A look back – and the way ahead

My participation in TRACKS has come to an end for now. In this last blog post I will sum up my experiences as an inside observer in TRACKS over these past few months, and reflect on the main challenge I think the TRACKS researchers will face in the next phases of the project.

Photo: Anne Blanchard Copyright: www.uib.no
Photo: Anne Blanchard
Copyright: www.uib.no

Back to common sense

When I first heard about post-normal science it sounded alien and complicated to me. Throughout this semester I’ve learned that it’s rather the opposite. As someone said at a symposium SVT held at the University last week: Post-normal science is about going back to common sense. It emerged from the idea that in order to change the society and solve complex problems, our ways of doing research must also change. We can’t solve the problems we’re facing with the same science that created those problems. Thus, post-normal science is a critical challenge to traditional science.

We can’t solve the problems we’re facing with the same science that created those problems.

When we’re facing challenges like global warming with so much uncertainty, complexity and high stakes, we must acknowledge that we are not in control. The uncertainty and complexity cannot be removed, ignored or denied – it must be perceived as part of the picture we must act within. Post-normal science projects like TRACKS are indeed about seeing the whole picture. In the real world, everything is connected – so why shouldn’t scientific disciplines also be? It has been an inspiration to witness how the TRACKS researchers collaborate across their disciplines, how they are motivated by an enthusiasm to help Bangladeshi communities to cope with a destabilizing climate – and not least their humility towards different forms of knowledge.

Challenges with conflicting perceptions
As TRACKS progresses I think conflicting stories will be a major challenge. As the TRACKers have already experienced from their pilot in Bangladesh this autumn, the people interviewed have widely different perceptions of the same phenomena. I guess that may be the main challenge of post-normal science – acknowledging all kinds of perceptions can make it hard to reach consensus, which in turn might make it hard to agree on solutions.

Still I believe that through communication and respectful, constructive discussions between all stakeholders, it’s possible to come to a common understanding of the main problems – which will be the fundament for solutions to evolve. If not, I can’t imagine what kind of approach that will.

Photo: Anne Blanchard Copyright: www.uib.no
Photo: Anne Blanchard
Copyright: www.uib.no

My experiences as an inside observer

To be involved in a project doing research on one of the fields I am personally most engaged in, surrounded with inclusive, enthusiastic people, has been the ultimate learning situation for me. I believe all universities and faculties should have more courses that give students the opportunity to learn by doing. Thanks to Roger and all the TRACKers for the unique experience it has been to follow TRACKS as an inside observer – I’m looking forward to the continuation of this pioneer project.

How can TRACKS help Bangladeshi communities?

Photo: Scott Bremer Copyright: www.uib.no
Photo: Anne Blanchard
Copyright: www.uib.no

TRACKS is a climate research project, which ultimately will empower people of Bangladesh and help them cope with an uncertain future. But will it actually help to solve the fundamental problems that are causing this uncertainty?

I think the work TRACKS is doing is necessary and will be extremely important as the consequences of global warming continue to unfold. I believe and hope that the outcome of TRACKS will be useful knowledge that enables people of Bangladesh to deal with these consequences. Because, even if we manage to restrain global warming within two degrees, it’s too late to stop the consequences of the warming that has already occurred.

Even if we manage to restrain global warming within two degrees, it’s too late to stop the consequences of the warming thar has already occurred.

Over the next hundred years we can expect an increasingly unstable climate with extreme weather, floods and droughts. That’s why projects like TRACKS are important irrespective of how much the globe finally warms. Still, if we don’t manage to transform our society by changing our ways of living and stop the climate gas emissions, we might be facing a future with a hostile climate, threatening the very existence of future generations.

Adaptation vs. mitigation

We can draw an important distinction between adaptation and mitigation, with TRACKS focused more on adaptation. Adaptation is of course a crucial part of dealing with global warming, especially for the poorest countries. But is it enough? I can’t help wondering what knowledge about the weather will be worth if the sea levels rise due to global warming, forcing millions of Bangladeshi people to abandon their homes. How useful will this knowledge be if the warming continues, ecosystems, economics and societies collapse, and competition for clean water and food becomes a desperate war?

This is of course the worst case scenario. We cannot predict the future, and we can never know for sure how it’s going to be. Acknowledging this uncertainty, and allowing it to be part of the picture, is one of the key concepts of post-normal science. But knowing that the worst-case scenario could become reality should in my opinion be enough to promote profound changes.

Photo: Scott Bremer Copyright: www.uib.no
Photo: Anne Blanchard
Copyright: www.uib.no

Is TRACKS a band aid solution?

Will TRACKS contribute to the transformation of society, or will it be more like a band aid on a growing wound? Maybe the knowledge about the weather and identifying Bangladesh’s vulnerabilities is the right place to start in order to make changes happen. Maybe then we will also have a stronger fundament in terms of knowing what kinds of mitigation strategies each country needs.

Will TRACKS contribute to the transformation of society, or will it be more like a band aid on a growing wound?

The post-normal approach of TRACKS can also be used in future projects aiming to find concrete solutions. I just hope that with all the competence, open mindedness and commitment gathered in TRACKS, that this project is only the beginning of something bigger. The beginning of the new ways of approaching problems, new ways to think, which I’m convinced is necessary in order to solve the global challenges we are up against.

Post-normal science – an alternative approach to climate research

Photo: Anne Blanchard Copyright: www.uib.no
Photo: Anne Blanchard
Copyright: www.uib.no

As mentioned in previous posts, TRACKS is a so-called post-normal research project; which is a relatively new and groundbreaking approach to doing science. I’m starting to understand that the open mindedness I have seen and experienced in meetings with the TRACKS researchers, is fundamental for the post-normal science approach.

While “normal” science has traditionally been characterized by separated disciplines, each with their own cultures and methods, post-normal science aims to break these boundaries. This means that researchers from different disciplines not only work on the same project, but work together as a team. In a post-normal project like TRACKS, social scientists and natural scientists collaborate in developing the project and finding methods. Learning from each other and finding common solutions is the core of what interdisciplinarity is about.

While «normal» science has traditionally been characterized by seperated disciplines, each with their own cultures and methods, post-normal science aims to break these boundaries

Post-normal science takes this even a step further. My impression is that in the post-normal perspective, personality, self-awareness and humility are central to the research. Neutrality is not seen as a virtue – it’s rather seen as an illusion. Like one of the TRACKS researchers said at one of the workshops I participated in: “Everyone is biased”. Instead of trying to be “objective”, the TRACKers seem to acknowledge that everyone, researchers included, is steered by their own experiences, values and motivations – thus we all have different perspectives on the truth. Rather than trying to deny this, the TRACKers try to be aware of their biases and use them constructively in the project.

The TRACKers seem to acknowledge that everyone, researchers included, is steered by their own experiences, values and motivations

Valuing different kinds of knowledge

The TRACKers also value different kinds of knowledge, beyond science, which I have understood is another part of the post-normal science approach. This is what I mean by humility being part of the research. The TRACKS researchers don’t elevate scientists over other people, and don’t believe that scientists have more knowledge than less educated people. To them, it’s about respecting and valuing different kinds of knowledge and competence – and to gather these different types of information is exactly what they hope will be the outcome of TRACKS.

Photo: Scott Bremer Copyright: www.uib.no
Photo: Anne Blanchard
Copyright: www.uib.no

What I perceive as one of the main advantages of the post-normal science approach, is how the research’s quality is to be judged by all stakeholders. One of the most important aims of the TRACKS project is to do research that can actually be understood and used by communities in Bangladesh. In other words, the research is not only evaluated by criteria of what makes good science, but also includes criteria of what makes good knowledge for a local Bangladeshi fisherman for example.

A wider perspective

What I think is so inspiring about TRACKS is how they manage to see the whole picture, and acknowledge that everything in a society is connected. In order to investigate and aim to find solutions to problems that will affect all aspects of society, such as climate change, I think such an approach is absolutely necessary. Of course it might be difficult for researchers to collaborate across disciplines and let go of their traditional ways of doing science. My experience from the TRACKS workshops however, is that all the researchers have a very patient and respectful attitude towards each other. The natural scientists take the time to explain to the social scientists their climate models, and the social scientists take the time to explain to the natural scientists the importance of open research questions. By doing research like this, I believe that TRACKS creates a wider understanding of the complexity of climate changes, which I’m sure must be the first step towards lasting solutions.

Doing Research Across Cultures

Photo: Scott Bremer Copyright: www.uib.no
Photo: Scott Bremer
Copyright: www.uib.no

One very interesting thing about TRACKS is the cultural diversity of the project. I participated in two workshops with the TRACKers in late August, with scientists from Norway, England, France, Italy, New Zealand and Bangladesh. While I perceived no cultural differences between the “western” countries, I have understood that there are cultural differences between Norway and Bangladesh – a challenge the TRACKers constantly must deal with.

The workshops had a unique kind of atmosphere. Although the scientists may have different views of what the purpose of TRACKS is, the discussions at the workshops reflected their sincere respect for one another. Everybody listened to each other with open minds and aimed to find common solutions. I believe this solution oriented attitude is crucial for a cross-cultural project like TRACKS to succeed.

Still, the cultural differences between Norway and Bangladesh are deep and challenging – which was also apparent at the workshop discussions. TRACKS will need to create a shared view on what the outcome of the project is supposed to be, and which research methods makes for good science.

Different scientific cultures

I’ve been told that scientific cultures are different in Norway and Bangladesh – with different views of what “good science” is. In Bangladesh, quantitative science with closed questions is the most common approach, and is considered to be robust social science. In Norway, however, most social scientists acknowledge qualitative and quantitative science as equally important.

TRACKS’ post-normal science approach, with open questions and narratives, may therefore be more challenging for the Bangladeshi scientists who are used to a quantitative approach. The Norwegian and Bangladeshi scientists may also have different views regarding what valuable and useful research is, and therefore also different expectations of TRACKS: From the Norwegian project coordinators’ point of view, the outcome of TRACKS is to gather different kinds of useful knowledge, create networks of people with different backgrounds and to empower and engage people. The TRACKS Bangladeshi scientists on the other hand, talk in terms of more specific results, like for example concrete adaption strategies for the Bangladeshi people to follow in the meeting with an increasingly unstable climate.

The Norwegian and Bangladeshi scientists may have different views regarding what valuable and useful research is, and therefore also different expectations of TRACKS

A new direction in science

I think it’s important for the TRACKS scientists to identify their cultural differences in order to come to an understanding about the project and its outcome. It’s easy to understand why TRACKS Bangladeshi scientists want concrete solutions – their country is particularly vulnerable to the climate changes and already suffers from consequences of global warming. To Bangladeshi people it may seem strange to have a 3-year research project without concrete solutions being part of the goal.

On the other hand, TRACKS is not only about helping Bangladeshi people to deal with climate changes. In my opinion, the post-normal science approach might be just as important. The project can be seen as a part of a groundbreaking, new direction in science, aiming to find ways to deal with problems so complex and so all-encompassing that one single discipline or approach is not enough.

The way I see it, TRACKS is just as much about building a fundament of knowledge in Bangladesh, as to find solutions. In order to gather all kinds of information, they are interviewing 200 people in Bangladesh. To gather 200 stories, sort them out and then turn them into useful knowledge, is a huge task. In that perspective, three years is not really that much.

I also believe that this fundament of knowledge is crucial in order to find sustainable solutions for Bangladesh and all other countries. I believe that is a good way to make lasting solutions that can also inspire other countries.

Photo: Scott Bremer Copyright: www.uib.no
Photo: Scott Bremer
Copyright: www.uib.no

This is TRACKS

Opphavsrett: world fish

This semester I was offered to take the undergraduate research project course «VIT201» at SVT as part of my bachelor in Administration and Organisation Theory. My supervisor, Roger Strand, presented for me several research projects at SVT to choose between. The TRACKS project immediately caught my attention – mostly because it’s a climate research project, and climate is one of my personal top fields of interest. I also found the interdisciplinary approach very interesting.

My role in TRACKS

Project manager Scott Bremer invited me on board as a trainee/assistant, and so I started following TRACKS at the end of August. My role in the project is to be an “inside observer”, and through this blog I’ll share my reflections on TRACKS and the challenges they are facing. To be a trainee on an ongoing research project is different than everything I have done as a student so far, so I was a bit nervous to start with. I didn’t really understand how an undergraduate bachelor student like me could contribute in a project with so many highly educated people.

Even if I have no similar experiences to compare with, it immediately occurred to me that the scientists involved in TRACKS must be pretty unique. All the “TRACKers” that I have met so far, seem very inclusive, respectful and open minded. From the first day I met them they made me feel like part of the team, despite my comparative lack of education and experience. It became clear to me that these people really do value different kinds of knowledge and experience – it’s not just something they wrote in the project description.

An open minded project

In short, TRACKS is an acronym for TRAnsforming Climate Knowledge with and for Society. Over a period of three years the TRACKS scientists will cooperate across disciplines in order to gather useful knowledge about climate variability in northeast Bangladesh. The main purpose of the project is to identify how current climate variability affects people in Bangladesh, and to find out how they can be prepared for future changes. What I found especially interesting about TRACKS is how inherently open minded the project seems to be: again, all kinds of knowledge seem to be valued equally.

The main purpose of the project is to identify how current climate variability affects people in Bangladesh, and to find out how they can be prepared for future changes

Photo: Scott Bremer Copyright: www.uib.no
Photo: Anne Blanchard
Copyright: www.uib.no

This open mindedness is apparent in both the interdisciplinary approach, but also in the method they are using to gather information: Interviewing local people with all kinds of professions and backgrounds in northeast Bangladesh, encouraging them to tell stories about the weather. I’m sure this innovative, interdisciplinary approach must be a big part of the reason why TRACKS was not only funded, but also ranked first out of 120-130 projects.

Through this blog I will guide you through TRACKS’ progress through its first months and tell you about how they are tackling the challenges of interdisciplinarity, doing research across cultures, and making the science relevant for action.