20 July 2020
SMARTEES offers tools for effective interdisciplinary discourse
Have you ever felt like people are talking right past each other in a conference or meeting? Like they are addressing different ideas with their statements, and maybe even speaking different languages? Have you ever heard a technical term in a meeting and been too self-conscious to ask for clarification? Chances are you were not the only one in that room who nodded along knowingly while posting a mental note to lookup the term later on.
These communication problems are common in inter and trans-disciplinary research projects, where experts in technical, social and practical fields attempt to work together across a divide of technical jargon, differing expectations, cultures, and ego. Issues of interdisciplinary (mis)understanding are perhaps most relevant in energy research, where the grand complexity of the energy system along with the omnipresence of energy in human society requires a deep and broad perspective in order to contribute holistic and meaningful solutions.
SMARTEES is at its core an interdisciplinary endeavor that attempts to incorporate the technical expertise of computer scientists, data analysts, and transportation engineers with the behavioral insights from social science and humanities in a single package that is accessible to policymakers and urban planners. The consortium recognized that such a diverse mix of perspectives can pose a challenge to effective progress. Throughout the project various tools and ground rules were developed and tested to address this challenge. SMARTEES researchers have shared their reflections on this process, and advice for future interdisciplinary energy projects in a preprint article. A few of the key takeaways from this article are summarized below:
- Consortia should work with project vocabulary and stress the importance of good wording.
- SMARTEES investigated project-internal vocabulary with document analysis and internal surveys, and jointly defined key terms.
- Group leaders should consistently remind the group to avoid jargon and foster a culture that encourages clarifying questions.
- Projects should reduce the number of open discussions and presentations in favor of more frequent structured group activities in meetings.
- Activities lead to clearer outputs, more inclusive cross-disciplinary engagement, and more efficient time use in many cases.
Read the 'Tools to improve efficiency in interdisciplinary energy research projects' article here.
By: Jed Cohen, Senior Expert for energy economics at the Energy Institute at Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria