Three day interdisciplinary workshop

On the 25-27th November, the DRY project team came together to participate on a three day interdisciplinary workshop at the University of West England (UWE) to get to know one another, to experiment with each other’s research methods and to build cooperative working relationships.

One of the key aims of the three day meeting was to think about interdisciplinarity and build processes to increase interdisciplinary working from the outset of the project. The workshop was filled with exciting discussions surrounding people’s previous experiences and expectations of working on interdisciplinary projects. The group identified challenges and opportunities, and began to think about how to incorporate interdisciplinarity at different stages of the project as well as how we could measure the success of interdisciplinary efforts.

One important aspect of interdisciplinarity is to integrate data gathered using diverse methods across different areas of expertise. This requires deeper understanding of what those methods are and how they can be used together to enhance learning.  The workshop provided an opportunity to spend time trialling each other’s research methods from digital storytelling, drought risk modelling, plant experiments, citizen science and science communication. The workshop allowed people to learn, engage and question the different methods and assumptions being used in the project and sparked debates to enable team members to ‘get to grips’ with one another’s work.

Another challenge of interdisciplinary working was identified as ensuring team members are all using a shared language to communicate. Andrew Black from the University of Dundee introduced the idea of ‘thinking in systems’ as a critical concept in the project. This was both anticipated as being understood differently by different disciplines and as a productive way to work across them.   He described a system as a collection of components that work together to perform a function. A systems approach may describe a physical system such as the hydrology and management of a river or human perceptions and values associated with water. The team agreed that a system can be used as a visual tool to simplify and better understand the complexities of a problem and to help to deliver different outcomes.

On the second day of the workshop the talented Clive Francis, a cartoonist added a creative element to the workshop by capturing the events of the day through his artwork. The cartoons were displayed on the conference centre walls and allowed for a creative approach towards detailing the team’s presentations and discussions. Clive Francis’s work can be found at Images from the day can also be found on our project Flickr account.

Throughout the two days it became clear that visualising research data and findings was an important aspect of effective communication strategies for the project. Adam Corner from the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN), a partner in the project, joined us for the workshop to provide advice, guidance and training for the project team to better communicate with the public and key stakeholder groups. Adam led a session to explore what drought ‘data’ means and all team members were encouraged to bring a visual aid to communicate drought.  Members of the team brought in a multitude of visual media. These included images of cracked earth, infographics articulating drought impacts, graphs of changes in river flow, maps of changes in crop production and physical objects including a wooden log displaying its tree rings and changes in tree growth over time and bottles of water representing the proportion of monthly rainfall. Overall from the group discussions and activities highlighted the need to understand who the audience of project’s communications would be and how to build the salience of drought impacts and management by: focusing on the local and immediate impacts on people; by drawing on personal experiences and real stories that mobilise empathy; and ensuring we use a message that resonates because it relate to the values and ideology of the target audience.

The workshop was a great starting point for the wider team to meet and share ideas, building momentum and starting conversations across different aspects of the project which will continue into 2015.

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