From Sustainability Methods

This Glossary lists terms and words that are relevant to this Wiki.

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  • The Glossary is work in progress and continuously amended.
  • A considerable part of these definitions is adapted from the Integration and Implementation Insights Blog. We are thankful for their contribution and highly recommend visiting the blog!
Term Explanation See
Accountability Being responsible for one’s actions, performance, behaviours, decisions and more, both on an individual and an institutional level, including the responsibility for negative outcomes and consequences.
Adaptation Adaptation is both an adjustment to actual or expected change and the adjustments required to achieve change, and is most prominently used on climate change research, yet can be valuable way beyond that. The adjustments aim to moderate, mitigate or altogether avoid harm and to exploit beneficial opportunities and may require on-going flexibility where there is continuous change.
Advocacy Activity by an individual or group that aims to influence decisions in a particular way.
Agency The capacity of an individual to act intentionally with the assumption of a causal outcome based on this action. 1
Analogy A cognitive process useful in problem solving. It involves reasoning by transferring information or meaning from a particular problem to another problem to develop solutions. There is also a more common use of the term ‘analogy’ which is a linguistic expression comparing things with similar features to help explain an idea.
Art The expression of creativity in objects, environments and experiences which are beautiful or have emotional power, allowing our senses to be at their fullest. Includes painting, sculpture, architecture, music, theatre, film, dance, literature.
Assumptions For individuals, assumptions are essentially mental models that consist of a prerequisite that is considered to be true or false without immediate evidence. For theories, methods and models, assumptions are often simplifications that are an important element that allow for their construction and that affect how useful they are.
Bias The action of supporting or opposing a particular person or thing in an unfair way, because of allowing personal opinions to influence your judgement. 1, 2
Brainstorming A divergent thinking technique to generate numerous and diverse ideas, including quirky ones, which is used when creative thinking is required, e.g. in problem solving. 1, 2, 3
Change Various aspects of altering reality as we perceive it, which may range from minor to transformational and which include, but do not necessarily lead to, improvement. Concrete considerations include modifying policy and/or practice in government, business or civil society, as well as planning for the future.
Change resistance Opposing alterations or suggested alterations to the status quo. This can be by, for example, individuals, groups or organisations. Resistance to change also occurs in natural and social systems.
Collective intelligence The shared wisdom and knowledge that emerges out of a group’s collective efforts, that is more than an individual can produce, allowing for consensus decisions. Such knowledge is often more than the sum of the parts of knowledge of all individuals, thereby enabling novel solutions.
Colleges of peers Groups of people with similar expertise in research who can effectively assess each other’s research grant applications and publications. This is analogous to the way normal science operates.
Communication Sharing information, by various means, especially to increase understanding between individuals or groups.
Competencies Knowledge, skills, abilities and attributes required to understand, integrate and create knowledge. 1
Complex Systems / Complexity Complex systems are composed of many components which may interact with each other in various ways and which are therefore difficult to model. Specific properties include non-linearity, emergence, adaptation and feedback loops. 1
Concept Abstract mental representation of our world. 1
Consultation A one-directional information flow from practice actors (stakeholders) to academia, most commonly in form of questionnaires and interviews, which provides input or feedback to proposed or active research. 1
Context The specific settings and circumstances of any given system or group of people. These context specific factors can include historical, political, cultural and other circumstances, as well as the structure and culture of the research and/or stakeholder organisations involved.
Creativity Forming something novel and valuable, including ideas, theories, inventions and art.
Credibility The believability of a person, source or message based on trustworthiness and expertise, and also often-shared experience and/or identity.
Cultural Models Cultural models are taken-for-granted understandings of the world that are shared by groups of people. Like a mental model (on an individual scale), a cultural model is a group’s implicit representations of, and thought processes about their perceived reality.
Culture Behaviours and norms shared by groups of people. When the group is a society, culture includes language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. When the group is an organisation, culture includes shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices.
Culture Shift The process of changing beliefs, behaviours and outcomes, usually in an organisation or other constructed institutions.
Cross-cultural research Investigating issues that involve two or more cultures. Also includes learning from other cultures.
Data Quantitative or qualitative units of information that can be used for analysis. 1, 2
Debiasing Accounting for and reducing biases, particularly in judgments and decision-making. 1
Decision context The circumstances under which a decision is made and which influence the decision.
Decision-making Selecting a course of action among several alternate possibilities.
Decision support Use of analytical tools, which may be computerized, to assist individuals and groups in decision making. Decision support includes various kinds of modelling and mapping.
Deductive reasoning Deductive reasoning builds on statements or theories that are confirmed by observation or can be confirmed by logic. 1
Dialogue Conversations to share understandings and, ideally, integrate them towards solutions. Such conversations are often centred around problem framing, mutual learning and joined consensus, resolving problems for action. The aim is not to convince others, but instead to mutually share openly and honestly. Dialogue can be unstructured, semi-structured or structured. Structured dialogues are helpful when groups get larger.
Dispositions A person’s innate or learned qualities and inclinations, including tendencies to act in specific ways. Dispositions are useful for research integration and implementation include humility, curiosity and flexibility.
Dualism Also known as either/or thinking. A style of thinking that builds on a constructed meaning in the world by dividing ideas, people, objects, processes and so on into two contrasting fundamental categories, e.g. good or evil, subject or object, and quantity or quality. 1, 2
Emergence The incurrence of a characteristic or behaviour of two or more entities that could not be anticipated based on the individual parts. 1
Empowerment The highest form of involvement of non-scientific actors in research, where marginalized or suppressed stakeholders are given authority and ownership and solve problems themselves, and/or are directly involved in the decision-making process at the collaboration level. 1
Endogenous view Approaches a problem searching for its causes and cures within the system boundary.
Facilitation Planning, guiding and managing a group process and environment, by a facilitator. Facilitation is a composite term that may include:: full participation, mutual understanding, shared purpose and responsibility, and high-quality decisions. There may also be other aims depending on the purpose of the group process, and since professional facilitation is currently emerging, this definition may change.
Feedback Loops A feedback loop is a process in which an output of a system is circled back and used as one or more inputs, through direct or indirect causal links. Feedback loops can be reinforcing (positive) or balancing (negative). 1
Fragmentation Existing and functioning in separate parts, usually referring to the research ‘community’ with expertise in research integration and implementation.
Framework A real or conceptual basic structure that supports or guides practical applications. 1
Funding The provision of money, usually by agencies associated with government, philanthropy, or business, to support research on complex problems.
Hypothesis A preconceived idea about the world that guides the research process and is to be falsified by it. 1
Incommensurability Ideas, theories, methods, standards, values and more, often from different disciplines, that have no common basis and are therefore unable to be integrated (for example in interdisciplinary research).
Inductive reasoning Inductive reasoning draws conclusions based on data or observations. 1
Innovation Implementing something novel, including a new idea, method, technology or product.
Institutionalisation Embedding research integration and implementation into the academic mainstream, e.g. by establishing departments of research integration and implementation, centres of interdisciplinarity, relevant journals and professional associations, funding streams, promotion criteria etc.
Interactional expertise The ability to understand disciplines, professional practice and community experience without being trained in those disciplines or professions or having lived in those communities.
Journals Academic or scholarly periodicals where knowledge about theories, methods and topics are published. 1
Knowledge governance Formal and informal rules that shape knowledge production, research agenda setting, research financing, sharing and protecting knowledge, implementation of knowledge and other knowledge-based activities. Rules range from social expectations to intellectual property law.
Knowledge synthesis Pulling together what is known about a problem from either or both of academic research and non-academic knowledge.
Knowledge systems The people, practices and institutions (including universities) involved in producing, transferring and using knowledge.
Leadership Being in charge of, guiding, encouraging, organising and/or directing other individuals, teams or organisations or other constructed institutions
Legitimacy What is accepted as proper (for researchers and stakeholders) in conducting research including knowledge, concerns, processes and authorisation. For stakeholders, legitimacy also includes whether representatives of stakeholder groups are nominated in a generally acceptable way.
Leverage Points Places in systems where a small shift in one element can change or tilt the behaviour of the whole system or significant parts of the system.
Meeting Protocols Explicit expectations and ground rules for meetings, aiming to make them run better. Meetings involve two or more people, occur in many environments and serve multiple purposes, often involving sharing information and/or joint decision making. Conferences are included.
Mental models Mental models are representations of reality of individuals, based on the individuals perceptions, and guides their actions. Mental models are a combination of the surrounding people’s minds are their private images (or other representations) of, and thought process about, what things are and how things work in the real world. These subjective, incomplete and sometimes flawed simplifications of reality play a major role in how people think, reason and make decisions.
Networking Developing and using a web of professional contacts who can, when needed or requested, provide various forms of support including information, resources, insights, feedback, advice, contacts for others, and assistance with dissemination of research findings. Some network connections may develop into relationships.
Non-linearity Relationships where changes in inputs do not lead to proportional changes in outcomes. Outcomes may be chaotic, unpredictable, or counterintuitive. 1
Open Science A movement to make research processes, data and findings transparent and accessible to all. It includes access to research papers that is open, rather than behind a paywall, open reviewing where the reviewers’ names and comments are made public, and making research processes public e.g. making researcher notebooks and raw data available online.
Paradigm A universally recognized scientific achievement that provides theoretical and practical foundations for a specific scientific community. 1
Participation A general term for a range of interactions both among researchers and other university staff with different expertise and between researchers and stakeholders. 1
Patterns Patterns are regularities, where the elements repeat in predictable ways. Examples are standard ways of approaching a problem, standard sub-processes in modelling, standard layouts for organising research publications (eg introduction, methods, results, discussion). Patterns can be explicit or tacit.
Perseverance Persistence or continued effort in doing something in order to achieve success, often despite difficulties, delay, failure and opposition. Also a Mars rover.
Policymaking Setting the course of action to be pursued, especially by government, business or nongovernmental organisations. For governments, policy making includes making or changing laws and regulations, and setting budget priorities.
Power Possession of control, authority or influence over others and how it impacts the conduct and communication of research, as well as research implementation and change.
Power asymmetry Differential ability to exert control, authority or influence over others, within science especially in deciding what research will be conducted and how.
Problem-framing Problems are defined differently by different disciplinary experts and stakeholders. Addressing any problem requires taking these different understandings of the problem into account in developing an agreed (or at least acceptable) statement of the problem, which will then determine how it is tackled. Coming to a shared problem framing will not always be possible, especially for complex problems. 1
Processes Series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve particular ends.
Productive disagreement Turning discomfort, tension, arguments or conflict into dialogue that broadens perspectives and aids learning and creativity.
Qualitative research Qualitative research focuses on the human dimensions of the observable or conceptual reality, often linking observational data or interpretation of existing data directly to theory or concepts. 1
Quantitative research Quantitative research focuses on the statistical and mathematical analysis of data, as well as the general analysis and often interpretation of data that consists of numbers. 1
Researcher Someone who works actively in research.
Research ecosystem / environment Different layers and interconnections which affect research conduct, including individuals, teams, organisations, funding and the communities in which research may be embedded. Ecosystems operate within and across institutions.
Research impact Change that can be attributed to research. This includes making a difference in policy or practice, or in skills, attitudes, relationships or thinking. Research implementation is the process, research impact is the outcome, although impact may not be able to be unequivocally linked to specific implementation activities.
Rules Accepted principles or instructions about the way things are or should be done, including norms, practices, taboos, regulations, legislation, treaties and ordinances.
Scaffolding Using temporary structures, techniques, ideas, spaces etc to help those new to aspects of research integration and implementation understand and use concepts, methods and processes that are hard to grasp. Scaffolding is often provided by an educator or facilitator.
Scale The unit of analysis, usually geographical region for spatial scale, time period for temporal scale and institutional level for organisational scale. 1, 2
Scientist Someone who has gone through a scientific education.
Scientific Method Scientific methods create knowledge in accordance with certain principles and rigour. 1, 2
Scoping The process of identifying all aspects of a problem that are important, including discipline experts and stakeholders who should be involved in developing understanding and action. This is followed by a process of boundary setting, ie setting priorities for the approach that will be taken.
Sense-making An on-going process of refinement of plausible understandings and effective actions in situations of high complexity and uncertainty.
Storytelling A social and cultural activity for sharing and interpreting knowledge and experiences, and for education. 1
System Any number of individuals or elements that interact. 1, 2, 3
System Dynamics Focuses on the interactions and dynamic relationships between system elements, with feedback as the central concept. System dynamics are often modelled, e.g. with Causal-Loop Diagrams, which enables the researcher to observe and measure the behavior of the system. 1
Tacit knowledge Tacit knowledge or ‘unknown knowns’ is knowledge that individuals, groups and organisations are largely unaware that they have.
Theory A systematic ideational structure of broad scope, conceived by the human imagination, that encompasses a family of empirical (experiential) laws regarding regularities existing in objects and events, both observed and posited. 1
Three types of knowledge (System Knowledge, Target Knowledge, Transformation Knowledge) Three types of knowledge that are relevant to provide solutions to a problem, and foster change. As defined by Brandt et al. (2013), System knowledge refers to the observation of the context of a given system and interpretation of the underlining drivers and buffers that causes and determine the extent of change. Target knowledge refers to the scope of action and problem-solving measures given by the natural constraints, social laws, norms and values within the system, and the interests of actors and their individual intentions. Transformation knowledge refers to the practical implications that can be derived from target knowledge to change existing habits, practices and institutional objectives. Typically conceptualized in Sustainability Science, famously proposed by ProClim (1997).
Tipping Points Thresholds that, when exceeded, lead to large irreversible changes in systems.
Toolkits Collections of resources for undertaking various aspects of research integration and implementation. They are often, but not always, collections of methods and processes. 1
Transdisciplinarity Transdisciplinarity is a mode of research that is based around the understanding that certain types of problems cannot be defined from a single discipline's perspective. Instead, Transdisciplinarity aims to already integrate different types of knowledge, both academic and non-academic, in the problem definition phase. These jointly defined problems are then addressed by integrating knowledge, often with the goal to develop solution strategies to these problems. 1
Trust To have confidence in attributes such as the integrity, ability and reliability of someone (e.g. other researchers) or something (e.g. a model).
Vision A vision provides “a key reference point for developing strategies to transition from the current state to a desirable future state” (Wiek & Iwaniec 2014,). A vision can take the form of qualitative or quantitative goals and targets, e.g. concerning the outcome of a research project, or societal change. 1
Visualisation Any technique for communicating ideas (abstract or concrete), information, situations etc through creation of some kind of image, diagram, map, animation or game. 1
Window of opportunity Favourable opportunity when taking immediate action is likely to achieve a desired outcome. If the opportunity is missed, the possibility of action is lost.