Interviews in social-ecological modelling

Interviews in social-ecological modelling

By Nicolas Côté

Around mid-June, I stopped by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, sat with María Mancilla García and Tilman Hertz on one of the round tables in the small courtyard between the building’s aisles, and talked about interviews. That and social-ecological systems, science studies, interdisciplinarity, and the outcomes of a short research projected over August 2018. In addition I discovered the lake, the woods around, and the coffee machine. Those were three of the first privileges uncovered for me at the SRC (- I did not know of the ice cream store at the time).

I came back in August. — The first obvious conclusion is that one month is rather short for a research visit. **After three weeks comfort and confidence with what you’re doing start settling in, and then you have to go. — In my case, I’m finishing my undergraduate degree this year in physics and socio-cultural anthropology at UofT, Toronto, Canada.

What I came to the SRC for was this:  

Trying to understand how researchers in social-ecological modelling and Earth systems science:

  1. Account for social-ecological intertwinedness in their work. —— ‘intertwinedness’ is a concept embedded in the SES-link perspective, but one that we expected some researchers to be less familiar with. Hence, we often used the concept of ‘interaction’, however insufficient. 
  2. How they manage to work with or integrate insight from other disciplinary background.
  3. What place the concepts of temporal and spatial scales have in their work.

From mid-June on, I prepared the project closely with Tilman and María, who gave it practical form by suggesting to carry a series of interviews of researchers at SRC and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). In the first two weeks of August, María, Tilman and I designed the interview questions while I read about our potential interviewees’ work. In the last two weeks, I interviewed 9 researchers at the SRC from a variety of project areas for durations of 45 minutes to 1h30. And over the month of September, I was able to interview 6 more researchers based at PIK and one at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, in Berlin. The aim of the analysis of these interviews would be to build a clearer view of how different understandings of the links between the social and the ecological have been approached in SES modelling and Earth System science. Practically, we hope that these insights may inform the work of researchers in those fields, as well as that of wider communities of practitioners focusing on similar issues. 

Update: At this moment, the process of transcription of these interviews is still ongoing, and the analysis process will be carried over the months of November and December. I will probably be continuing to work on this project with María and Tilman probably until the end of the academic year. 

There are however a few things I can already say about the SRC: but as this blog post is starting to be long, let me stick to one. It is the most interdisciplinary knowledge institution I have been able to go to. Interdisciplinarity, and the practices of interacting for example between natural and social disciplinary backgrounds, is something that a few of the people I have interviewed have told me was rooted in a certain personal trajectory that led to openness to those different ways of making knowledge. However, in addition to gathering researchers with interdisciplinary personal trajectories, it seemed that the common practices the SRC institution promotes also profoundly impact the culture of collaboration, exchange, and openness there. Maybe not. A month is also a little short for conclusions on how interdisciplinarity appears and gets sustained at the SRC. But, to put those feelings in short: I got to find fascinating the possibility to carry an ethnographic study of the interdisciplinary practices at the Centre. (And I think this is another one of its privileges, more voluntary than its woods and its coffee machine). And I hope to be able to go back in the near future to continue the work started there.