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iKNOW ERA Toolkit

iKNOW ERA Toolkit

Applications of Wild Cards and Weak Signals to the Grand Challenges & Thematic Priorities of the European Research Area

Funded by Directorate-General for Research and Innovation Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities 

Applications to the ERA

How to use WI-WE resources in STI policy?

What kinds of STI policy and which questions?

In this section we look at the beginning and end of the cycle of knowledge. The context is a world which is increasingly interconnected, turbulent, and vulnerable to wild card surprises; and a STI agenda which needs to respond to this. The key question here is - how does the Wild approach and the WI-WE resource contribute to the generation and management of knowledge?

Revolving around this question is a wide range of activity, including:

  • Science, technology and innovation policy: European, national, corporate.
  • Research programming and management: European, national, corporate.
  • Research methods within and between in many fields, at the level of programs and projects.
  • Knowledge management systems: including scientific, corporate, public and civil society types of knowledge.
  • Foresight processes and foresight related knowledge, in many types of organizations.

There are wide implications for STI policy of the Wild approach and WI-WE resources. Some conceptual issues are set out below; but first there are quite practical questions, such as:

  • What topics to research? - Shifting towards the frontier of problematic knowledge - technically, socially, etc.
  • Who are the researchers? - And the producers and users of such research: questioning explicit and tacit forms of engagement between different parts of the knowledge community.
  • How to programme research? - And how to manage, validate, disseminate and evaluate research results: i.e. to explore unconventional paths for knowledge generation and transfer, with explicit and tacit forms of engagement between the knowledge community.
  • How to apply to policy and practice? - In a world which is increasingly interconnected, turbulent, and vulnerable to wild card surprises; and a STI policy which needs to respond to this.

Paradigm shifts and the Wild approach

Meanwhile, the higher levels of science and research policy, are beginning to point in similar directions. There is a paradigm shift in the nature of scientific knowledge, and the science / technology / innovation systems which surround it. This can be framed as a 'co-evolutionary approach' to science / technology / innovation, and the policies which aim to support it. This broad concept can be mapped onto a 'knowledge space', again with some interesting dynamics to explore (Figure 1.1);

  • If we are lucky enough to enjoy 'safe' knowledge and 'safe' outcomes, we can practice 'Normal science', using 'convergent' research modes. This is pictured in the lower left hand corner. This can work with clearly defined problems, peer-reviewed theory and methodology, robust models and datasets, and falsifiable hypotheses.
  • But for many problems, particularly anything which raises policy issues or socio-political-ethical debates or dilemmas, the 'safe' criteria do not work very well. So we can see 'science for policy' as an unstable position, where often the expectations do not meet with the available resources.
  • So there is an inevitable shift into the opposite corner, on the upper right. Here we have 'wild' knowledge and 'wild' outcomes, leading to 'divergent' research modes. Here there are fuzzy, multi-level, interconnected problems: high levels of uncertainty and conflict in values and stakeholders; multiple competing theories and methodologies; often a gaping lack of evidence; research processes which can only be mobilized through stakeholder debate… This is summed up with the concept of 'post-normal science'. However this corner is also unstable, struggling with wild problems and profound ignorance.
  • The shift is then to the 'co-evolutionary science' corner. This aims at creative responses to wild outcomes, through application of wild knowledge into shared intelligence. In practical terms, this avoids drawing a boundary around 'science' or 'research'; rather it looks at the extended chains of knowledge and cognitive processes, across the whole of society, of which scientific knowledge is one component.

Such 'co-evolutionary' science requires creative responses to complex and interconnected 'agendas', where problems, opportunities, conflicts, responses, each start to overlap and inter-connect. This co-evolutionary approach sees extended co-production of knowledge across wider networks of stakeholder learning and policy innovation, on the lines of the 'DIPSI' model (discursive, inclusive, participative, sustainability, interactive). It looks at research processes and results as multi-level learning pathways. It sees research users and policy-makers as part of a larger system of networked learning and shared intelligence. It sees policy systems themselves, and policy-knowledge combined systems, as more focused on the agenda for systemic resilience, adaptive capacity, shared intelligence and learning capacity.

This position also tends to continue along the cycle, back to the starting point, when the shared intelligence becomes 'normal' and mainstream for all involved.

Figure 1.1 Shifting knowledge paradigms and the Wild Cycle

In this way the agenda and operation of science is not only about 'discovering facts' and 'proving theories'. It is more about designing human systems which can learn and innovate with the benefit of active learning (in which facts and theories are a useful part). This is very clear in the recent developments of ERA based research, for instance in the FP7 Thematic Work Programmes.

Overall, the Wild approach has much to offer this co-evolutionary model, based in wild knowledge and wild outcomes. Following that, the WI-WE methods and tools, are essential resources for exploring this challenging and creative 'knowledge space'.

How to apply WI-WE to research management?

Within a typical research program or thematic specification, there are some trends which involve the Wild approach:

  • There is a general shift of 'typical' programs and projects towards a WI-WE focus (i.e. with wild, problematic, high impact issues of systemic change). These include the well-known risks of natural disasters, technology hazards etc; they also include social, economic, cultural, political, ethical issues, which each involve 'wicked' problems.
  • The implication is that systematic WI-WE methods and tools should be built as a regular feature into mainstream research program specifications and methodologies.
  • This would set out guidelines as sketched in this chapter, for systematic exploration of the frontiers between 'wild' and 'safe' areas of knowledge. It also prioritizes the interconnection of different types of knowledge from different areas.
  • This also involves application of the research results, in feedback to the WI-WE end of the policy spectrum. This should raise the questions of risk assessment and strategic planning above - i.e. what problematic events, changes, hazards are plausible or significant, and what weak signals would be relevant and useful ?

Which topics are informed by WI-WE resources?

The selection of research topics and project design is also informed by the WI-WE resources. The ERA (European Research Area) is increasingly formed around cross-cutting themes, wicked systemic problems, and new modes of trans-disciplinary action research working. So the topics and methodologies are likely to take on:

  • More conventional WI-WE type events: natural disasters, technology hazards, which are likely to be amplified by socio-cultural-political factors. So there is a research agenda which is focused on this amplification process through its socio-cultural-political factors.
  • Less unconventional WI-WE events: new and surprising combinations of various factors, e.g. technological, economic, environmental, political, social and ethical factors, which are generally more problematic and paradigm changing.
  • Systematic use of WI-WE at the pre-programming stage of scoping and scanning.
  • Use of WI-WE for interconnecting knowledge between 'Grand Challenges' and other levels.
  • Use of WI-WE to mobilize debate between stakeholders with different views on issues in the domain of problematic knowledge.
  • Reference from and contribution to the iKnow system, as the context for research agenda setting, design and programming.

How to apply WI-WE to the STI policy process?

STI applications need a structure which is as clear as possible, to navigate through knowledge development processes, which are often complex and fuzzy. Again, we use here the general foresight structure (here titled 'divergence, emergence, convergence'), as tailored to a typical general process of STI policy-making. There are different applications of the WI-WE resources at each stage, which may come from the iKnow platform or other sources (Figure 1.2).

'Agendas': horizons & boundaries: policy scope & resources

  • General wild cards to test policy scope & system boundaries
  • Wide scan to inform horizons, scope, strenths & weaknesses

'Divergence': Explore possible futures & capacities

  • Specific wild cards, to explore possible futures & capacities
  • Thematic scan to support scenarios & stakeholder analysis

'Emergence': Develop pathways & approaches to STI policy

  • Pathways tested with social / technical / conceptual 'wild' thinking
  • Scan for vulnerability, resilience, opportunities & threats

'Convergence': Road-maps, strategies, policies, assessments

  • Strategy 'wind-tunnel' testing by further wild card application
  • Scan for road-map & strategy testing, assessment evidence

'Actions': Program management monitoring, evaluation

  • Periodic testing of management, monitoring & evaluation
  • Continuing monitoring & evaluation cycle

 

Application to the ERA agenda

How to develop & manage research programmes

Within a ERA research programme area:

  • General shift towards 'divergent' and 'co-evolutionary' modes of research.
  • Systematic use of WI-WE at the pre-programming stage of scoping and scanning.
  • Use of WI-WE for interconnecting knowledge between 'Grand Challenges' and other levels.
  • Reference from and contribution to iKnow's iBank and iLibrary platforms as the context for general research scoping, design and programming.
  • Use of WI-WE to mobilize stakeholders with different views on problematic knowledge.

For example - consider a research programme centred on the theme of post 2008 financial stability.

  • Obvious Wild Card 'situation' (i.e. family of interconnected Wild Cards) - global credit crisis, Eurozone crisis, public deficit crisis, etc; with most Weak Signals systematically ignored and filtered out, systemic risk driven by moral hazard incentives, etc.
  • Need to involve stakeholders in active mode, systematically exploring possible WI-WE, testing the frontiers of the 'problematic' knowledge zone, etc.
  • Research programme results should be improved and enlarged from the conventional economic and financial focus (which arguably was part of the problem).
  • Research project design goes beyond the convergent mode, to the divergent and co-evolutionary modes.

How to develop & manage research projects

Within a typical ERA project :

  • General shift of 'typical' projects towards a WI-WE focus (i.e. problematic high impact issues of systemic change, etc). Although not necessarily conventional risks of natural disasters, technology hazards, etc.
  • Systematic WI-WE exploration to be built into 'typical' research methodology.
  • Exploring the frontiers of 'safe' knowledge and 'problematic' knowledge.
  • Interconnection of different knowledge from different areas.
  • Reference from and contribution to iKnow's iBank and iLibrary as the context for specific research.
  • Application of the research results back to the WI-WE end of the spectrum - i.e. asking what problematic events, changes and hazards are plausible and significant. And what Weak Signals would be useful?

In the ERA context, the Grand Challenges each raise an agenda with a combination of -

  • More conventional Wild Card events and hazards - natural/technological disasters which are likely to be amplified by socio-cultural-political factors. So there is a research agenda which is focused on this amplification process through its socio-cultural-political factors.
  • More unconventional Wild Card events and hazards - new and surprising combinations of various factors e.g. technological, economic, environmental, political, social and ethical factors, which are generally more problematic and paradigm changing.

 

Conclusions & next steps

It should be clear that this ERA Toolkit is deliberately path-finding, looking towards the frontiers of knowledge, and anticipating new ways for research to produce knowledge. So this report does not aim to be fixed and final. Rather it is a series of sketches towards an agenda which is rapidly evolving.

This is very much in the spirit of the iKnow system. This platform provides, at least a working prototype, of the kind of knowledge system which is needed. The following stages of such a knowledge system would aim to include a wider range of aspirations:

  • Social technology: self-organising, co-evolutionary, crowdsourced, continuously evolving, with peer community expertise and evaluation.
  • Interconnected between a wide range of different disciplines, professions, policy areas and public agendas.
  • Capacity to form extended knowledge chains and value chains for shared intelligence: both for analysis of problems, and for development of opportunities and solutions.
  • Accessible to different social groups and knowledge communities, with a range of multiple media.

In this spirit, we look forward to returning with the next version of this ERA toolkit in the near future.