All posts by My Sellberg

Who are we and how do we hang out?

Yesterday at the PECS2015 conference we joined a great session with “young” scholars to reflect on who we are as a community of researchers and how we do what we do. SAPECS scholars Vanessa, Jessica and Odi convened it and we focused on three key questions: 1) What is our identity as SES researchers? 2) What are the challenges we experience in applying suitable tools and approaches for place-based, transdisciplinary research? and 3) How do we build a career as SES researchers? We addressed these questions through a debate, speed talks on place-based case studies, and a panel discussion with some of the “elders” of our community.

In reflecting on our CS9hfufWUAA-ZyCidentity as social-ecological researchers we considered what name to give our community. This was done as a roleplay of a community, which had been forced to adopt a new name. Marika Haeggman was our elected Mayor who facilitated the debate. The proposed name was Sustainable Transdisciplinary Resilience Ecosystem Science for Society, needless to say the acronym is STRESS! These were the reactions from the extended community:

The discussion seemed to indicate that the participants preferred to remain unnamed and have a more open identity. The openness that such an identity brings is both challenging, but also allows for creativity in how we do our research. One of the speakers, Johan Enqvist said that we might be more defined by the questions we ask and the issues we address, than our methods and disciplinary backgrounds. Caroline Schill reflected that interdisciplinary research can sometimes feel like walking a tightrope: on the one side we need to dare to be unconventional in our methods, on the other hand we need to be aware of the “disciplined” way of doing things if we want to publish our work in a certain field. One of the wise panelists, Joshua Lewis, shared his experiences of fitting into different disciplinary homes during his career and learning to adapt his language depending on the norm of each institution. Joana Carlos Bezerra stated that instead of being in a place where everyone does what she does, she would rather find a space where you are allowed to do what you want to do, how you want to do it.

The ethical dilemmas we face in engaged place-based emerged as an important discussion point. Vanessa Masterson shared an interesting insight from her work in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, where she faced a dilemma in providing honest (critical) feedback to the community, which may jeopardize the relationship of trust she built with them during her research. How do we meet the expectations of the local communities we work with? Another panelist, Tom Chaigneau, proposed that instead of disseminating our findings, which are often complex, we could throw a party for the research participants! Shauna Mahajan raised another ethical conundrum: she faced difficulties in maintaining neutrality when encountering gatekeepers in her research in Kenya.

Alta de Vos’s final CS9hgcoXAAAa_CW_002word was that she takes with her how supported she has been. There is a lot of support out there that we definitely should seek out when we are doing this type of high-stakes, tightrope-dancing research! However, it is not only the students who need to prepare for this; we also need to build institutional capacity in training and create spaces and cultures that encourage reflection.

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@jess_cockburn & @MySellberg

How do we do this?!?

Morning coffeeYesterday we had great discussions with a group of about 30 early career scholars at a learning event by SAPECS on participatory action research in social-ecological systems, facilitated by Christo Fabricius. Basically it was about how we engage in a meaningful way in our research with other people in society. I quickly realized that participants were interested in a wide range of engagement, both facilitating participatory processes and reporting back research results to communities, for example, and in lots of different contexts.

I really enjoy having those pre-meetings with a smaller group of people – now there are lots of familiar faces to chat more with during the conference! Here are some reflections from one of the organizers, Odirilwe Selomane, on why these types of events are useful:

A recurrent theme was the need to have time to connect with people outside academia, build relationships and build trust. Time to actually listen to the needs of communities. But the emphasis on time also brought up a challenge: how to find time during your PhD to both engage in a meaningful way with stakeholders and write high-quality scientific papers? Check out Jessica Cockburn’s discussion with Professor Karen Esler about this:

As Karen mentioned, a strategy to deal with this tension is to make transdisciplinary research a team effort and not an individual endeavor. Your own research can be part of a bigger project that is already established, where some of that time-consuming trust-building already has been done. Another strategy was to connect with partners outside the university that can facilitate the participatory process. From this discussion I’m more hopeful that there are ways to work this out in the current system, but in the longer-term I think there is a need to question the major incentive on researchers to allocate most their time on producing scientific publications.

I’m also asking myself how I have dealt with this issue so far? For one of the municipalities that we are collaborating with (Sellberg et al. 2015), it certainly helps that we have worked together since 2011, we already have built a lot of trust and got to know each other, and that the key people at the municipality driving the project really have an own interest in engaging with new research.




PhDs at PECS 2015

Hi Everyone,

Megan MeachamIt is My Sellberg and Megan Meacham here to introduce ourselves to you and kick off a series of blog posts dedicated to PECS 2015! PECS 2015 is a scientific conference focused on the social ecological dynamics of the anthropocene, hosted by the Programme on ecosystem change and society (PECS) in Stellenbosch, South Africa the 3rd – 5th November, 2015.

My SellbergWe are both PhD students at the Stockholm Resilience Centre as well as one half of the dream team that makes up the PECS International program office. Megan’s PhD work focuses on the dynamics of multiple ecosystem services and My’s PhD engages with the development and practice of resilience assessment.

We will be among the waves of social ecological systems scholars descending upon South Africa next week to join with the dynamic SES community based there. We are hoping for a week full of discussions, lively debates, provoking presentations, lots of fun, and of course a bit of wine.

We will use this space to share our perspectives on the conference and surrounding events as well as engage with other young and young-at-heart scholars. We hope that you will follow along as we depart the ever darker Stockholm and immerse ourselves in all the science and fun of sunny Stellenbosch and Cape Town.

Follow us on Twitter: @meganmeacham and @MySellberg