I’m deep into organisation of an informal workshop, entitled untangling the “causal thickets in river health assessment” which will bring together a number of people who are asking questions about the state of UK’s rivers to consider where we are, and think creatively about where we need to be. My post of 1 June introduced “causal thickets” as a means of thinking through complex problems, so this post does not need to retread that ground. Instead, I want to make a link with another post: Colourless green ideas sleep furiously (17 April 2013).
The point I was making in that post was that much so-called “applied science” misfired because it failed to consider the broader context within which science has to function. It is a problem that I encounter often at scientific meetings attended mostly by academic scientists yet, equally, I also often find myself at meetings where the opposite is true: where a group of practitioners, rather than academics, discuss an issue without a detailed knowledge of recent advances in the field. It led me to a very rough rule of thumb, the title of this post.
Broadly speaking, if you are discussing a topic which involves the application of science to a real-world problem, you have the best discussions, and most beneficial outcomes, if you have both academic and end-user / stakeholders represented in numbers. My rule-of-thumb is that you need to have about a third of the group are academics, engaged in research an d aware of current developments, and a third who are end users / stakeholders, aware of practical issues, the nature of underlying legislation, economic realities and so on. Too few of representatives of either constituency makes it harder for voices to be heard.
The good news is that we do seem to have a mix at the workshop that I’m organising, so I am anticipating some interesting discussions some of which, I hope, will find their way onto this blog. Watch this space.