Methodologies for Interdisciplinary Research by Ramon Sangüesa

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Text by Ramon Sangüesa.

Processes

Minimum: generating the frame, co-creation, Integration Ideal: Backtrack, Integration, Reorientation

There are three inescapable stages involved in the processes that organise transdisciplinary projects. In the description that follows, it should not be assumed that there is a fixed, linear structure linking the stages discussed. Each stage should be taken as a node, or a point of support, from which to gain perspective and connect to other stages.

(1) An initial stage for framing the problem, question, or area of work. In other words, for agreeing upon and describing the problem framework that is to be tackled through the integration of two or more disciplines. Framing has its own methods, which spread over the continuum of collaboration and equality. Ideally, all participants of a project should carry out the framing process. For one group to impose its own framing is at odds with the notion of a transdisciplinary project.

(2) A co-creation stage, in which participants create knowledge together. This co-creation process is the heart of transdisciplinary research. It combines learning and research into a single action. Learning, in unexplored epistemic zones of action is the research itself. Research in these zones generates learning in participants.

(3) An integration stage. Integration corresponds to a stage consisting of reflective practice, which can either be interwoven into co-creation, or carried out after the fact. Integration gives rise to several types of knowledge. A very important one is the knowledge that emerges from actual reflection on the process that has been carried out. The corresponding analysis offers opportunities to represent and originate new forms of processes, new stages, and new methods. On another level, it makes it possible to renegotiate objectives, change the structure of the process, its forms of governance, etc. It also enables mapping the knowledge learnt in the fields of action pertaining to different participants. And, lastly, it can also establish new fields of action.


Framing Methods

There are several types of approaches to narrowing the field of action. Some see transdisciplinarity as a means to resolve problems, some generate hypotheses that lead to new fields of action, and some generate questions.

As a guide, examples of methods of the first “colour” include all the inherently participatory and transdisciplinary methods that were developed to tackle “wicked” problems (Rittel 1973).

Examples of the second and third types include the methods developed through participatory design, metadesign (Giaccardi, 2005), and social innovation processes. An important aspect of this last case is the use of exhibitions to start the process and to generate reflective practice (which we consider part of the integration stage), (Penin, 2013):

Lastly, it is important to emphasise the methods based on producing experiences, events, or objects that generate questions – the “strange object” (Sangüesa, 2014). The problem, question, or working hypothesis eventually emerges through these discussions. In this sense, critical making (Ratto, 2011) and some speculative and critical design methods (Dunne and Rabby, 2013) that tie in with conceptual artistic practices are a good guide for finding and developing methods during this stage.

Examples:

- VOICES Project

The VOICES project is primarily a consultation to discover the preferences and opinions of people from across 27 European countries in order to shape research directions that are in keeping with the interests of citizens. The framing of the problem consisted of identifying these directions, and how to connect them. In the framing process, which includes many framing and co-creation methods and techniques, workshops were held in each country in order to detect the types of problems to be studied. Some of the fields of action that emerged necessarily had to include different disciplines. - RRI Tools Project

RRI Tools is a transdisciplinary project that brings together social sciences, technology, and policy making. It studies the basic concepts required to develop socially responsible research and innovation.

The framing of the research project involved several participatory workshops to identify the areas and ethical aspects that form the boundaries of the research... on responsible research.

- Policy Design Project

The Policy Design Project was developed by several researchers from the fields of design and political sciences with links to the urban area of Chicago. It uses a “framing kit” to detect aspects that require new policies. This kit includes practices that are variants of the conception and prototyping methods used to create new laws and regulations in the urban area.

Co-Creation Methods

Co-creation refers “any act of collective creativity, i.e., creativity that is shared between two or more people. The intent is to create something not known in advance” (Sanders, 2008).

Interestingly, many co-creation methods seek to place participants in a generative space of potentiality that can also give rise to new insights in regard to the activity that is being co-created. “Prototyping” would be a good encapsulation of the non-discursive, interactive approach in this activity, not in the sense of commercial prototyping but as a means to create conceptual or detailed models (Corsín, 2013), (Schrange, 1996).

The justification for these types of approaches lies in anthropological methods based on materiality as a source of knowledge (Ingold, 2013, 2007).

Lastly, there is also a whole series of co-creation methods that appeal to the body and performativity, such as “bodystorming” (Oulasvirta, 2003).

Examples:

- Exhibition as a form of integrated framing and co-creation

Amplifying Creating Communities: North Brooklyn is a participatory research project that looks at new approaches to urban renewal. It combines transdisciplinary work including design, urbanism, visual anthropology, sociology, new audiovisual media, and museum practices. After collecting ethnographic information using visual anthropology methods, the researchers launched a co-creation process with residents of North Brooklyn. As a result, in the second stage, they themselves created an exhibition about their views and demands for a new urbanism. The exhibition led to the involvement of new agents and disciplines, and to a renegotiation of some of the project objectives.

- Walkshop: Urban Performative Research

Walkshops are a variation on the urban derive that draw attention to aspects of technological and information control mechanisms that are spread through the city. This activity allows participants to identify (“frame”) questions and working hypothesis.

Integration Methods: Reflective Practice and Analysis

Integration methods seek to visualise the knowledge that is generated, its problems, conflicts, points of consensus, and points of dissent. The objective is to generate joint reflexion and learning among the participants, in order to decide on several aspects of the process: whether to continue or terminate a project, “forking”, new objectives, new indicators, new questions, and so on. These methods also seek to isolate new knowledge generated in the process, including process-based knowledge.

Integration methods are often based on conceptual mapping techniques and dialogue analysis. “Critical making” can also be used during this stage to elicit and explicitly identify the points of conflict that have emerged in the process. Lastly, some variants of “controversy mapping” are also useful for this purpose.

Integration can include the visualisation of new fields of action, and the transformation of the initial fields that the participants originally positioned themselves within.

Exemples:

- Visualisation for Critical Analysis

Co-Creation of an Innovation Ecosystem for Good Journalism is a transdisciplinary project in the framework of the Knowledge Federation. It aims to generate new journalism in the current context of globalisation, privatisation, questioning of the media, and crisis of representation.

In this project, the approach to journalistic “issues” is constantly questioned and renegotiated. The project involves the explicit mapping of concepts, debates and controversies, through processes that are shared among all participants. The discussion and ontological maps are constructions that emerge from the development of the actual project, and they are used during practical sessions for joint reflection based on these structured visual representations.

- Integrating Indigenous Knowledge and High-Tech

Eugenio Tisselli carried out the project Sauti ya wakulima in order to explore how to generate information and communication technologies that could help farmers in Tanzania to improve their agricultural practices. The project was based on the use of mobiles by farmers to share their observations and comments on their crops, weather conditions (rainfall, growth, etc.), and so on. The aim was to develop new forms of agricultural management practices and knowledge, and new ways of using technology that fit in with indigenous views.


Mediation – Translation

Methodology for a mediation-translation process in which all of the disciplines are represented. Sharing the mediation process. Replicability as a form of mediation-translation. Open Peer Review.

Mediation and translation are activities that seek to make the most of the frictions, conflicts, misunderstandings, and epistemic gaps in a project and use them for decision making and to detect new research possibilities.

Translation can be understood as the transfer or reformulation of knowledge from one field of action or one group of participants to another. It can also transform the fields involved.

Meanwhile, mediation could be considered to refer to the mechanisms that enable the creation of spaces and devices for managing disagreements, conflicts, and misunderstandings, in regard to the objects of knowledge of the fields involved or emerging fields, and also to knowledge of the actual process. In this sense, it would also tie in with reflective practice.

The fact that mediation can be explicitly set out in communicable languages and formats creates the possibility of its replicability in other transdisciplinary projects.

Mediation can either be exercised through a specific role assigned to a particular participant, or through a series of rules, regulations, and conventions that are carried out in a distributed manner.

Mediation includes the creation of opportunities and spaces for dissent and conflict. These spaces are temporary forms of institution, where certain conventions and rules defined by the group of participants operate.

Mediation rules/spaces.

Examples:

- London Docks

London Docks was a project by the artist Rebecca Leeson Dunn (2007), which involved the residents of the area known as the London Docks. The best-known and most visible part of the project was a series of photo-murals displayed at six sites in the London Docks and surrounding area. The images were produced through a process of research and discussion with members of the Poster Co-op community, which included representatives of all the tenants and associations active in the port area. This activity carried out in conjunction with citizens was able to define a subject of resistance and organise mediation with the urban planning developers. In other words, the mediation process began with an artistic approach to the whole project, but led to a negotiated planning.

- Sauti ya wakulima

The project worked very well, but Tisselli, in disagreement with other members of the project team, believed that all the software and hardware had to be open source so as to ensure the replicability of the project. As the team was unable to agree on this point, the project was terminated.


Dissent (or Conflict)

Provoking dissent, remaining within ethical limits

The creation of “de-institutionalised” spaces in which conflict is possible: collective self-critical practices? Provoking dissent as a methodology by which to create fields of action

Examples:

- Julian Oliver, Aspects of critical technology

- When we Live to 150


Community

Creating process for aligning interests or discussing shared research questions. Creation of contexts of shared – and repetitive – performativity. Working together and side-by-side – caring for objectives and affects.

The community is principle and result, dynamic and static, in these types of processes.

Examples:

- London Docks

- Artic Oron Catts

- Latour Citizen Science

- Latour/Lafuente Miopatías


Instituting Competencies

Rotate leadership – methodology. Ongoing questioning of the structure. Taking into account the funding bodies (beyond the logo).


Standards

Pool the different standards. Situate the standards at the time and place where the project begins and grows. Renegotiate ritualised standards.


References

Alberto Corsín Jiménez. (2013) “The prototype: more than many and less than one” in Journal of Cultural Economy. Special Issue, Prototyping cultures: art, science and politics in beta, ed.

Dunn, Peter and Leeson, Loraine (2007) The Docklands photo-murals. In: Art and social change: a critical reader. Tate Publishing in Association with Afterall, UK, pp. 245-248. ISBN 978854376268.

Dunne, A. and Rabby, F. (2013). Speculative Everything. MIT Press.

Giaccardi, E. (2005).”Metadesign as an Emergent Design Culture”. Leonardo, 38:2.

Ingold, T. (2013). Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture. Routledge, London.

Ingold, T. Hallam, E. & Ingold, T. (2007). Creativity and Cultural Improvisation. A.S.A. Monographs, vol. 44, Berg Publishers, Oxford.

Antti Oulasvirta, Esko Kurvinen, and Tomi Kankainen. 2003. Understanding Contexts by Being There: Case studies in bodystorming. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 7, 2 (July 2003), 125-134.

Penin L., Forlano, L., Staszowski, E.,Designing in the Wild: Amplifying Creative Communities in North Brooklyn” Cumulus Helsinki Conference (2013). Retrieved 17 de April 2015.

Ratto, M. (2011) “Critical Making: conceptual and material studies in technology and social life”, The Information Society 27(4).

Rittel, Horst W. J.; Melvin M. Webber (1973). "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning" Policy Sciences 4: 155–169.

Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders, Pieter Jan Stappers “Co-creation and the new landscapes of design” in CoDesign. Vol. 4, No. 1, 2008.

Sangüesa, R. (2014). “Ni inter-, ni trans- ni multi-: la recerca en artciència com a proposta de disseny”. Lecture in the course Art i Ciència: Fusió Creativa. Universitat de Lleida. 28 November, 2014.

Michael Schrage. 1996. “Cultures of prototyping” in Bringing design to software, Terry Winograd (Ed.). ACM, New York, NY, USA 191-213.