November 2007, Executive Summary, December 10, 2007.

  • At the national level, decision-makers lack sufficient knowledge regarding how key energy and the environmental security relationships can affect regional and global stability.

  • A viable strategic intelligence capability for energy and environmental security issues does not lend itself to the traditional national security framework.

  • Today’s strategic environment features security-related challenges that are global in scale and systemic in nature, and can best be assessed with a strategic intelligence capability that is similarly global and systemic.

  • The Glasgow Group suggests building a new global commons security capability; i.e., an energy and environmental ‘knowledge ecosystem’ in which a broad diversity of entities contribute to knowledge creation, aggregation, filtering and sense-making.

Knowledge Integration: Theory and Practice, Jochen Hinkel, (abstract), Mistra Institute, Mistra-SWECIA Science Seminar 5, 28 May 2008. 

This paper explores how transdisciplinary knowledge integration can be facilitated in the context of integrated assessments (IAs) and vulnerability assessments (VAs) of climate change. Even though knowledge from a wide range of natural and social science disciplines must be integrated in such transdisciplinary assessments (TAs), the actual process of integration is rarely addressed explicitly and methodically. This paper reviews the methodological status quo of IAs, VAs and TAs in general, develops concepts for speaking about knowledge integration, suggests how knowledge integration could be facilitated and then applies these considerations to four cases taken from the domains of IA and VA. Knowledge integration is conceptualised into the two subsequent phases of the elaboration of a shared language and the design of a methodology. Three devices for facilitating knowledge integration are put forward:

  • semantic ascent or the shift from speaking in a language to speaking in a meta-language about the former,

  • formalisation or the translation of statements made in ordinary or technical language into a formal language,

  • knowledge integration methods, which are methods that provide a meta-language for speaking about the knowledge to be integrated and organise the process of integration.

A world made new through love and reason: what future for ‘development’?, Michael Edwards, openDemocracy, 26 April 2007

The need for effective, imaginative, change-facilitating research has never been greater. But what kinds of knowledge, and what processes of knowledge-creation, can today best serve the needs of a world dominated by power, prejudice and dogma? For me, the big questions are three:

  • “development” versus social transformation: what’s the best conceptual and analytical frame in which to do development work going forward?

  • are we co-creators of knowledge, or do we see the world divided between producers and consumers?

  • is our role to deliver academic products or to utilise knowledge in facilitating the essential public work of democratic deliberation and problem-solving?

Three big questions, then, and a pretty good recipe for revolutionary social science when taken together. What would follow, when each of them is answered in the affirmative? If, that is:

  • the frame we use is social transformation not development

  • we are co-creators of knowledge, not producers and consumers

  • engagement in the public sphere is good way to promote a closer relationship between knowledge and social transformation.

I would argue for more “symphonic poems”, to use a musical analogy, and fewer endless variations on a theme – or even worse, proliferations of disassembled parts for particular instruments. I’m not arguing for more “symphonies” in development studies – more universal abstractions in other words, devoid of grounding in empirical detail – but more systematic efforts to make connections, identify patterns of cause and effect across time and space, place individual experiences in their wider context, help people sift through the costs and benefits of policies and actions, and contest accepted orthodoxies on urgent issues like dealing with difference; the changing roles of states, markets and civil society; and how to rebuild new sources of legitimate authority to create and enforce norms and regulations in multipolar, multilayered governance regimes at all levels of the world system.

The Millennium Assessment Perspective and Process: Implications for Environmental Governance, Richard B. Norgaard, 2005. 

I am making a radical analytical argument. I do not argue for adjustments here and there, out on the branches of governance today. Rather, this analysis moves toward the roots of the tree, back to basic questions about science and governance.

There is no way around the difficulties of having to work on particular aspects of complex systems, and as individuals that is typically about all that we can do. At the same time, some scientists and those who implement science through policy and management must coordinate with others so that unwanted systemic effects are avoided. Similarly, There is no way around the difficulties of working across scales, from the local to the global and back again, without dealing with contradictions between grand global goals and locally lived lives. Dilemmas and ambiguities will always be with us. It is the nature of real social and ecological systems that everything is connected to everything else in very complex ways.

The problem is that earlier, narrow concepts about the nature of science still dominate and have structured our social organization such that our efforts to coordinate our understanding and adapt it to the problems at hand are always seriously constrained. We accepted the concept of private property and put the burden of proof on those who sought the public good. We allowed science to fragment into disciplines and gave the disciplines the primary responsibility in universities to judge the styles and quality of scientific work. We established agencies to promote particular ends using particular parts of science. In short, we built a world around the belief that complex systems could be divided into parts. These separate institutions and agencies channel the bulk of the resources not only of science and how it relates to economic development but also how it relates to biological conservation and speaking for the poor as well. Similarly, we have instituted international agreements and designed international institutions as if solutions could be global. We try to work through our imperfect organizational structures to solve the problems that result in part from fragmentation and false beliefs about the broad applicability of economic, social, and environmental mandates. We know what the problems are. Nevertheless, both how hard we try and the acceptance of what we learn are still limited by the dominance of earlier beliefs about the nature of social and environmental systems, about the nature of science, and hence about the nature of the organizational structure built around those beliefs.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment offered an unusual opportunity for a significant number of scientists to work outside of the conventional fragmented structures of science and its implementation. The work was difficult and time consuming, but most of the participants pursued it until the end. The MA process went a long way toward developing the capability among the participants to comprehensively address the complexity of social and ecological system interactions at multiple scales. It also went a long way toward developing the trust necessary to facilitate treating apparently similar situations, such as balancing economic needs with pollution control or species conservation, differently in different situations.

The primary political and policy implication of the MA is that we need to substantial increase our understanding of how we collectively assess complex problems and then extend this understanding to all of the scientific community, policy makers and politicians, and the public at large. Then we need to reconstruct our institutions of governance to match our new richer understanding of the complexity of our interactions with our environment and the collective processes by which we can understand this complexity.

Collaboration and Sensemaking, Hybrid Vigor Institute [blog]

While the potential benefits of collaborative problem solving are enormous, few people have the knowledge or the tools to approach a problem collaboratively. Collaborative Practice is where Hybrid Vigor spotlights best practices for conducting collaborative work, importantly including the concept of sensemaking — the process that is undertaken to understand the connections between people, places, and events in order to make decisions about complex or uncertain situations, so that individuals and organizations can act in a principled and informed manner. We also develop new methods that incorporate a practical understanding of the social nature of these kinds of processes, and look for others who are doing the same. We want to study the components and factors that drive collaborations and sensemaking processes to success — and just as importantly, to failure. We also are interested in compiling worked examples and case studies of cross-sector, cross-disciplinary collaborative and sensemaking projects.

Final Report: A Multi-Method Analysis of the Social and Technical Conditions for Interdisciplinary Collaboration, Diana Rhoten, Hybrid Vigor Institute, September 2003.

There has been a groundswell of discussion about the current complexity of scientific problems demanding interdisciplinary treatments. And, while this has lead to a clear programmatic shift among many government agencies and university administrators toward funding and founding more interdisciplinary research centers, we believe it has actually signaled a much deeper, truly paradigmatic shift among younger scholars. Our conversations with graduate students indicate that many young scholars today are attracted to interdisciplinary research not only because they identify the potential for scientific discovery, but also because they equate interdisciplinary research with the opportunity to apply these discoveries to societal problems. Without conflating interdisciplinary science with applied science (or social science with societal implications, for that matter), we believe this dynamic between discovery for the sake of science and the application of science for the sake of society presents is a moment of academic redefinition and university reform, at the center of which – if implemented correctly – could and should sit interdisciplinary research centers.

Based on our analysis of the form and function of such centers, to be done correctly,
interdisciplinary research centers need to be well-funded, well-respected organizations, which have an independent physical and intellectual center outside of and different from a traditional university department. These centers must have a clearly identified and mutually understood organizing principle – be it a problem, product, or project – around which researchers are then selected on the basis of a specific technical, methodological, topical contribution and to which researchers are fully committed on the basis of a general intellectual, epistemological, personal belief.

On the Power and Limits of Human Know-How, Daniel Sarewitz and Richard R. Nelson.

Human know-how, the tacit and formal knowledge that guides actions to achieve a
particular practical objective, has advanced rapidly in some areas of human endeavor, but not in others. In this essay we propose a new theory to help explain the sources of strong know-how. Improved understanding of the origins of know-how could help guide strategies for human problem-solving.

The Role of Think Tanks in Defining Security Issues and Agendas, Peter Hayes, Global Collaborative Essay: October 21st, 2004

Transnational Thinknets (TTNs) tend to be either highly effective by communicating across borders and behind the scenes; or speak truth to power without inhibition; and if they are not just maverick, but also provide top quality information and analysis, TTNs often run rings around many competing traditional think tanks in terms of timeliness, accuracy, insight (especially early warning of pending events, emerging issues, or anomalies in conventional perspectives) combined with connectivity to networked policymakers.

World Problematique, About the Club of Rome

World Problematique is a concept created by the Club of Rome to describe the set of the crucial problems – political, social, economic, technological, environmental, psychological and cultural – facing humanity. The complexity of the world problematique lies in the high level of mutual interdependence of all these problems on the one hand, and in the long time it often takes until the impact of action and reaction in this complex system becomes visible.

 Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
17 May 2008