Transdisciplinary Research Workshop (27-29 August 2020): Detailed Report

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 FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2020 9:19:08 AM 

ARUA CoE for Urbanization and Habitable Cities

Report of the Capacity Building Workshop on Transdisciplinary Research: Rethinking Research in COVID-19 times

The Potential of Transdisciplinary Research to face the Covid-19 Crisis:

Professor Ulli Vilsmaier, Methodology Center and Institute of Ethics and TransdisciplinarySustainability Science.Leuphana University Lüneburg.

Professor Ulli Vilsmaier talked about the Transdisciplinary research, looking at the difference it makes, how it should be carried out, and the benefits associated with it. She gave a glimpse of the emergence of the discourse on Transdisciplinary Research (TR). She explained that Transdisciplinary approaches tackle the question of crossing boundaries, adding that TR is research for collaboration that goes beyond the academic institution, addressing the question of the roles and position of research with regards to pressing societal problems and challenges. She expressed her hope that the workshop should inspire researchers to address the current crisis being faced, and to rethink science and the roles of researchers in society.

She explained that Transdisciplinary approach really addresses how researchers relate and understand the world, which requires a multi-dimensional rethinking of what research and knowledge means to researchers. She emphasized that there should be a great transformation in the way research is carried out, by shifting from a transfer model of research, where knowledge is produced in academia and transferred outside, to an integrative approach that is transformative, where search is intervening and is transforming reality. She added that the main task of researchers is to contribute and find answers to questions, to enable collaborative research among different disciplines and also ‘non-academics’, to integrate, different ways of knowing knowledge production, and to deal with values, norms and interest in the research process.

Key Note Speech: Transdisciplinary collaborations for Managing COVID-19: Opportunities for a better Urban future:

Professor Akinola Abayomi, Honorable Commissioner for Health, Lagos State Ministry for Health Lagos, Nigeria

Professor Akinola Abayomi gave a summary of Lagos State’s experience of Ebola in 2014. He noted that Ebola epidemic gave experience on how to manage an outbreak caused by a pathogen of high consequence that could be a bio-security threat. He explained that the Lagos State Ministry of Health had been preparing a biosecurity roadmap since 2014. He noted that since people in different geopolitical zones responded to COVID-19 differently, this gave rise to a response research process as it was important to know how the virus was behaving, and to modify their approach on the evidence-based research outcomes.

He explained that it was important to publish findings as quickly as possible, and so a biosecurity governance Council was established to adjudicate ethics, sample sharing and data sharing quickly. He noted that the Lagos State outbreak was defined by research, and that research led to policy shifts, adding that the ministry had made several policy shifts in very short and dynamic timeframes. He then explained the framework of a robust research strategy within the setting of an epidemic. He noted that their research agenda had to be driven along multidisciplinary lines; adding that research must be driven and funded early. He emphasized the need to be in a state of research readiness, even before an outbreak. He added that if research is conducted early, and then contribute to policy shifts, that will help to ameliorate the peak amplitude of an outbreak.

How Researchers can Engage with TR in Africa

Professor Kate Meagher, Department of International Development, London School of Economics

Professor Kate Meagher talked about the practical considerations, and new possibilities for conducting research. She noted that the Pandemic has changed the terrain, broken down the global value chains and local supply chains. She pointed out that the economic challenges posed by the problem of lockdowns in countries in which the significant share of the population live and work in the informal economy, and therefore need to earn money every day. She noted that about 78% of the African population work in the informal economy, but still, a lot of the COVID-19 research agenda is coming from the West and East Asia.

She observed the tendency to assume that everybody’s perspective on Coronavirus should be the African researcher’s perspectives on Coronavirus and also pointed out the tendency to marginalize the African experience, whether recognized as different form the West or the same as the West.

She observed that African researchers should not just follow whatever the West is researching and wondered whether there should be more of a co-production of knowledge going on between researchers from Africa and colleagues from other parts of the world, where distinctive concerns about Africa are addressed.

She urged African researchers to explore the space in the ‘Corona moment’ for co-production of knowledge, rather than just being gatherers of data from a Western agenda. In addition, she reiterated the importance of moving beyond looking at what Europeans and North Americans and East Asians are doing and saying about research on Coronavirus; and the need to think about what is distinctive about the Corona experience and also, what is distinctive about the particular countries within Africa.

She discussed how Coronavirus has affected the urban society, the economy, politics, governance and health (among others) in a variety of different African countries and the different ways that different groups responded to its aftermath. She noted that the (rise, inequalities, opportunities and exploitation of) digitization under Coronavirus are active areas of study as well as research around how religion beliefs have influenced different responses for both groups and polity are also increasingly important to study.

She also noted the difference between African countries in terms of response to the pandemic, emphasizing that one size does not fit all African countries in terms of research. She noted the importance of common good, within Africa, explaining that research priorities must reflect the common goals and the common good of Africans in African countries. She also noted that various types of urban services had been affected, and that digitization during the Pandemic is important to the current situation. She discussed political responses and religious practices during the Pandemic in different African countries. She then highlighted the opportunity for collaborating with international researchers who cannot travel to Africa to do their field work due to COVID-19. She added that African researchers must be able to look into more locally grounded ideas of appropriate research focus, which will lead to an explosion of demand for collaborative research partnerships between Western researchers and possibly East Asian researchers.

Rethinking Methodologies for Engagement in Transdisciplinary Research:

Professor Diana Mitlin, Global Development Institute University of Manchester

Professor Diana Mitlin reflected on methodologies and possibilities that researchers need to engage with, both to address the challenges of COVID-19 and also to address long standing challenges ,such as those associated with the SDGs.

Diana explained that to address urban challenges, indeed to address development challenges, there is a need to bridge, different disciplines and methodologies that are Q squared idea. The Q-cubed idea which promotes destratification of research, by engaging with the moment and going beyond the moment.

She noted that currently, researchers have to cope with the response of governments, the lockdown response which clearly stopped a lot of research in its tracks, they have to cope with the risks associated with COVID and how to do research in that context, but also have to rise to these challenges. She called for researchers to think about not only how to respond to the pandemic, but also how to respond to the new interest in towns and cities, recognition that the neglect of the development community and in some sense to the broader research community has a cost. For her, it is not enough for academics from the North and South to be more collaborative, and more effective in their research engagements but they now have to think about ways in which they can draw in communities as community knowledge has to be a part of a growing tradition of how to understand and act on the challenges associated with towns and cities. She noted that Community Based Enterprise model was demonstrated during the response to the Ebola crisis and it was when communities took ownership that breakthroughs in disease control was achieved. She emphasized that in addressing current challenges, researchers are required to understand what is experienced at the community level, and to use knowledge to catalyze a much stronger deeper and more effective relationship between all the stakeholders involved, and then co-create a solution to the problems that are faced. She noted that not all research has to be Transdisciplinary, but a large amount of it has to be; there will –COVID or no COVID— be a need for single discipline research, and indeed for multi-disciplined research.

She emphasized the importance of now doing things differently in terms of research and community engagement. Researchers need to understand what is experienced at the community level, and to use knowledge to catalyze a much stronger deeper and more effective relationship between all the stakeholders involved, and then co-create a solution to the problems that are faced.  She observed that although researchers have drawn out from them (communities) and used the information they provided, given us, researchers have not respected the communities’ right to be involved in creative solutions. She made a strong call for changes in these methodologies.

She then highlighted successful examples, such as the Muungano Alliance which enabled community-driven data collection on COVID-19 in Kenya and We Go, a transnational network which conducted rapid assessments on the lived in impacts of COVID-19 amongst street trading, recycling, home work, and domestic workers in India.  She explained that when doing participatory research, there needs to be a very clear understanding of study objectives and why people do things; adding that researchers must have respect for both sides, and have a commitment beyond the initial collection of information.

In all, Diana noted that ‘transdisciplinary methodologies for COVID-19, requires us to rethink our repertoire of approaching research. It requires a much more affirmative and scaled up fashion, to say that it’s not enough, to say simply think about how to combine qualitative and quantitative methodologies. It’s not enough for the social science to reach out to medical and physical sciences, we need to think about ways in which we can both combine a set of much more participatory research methodologies that validate the knowledge that is coming out of communities, that help organize communities collect and confirm the knowledge they have, and be equal parties in a broader consortium of agencies’.

Leveraging Digital Tools for TR:

Dr. Victor Odumuyiwa, Director, Centre for Information and Technology Systems. University of Lagos

Dr. Victor Odumuyiwa spoke on Leveraging Digital Tools for Transdisciplinary Research. According to him, Transdisciplinary research is about creation of shared conceptual framework that goes beyond individual discipline. He stated that Transdisciplinary research is not just about cooperation and sharing a problem, but also having an understanding of the problem. He explained at length, a collaboration model he developed; the model has 5 phases of collaboration that show what needs to be done to make collaboration successful. These phases were structured into a pyramid format that starts with ‘Initial trust’ at the bottom, followed by ‘Shared understanding of the problem’, ‘Communication’, ‘Knowledge sharing and complementarity’, ‘Group awareness’, and Division of Labour, which is at the top of the pyramid.

He stated that TR is visually a collaboration process. He explained that it is important to make sure that all the phases of collaboration are present in a collaboration process, and to also look for tools that can enable researchers be more productive throughout all the phases.He stated that TR is visually a collaboration process. He explained that it is important to make sure that all the phases of collaboration are present in a collaboration process, and to also look for tools that can enable researchers be more productive throughout all the phases. He gave examples of Google Forms, Survey Monkey, Typeform, Polldaddy. Survey Planet and Zoho survey amongst others as very useful survey tools, going on to show their strong points relative to others. He observed that Amazon Mechanical Turk, which is available commercially, can be used for crowdsourcing of information and well as  an IoT device embedded in the environment where data is required can be used to gather data. In addition, networking platforms include: LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Academia and Google Scholars amongst others and Google, Trello, Slack, Google Meet and Microsoft Team can also be used for meetings

He emphasized the need to utilize these platforms for effective collaboration. He added that it is important for researchers to have programming skills, which are not limited to those in science or engineering. He concluded by stating that digital tools are essential in TR, and It is a must going forward, in terms of the current pandemic.

Ethical considerations in the ‘new normal’:

Professor Timothy G. Nubi, Founding Director, Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development, University of Lagos

Professor Timothy Nubi talked about ‘ethical consideration in the new normal’. He noted that the issue of ethics in research is important. He explained that ethics had been limited to health research, until it became imperative in social and behavioral research involving human subjects. His discourse focused on internet-based research. He stated that Internet based research is a quick way of gaining access to a large number of respondents without expending resources such as travel costs, paper based questionnaires and other logistics associated with field-work.

He added that Internet based research and IT driven research will be the new normal. He retierated that COVID-19 has made the use of Internet research very important, considering the lockdown and social distance experienced in the last few months.

He noted that ethical issues such as recruitment of subjects, the privacy and confidentiality of subjects, informed consent, collection, analysis and management of data are still very important for internet research. He informed that while, observations, interventions, and analysis of existing data are also commonly used methods and that asking participants to complete an online survey or studying behavior on an online group meets the definition of research with human subjects, he pointed out that these should be guided by ethics.

Finally, he asked researchers to be aware that respecting the autonomy of participants requires researchers to obtain their informed consent, which includes providing information that participants need in order to decide whether to take part in a study, documenting that the information was provided and that the participants volunteered to take part in the study.

Africa/UK Transdisciplinary Co-operation:

Professor Isobel Anderson, Housing, Home and Communities Chair, University of Stirling, Scotland.

Professor Isobel Anderson’s presentation was on the research cooperation between Africa and UK. She gave a background of how Transdisciplinary research had been successfully adopted in the University of Stirling. She reflected on the important role the home came to play during the pandemic, as a place for working from, educating the children and keeping safe in, and how this impacted on communities in both the UK and Africa.

She noted that there had been significant funding streams available through the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund, which is closely focused on agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, and during COVID-19, the Newton Call.  noting that it is important to build equal sustainable partnerships across the Africa-UK collaborations.

She emphasized that the partnership between the University of Stirling and the University of Lagos facilitated by the ARUA-UKRI_GCRF fund has been an important element of Africa-UK collaborations and expressed her expectation that activities such as capacity building, helping to develop funding applications, joining up research and publications, and trying to support postgraduate researchers, early career researchers across the spectrum are fundamental elements to the collaborations.

She pointed out that one of the weaknesses of global challenges is that it was not always straightforward to include PhD training in the projects, which would have been beneficial, because they underpin the new blood coming into the sector, into research, and there is a need to support PhD students and early career researchers to be able to engage in interdisciplinary and international research.

She discussed the opportunities that may be available post pandemic. She explained that online collaboration is a cost-effective way of working, but that it entails digital inclusion. She noted that as UK has left the European Union, it may be looking to engage with Commonwealth partners more than it has done in the past; highlighting the possibility of research funding. She highlighted the Commonwealth Association of Universities as a potential partner.

However, she cautioned that there may also be threats that will inhibit the Africa-UK cooperation such as the current economic crisis and also the proposed merger of DFID with FCO.  

She expressed hope that Transdisciplinary research is linked to education, professional practice, and inter-professional working, embracing all dimensions of equality and equal opportunities.

Finally, she called on researchers to build, and keep building relationships, involving all our stakeholders, government, third sector, and community stakeholders, as well as knowledge co-creation with them. She also asked researchers to keep thinking about the different strategies for small, medium, and large grants, and for shorter- and longer-term response, and to keep informed on how the agenda is changing.

Panel 1: Participatory Data Governance and Stakeholder Engagement

This panel featured researchers’ reflections on active collaborative research projects aimed at achieving the SDGs in four African cities (Lagos, Accra, Luanda and Maputo)

Dr. Peter Elias from the University of Lagos, shared his experience in Transdisciplinary research on the Leading Research In Africa 2030 (LIRA), a project of the International Science Council based in Paris, managed by African Academic of Sciences. He talked about the urban data ecosystem and the complexities of urban data governance.

He pointed out that urban data involves two groups of people: the communities of (data) producers and the communities of users, which includes community-based organizations, civil society organizations, ministry departments and agencies, international partners organizations, donor agencies, academia and so on. He noted that all these various organizations interact in a very complex and dynamic way and his teams’ experiences in TD Research across African cities have revealed dynamism in various context. He also discussed the role of influence as a factor that promotes or enhances data uptake and noted that this is why urban researchers are increasingly being encouraged to join several networks where they can influence decision through the process of integrating their data in day to day governance.

Dr. Taibat Lawanson from the University of Lagos talked on Citizen Science and Participatory data collection in COVID-19 times, using her team’s ongoing collaborations in developing a community resilience action plan for Ajegunle-Ikorodu Community in Lagos State. She stated that Citizen Science is the process by which everyday people take active role in scientific discovery, joining forces with researchers to answer important science questions. She added that it leverages on relationship building and co-production. She explained the approach towards Citizen Science, which entails systematic literature review, policy review and identification of themes based on existing relationship with communities. She explained that it is important to see Citizen Science is an opportunity for researchers to learn how to trust those they are working with and to respect the community they work with.

Dr. Adelina Mensah from the University of Ghana discussed stakeholder mapping roles and responsibilities. She gave a contextual explanation about how stakeholder mapping was adopted in her project in order to fulfill the SDGs in Ghana. She highlighted the steps involved in the stakeholder mapping process, which were identification of stakeholders, then differentiation and the categorization of these stakeholders, followed by the prioritization of stakeholders, and then the engagement of stakeholders. She emphasized that stakeholder mapping process is not a one off relationship, so researchers have to build solid networks and have consistent engagement with them.

Professor Inés Raimundo Eduardo from Mondlane University, Maputo, Mozambique, presented on her project, which was geared towards meeting SDG’s in Maputo. She stated that from her experience, communities already know how to manage their communities and they can tell what their priority is. She also emphasized the importance of co-production of knowledge with different stakeholders and the communities.

Panel 2:  What society wants from Researchers

The objective of the panel was to provide a discourse on how about researchers can work better with the industry, communities and government.

Dr. Omoayena Odunbaku from the Human Settlements officer, Regional Office for Africa, UN-Habitat, Nairobi, presented on the topic: “Repositioning the citadel and research in post COVID Africa”. She explained that the first expectation for Development Partners that work with a wide variety of partners, the financial institutions, the mortgage institutions, the government, NGO’s is that they want to see repositories and observatory activated in African Universities. These would be hubs of learning, where research units are domiciled and which provide resources that can be used to project future occurrences. She laid emphasis on value addition of research in terms of helping the private sector understand development frameworks. She added that innovation hubs are citadels for learning, so researchers should be able to showcase new things periodically. She encouraged researchers to think of ways of presenting their data in ways that people can access more easily. She called for dedication to research that can be transformed into action. She also recommended that researchers digitize past, current and future research work. Then she called for a deliberate process of formal ad informing mentoring of researchers as it has a positive multiplier effect. Finally, she talked about the need for researchers to be ready for advocacy, communication and lobbying, providing their research outcomes in much simpler and accessible ways.

Mr. Mulimba Yasini, the Director of City of Planning, Lusaka City Council and now Chipata City Council, Zambia, centered his discussion on what is required of researchers in relation to his role. He noted that it is important for researchers to provide information that can be used to make informed decision. He added that what is required of researchers is for them to do research that can help policy makers and planners to make informed decisions. He stated that planning tools such as spatial planning tools, are needed, and research can be done in this area. He also noted the need for development of framework that can be used for evaluation of development projects. He added there is a need for joint collaboration between researchers, as well as the local governments and the planners, so that decision making is based on scientific results.

Ms. Doris Mbadiwe, the MD, Interbau Construction Company, Lagos, Nigeria, gave a brief introduction of what the construction industry entails, and the nature projects Inter-Bau Construction Company undertakes. She then highlighted key areas of research in the construction industry. She expressed the desire of the industry to have data, to get the processes automated, and to trade virtually. She also stated the need to know how best to preserve the construction workforce, to increase productivity within the current limitation, and also leverage on any or possible construction or ICT technology solutions to do this, to minimize the risk of infection among workforce. She added that comparative research studies be done between Nigeria and other African countries.

Francis Reffell, the Founder and Director, Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA) Sierra Leone, focused on what civil societies want from researchers. He encouraged researchers to strengthen participatory action research, and to also strengthen community based participatory research, because it gives power to the people. He added that there is a need to specifically provide evidence for advocacy, communication and lobbying, as it will create a buffer between marginalized communities and the government. He stated that young people should be provoked to grab opportunities for skills and intellectual development, as this will contribute to capacity building and also to provide leverage for social mobility. He urged researchers to go beyond theories and come up with innovative ideas and innovative solutions that will address problems.

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