BLOG: "KNOTS Summer School: The Benefits of Using Transdisciplinary Research for Impacting Policy Change

KNOTS Summer School: The Benefits of Using Transdisciplinary Research for Impacting Policy Change


Written by Robert Irven

Project Manager, Center for Social Development Studies, Chulalongkorn University


Background


TAM DAO, VIETNAM (Credit: R. Irven)

TAM DAO, VIETNAM (Credit: R. Irven)

The 2017 KNOTS Summer School program kicked off in mid-September with students from an array of Southeast Asian universities converging in Tam Dao, Vietnam to join professors and experts from both European and Asian universities to learn both the theory and practice behind transdisciplinary methods. After a week of formal workshops and seminars in the misty mountains of north Vietnam, the group traveled to Duong Lam UNESCO World Heritage Village to put into practice what they learned and engage further with the community there for another week.

While initially difficult to grasp and often equally hard to plan and implement, the foundations and practice of transdisciplinary research have the important ability to create more inclusive and impactful projects, better benefitting the community and transferring knowledge to multiple parties. In a development climate where community engagement, particularly of the most marginalized populations, justice seeking and empowerment have become the goals of practitioners and increasingly, researchers, utilizing a transdisciplinary methodology and mindset can help achieve the goals of both scientists and participants, closing the gap that often exists in such settings. Throughout the training and subsequent field work, I not only found the methodology sessions but also the conversations and debates incredibly insightful for my own work, research and future goals. As someone who has taken up work in the development sector with a particular interest in giving voices to members of society long forgotten, ignored or targeted, I believe employing transdisciplinary methods is something that will more easily allow me to achieve those goals.

 

Summer School Reflections

LOCAL POET IN DUONG LAM, VIETNAM (Credit: R. Irven)

LOCAL POET IN DUONG LAM, VIETNAM (Credit: R. Irven)

During the second day of training a discussion in one of my breakouts centered around whether researchers can also serve as activists, something I found very insightful and inspiring. In my own experience, I would say that research/academia often seems quite disconnected from the subjects or calls for justice they seek and the outputs are often presented in a way that prevents the average person from understanding or connecting with the research. The split between academia and non-academia is troubling and with more access to media and information through technology and the internet, this should be leveraged whenever possible, and a transdisciplinary methodology can help fix this and transform academia into a more engaged sector. Not all researchers consider themselves activists and vice versa, but I believe their goals are often aligned and both can learn from each other and learn a lot from using transdisciplinary design and subsequent research methods.

The benefits of conducting research (or activism) using transdisciplinary methods does not come without its many challenges, often presenting themselves at the very beginning. One of the biggest issues I could perceive facing in my own projects in aligning goals (both professional and personal) of a large research team as well as incorporating/creating inclusive collaborations with the community. Setting clear lines of communication and a strong upfront work plan is one way to tackle this issue from the start, and openness and monitoring said goals needs to continue throughout the project. Particularly working with multi-national teams who contain vast yet diverse ideas and experiences is a strength to any project, but it must also be acknowledged that these characteristics also pose a threat to cohesion and understanding of a shared project.

Overall I would say a largely important underlying characteristic of a successful transdisciplinary methodology would be partnerships and communication, both throughout a research team as well as between the multitude of relevant topics and potential engagement opportunities that can present themselves during fieldwork. If one can think of research like a map, all potential routes and ways of transport should be explored if the goal is a non-biased framing and inclusive implementation. While difficult, this method will serve to boost a team’s final products/outputs and hopefully the goals of the stakeholders also involved in the project. This also allows for a mutual learning process rather than simply an informed public, which is one of the goals of transdisciplinary methods. After reflecting on just a few of the topics discussed in the two-week session, I would say that I feel much more confident and prepared to conduct meaningful and effective research in the future. Seeing this topic as an upward trend is also very inspiring to me as it shows that research is evolving with the times and this will hopefully allow for information and knowledge to continue spreading despite more recent, yet isolated instances of attempted silencing and suppression by those who do not see value or validity in scientific information. By further broadening the scope and stakeholders involved in research, more people will now not only be able to gain access to the information, but more people will see direct benefits from the actual research conducted, and this should be celebrated as a victory for researchers, activists and the community alike. 

 

Impacting Policy

Although not all research aims to affect/change policy, the underlying understanding of using transdisciplinary research methods is that it has the inherent ability to more effectively impact formal mechanisms and institutions, due to its inclusivity of multiple, often community-oriented stakeholders and the researchers’ desire to provide a voice to marginalized/ignored populations in society. This concept of “engaged academia” appears to be on the rise, as more people seek to not only publish, but make more tangible and significant impacts with their work, something I believe is an important shift needed now more than ever. With science and hard facts increasingly on the defense, researchers need to continue to transform along their methods to stay relevant and connect to the larger community. The act of incorporating a wide and diverse set of stakeholders into the planning and research phases creates a more comprehensive group invested in the results of the project, and this evidence-based reporting is then seen as more legitimate, thus having a greater impact on policy makers. Moreover, if government/local officials are brought into the research at the early, planning stages, they will also be more invested in the outcomes and the feeling of inclusion throughout will hold their interest which can often be a challenge when it comes to academia. This notion of engaging policy makers in the long run is important for shaping policy and if it is the goal of a researcher to do so, transdisciplinary research should be given a priority when designing a study.

FIELD RESEARCH WITH THE TEAM AND RESIDENT IN DUONG LAM, VIETNAM (Credit: R. Irven)

FIELD RESEARCH WITH THE TEAM AND RESIDENT IN DUONG LAM, VIETNAM (Credit: R. Irven)

BLOG: "Transdisciplinary Research at KNOTS Summer School, Tam Dao, Vietnam"

Transdisciplinary Research at KNOTS Summer School, Tam Dao, Vietnam

 

Written by Mukda Pratheepwatanawong

Researcher of Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University

 

Introduction

The Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies (KNOTS) Summer School at Tam Dao, Vietnam, had identified various research issues and potential research projects to approach many development challenges in Southeast Asian countries; of which are related to climate change, social inequality, rivers, forest, and ecotourism. Transdisciplinary Studies, require a significant amount of time, funding, and necessary skills to approach, develop and conduct research in the context of researcher’s interest. Being away from the busy urban areas of Vietnam, the KNOTS summer school at Tam Dao provided intense lectures to diverse group of participants on developmental issues in Southeast Asia countries. Being co-funded by Erasmus+ Program - European Union, professors from different universities in Europe, Thailand, and Vietnam - that are doing transdisciplinary research, took this opportunity to contribute their findings, clarified various key issues on transdisciplinary research and transferred their knowledge to the next generation of researchers. This essay attempts to provide an overview of transdisciplinary research and a personal reflection on the KNOTS summer school at Tam Dao.

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Overview of Transdisciplinary Research

To begin with, researchers who are interested or considered using transdisciplinary method for their research can start by thinking and planning their research with the following three questions: 1. Why do you want to do the research? 2. What do you want to know in the research?  3. What do you want to know about the research?  I left out the word “exactly” in these questions because transdisciplinary research is an exploratory approach. Often, researchers would start off by having a very broad knowledge and understanding about the topic and the context of the study. Therefore, this part of transdisciplinary research would involve more of thinking and brainstorming process, in order to diverge research ideas and questions to explore possible connection between them. (These questions were developed through group works with other Thais and Vietnamese participants in the summer school, under the supervision / facilitation of Professor Michael Kleinod)

The thinking and brainstorming process starts with the question on “Why do you want to do the research?”. This part serves as the establishment of the study and the reason for such establishment might be due to existing or previous research projects did not work out well, did not identify the core issues or did not solve the intended problems. Therefore, transdisciplinary research can be used as a comprehensive approach to explore the area that the researcher is interested in. For example, if a target location is a non-tourist place and villagers there are living at poverty level, the researcher should gather more information and data about the place and its standard of living, before suggesting the place to attract tourism. If converting into a tourism place is what the researcher aims for, then the researcher should further consider about alternative options such as ecotourism or cultural tourism for the local community.

With regards to the question on “What do you want to know in the research?”, this question goes one step deeper to identify the fundamental information regarding stakeholders, cultures, and existing problems within the context of the study. For example, come back to the case of ecotourism, the researcher might want to have discussions with different people in the local community to find out their opinions on converting the target location into ecotourism. In addition, it would be interesting to find out people’s opinion on ecotourism and their understanding about it. Besides, it is important to understand the social structure and the social relationship within in the local community.

Lastly, based on the question of “How to do the research?”, this part involves more of a Social Science research methodology; which considers different ways in which data can be collected. And this process depends on what type of information the researcher wants to know and who can the researcher gets the information from. To get information and opinion on development issues such as climate change, social inequality, rivers, forest and ecotourism from villagers, the researcher can consider adopting various data collection methods such as informal interviews and conversation, focus group interview, in-depth interview, survey, discussion group, documentation research and ethnography; depends on the context and types of people providing the information. It is important that researchers think about research ethics while collecting data.

Similar to other types of research, transdisciplinary research does not strictly follow step-by-step procedure. Therefore, the integration of each step might occur to gather information and develop the research. What is important about transdisciplinary research is to relate the information of each step to each other. And this comes with the consideration of time and money required to do the research

After being introduced and instructed on transdisciplinary research, it would be worth considering to adopt it for a PhD research, where students usually have sufficient amount of time, funding, and access to the target community. If the transdisciplinary approach and the PhD project succeed, the research will be original in contributing new knowledge to the existing literature review. However, having years to do a project can make PhD candidate become isolated and detach from their PhD process. Data collection and field work are as fundamental as contextualization and literature review of the thesis. But whether to use transdisciplinary research for a PhD project or not, one should definitely discuss with their supervisor or researchers who had used it before.

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Reflection on KNOTS Summer School at Tam Dao

Although Tam Dao is far from the city center in Northern Vietnam, there were many things happening in the district. Apart from the international summer school that I was involved in, many local restaurants offer Karaoke as part of the entertainment and dinner in Tam Dao. There is a Chinese temple that my friends and I visited, which involved climbing up the mountain, and was exciting after being fed with Pho, Bun Cha and G7 coffee and other delicious Vietnamese food throughout the summer school. The summer school gave me the opportunity to appreciate and experience the local cultures of the district, the everyday life of the local community that I was in, which is an important start for someone who is interested to know more about Vietnam.

Coordinating and organizing a summer school can be possible but not every summer school can be successful. I would like to say here that the Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies Summer School at Tam Dao, was possible as well as successful as it involved efficient organization and cooperation from different universities, constantly working with one another to develop the projects, make decisions and solve problems that project face. The organizer and funder were thoughtful and sincere to let students and professors from different universities to collaborate and participate in this project. I heard that the next summer school for this project will be hosted by Chiang Mai University, and the summer school and the field trip will be somewhere in the Northern region of Thailand, which is a perfect place for summer school and field trip. The weather in Northern region of Thailand is cooler than in Bangkok and that region will allow participants to experience the local life of Thais of diverse background and ethnic groups. If the next summer school theme lies around transdisciplinary research, I will definitely recommend the summer school to postgraduate students, particularly those at the beginning of their PhD student or intend to do a PhD in the Social Science field, intending to explore into the topic that they are going to do for their research.

Although completing my PhD had enabled me to understand the standard required to contribute new research into my research field, I was still keen to learn about transdisciplinary research for my future research, which is becoming an important type of research to deal with deal in Social Science field. The summer school had provided a diverse identification of contemporary development and changes in Southeast Asian and provided me with many opportunities to share my research experience other postgraduate students and professors, enabling me to expand my research networking, which is beneficial for future research and funding purpose.

BLOG: "The Experiences Gained From Traveling and Studying Under "KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip 2017"

The Experiences Gained from Traveling and Studying Under

“KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip 2017”

 

Written By Pairin Makcharoen, PhD. Student (Political Science), Chulalongkorn University

 

"In a fast-changing world that is full of problems, difference, and transnational, the study based on transdisciplinary research is one of the best methods that can respond to such problems at present. Because we can understand things all-around without ignorance of little important things."

Photo: At present, there are renovations of important places built in the French colonial period. (1)

Photo: At present, there are renovations of important places built in the French colonial period. (1)

The project was funded by the European Commission's ERASMUS + program during 18-25 September in Vietnam. Although it was not my first trip to Vietnam, it cannot deny that this trip was very interesting and it had given me a lot of new experiences. The trip was started from the city where the school is located, Tam Dao City. Although it is not a famous city for tourists, but Tam Dao City is a very busy city for Vietnamese tourists, especially those who came from Hanoi on holidays. This is because Tam Dao is a city located on the top of mountains with cold weather throughout the years. Also, it is a city with stories and traces associated with the French colonies which are still with the cultures of native people as well. The charm of this city is the tranquility of the forest and natures on weekdays as well as the merriment on holidays.

Photo: Tam Dao City

Photo: Tam Dao City

Photo: At present, there are renovations of important places built in the French colonial period. (2)

Photo: At present, there are renovations of important places built in the French colonial period. (2)

In terms of substance, I had learned about transdisciplinary research as a guideline for the study of several issues which focuses on non-academic actors as well as consideration of issues studied in every aspect and in every dimension related including a guideline that encourages the integration of science and knowledge that explains and seeks resolutions for problems. Therefore, "In a fast-changing world that is full of problems, difference, and transnational, the study based on transdisciplinary research is one of the best methods that can respond to such problems at present. Because we can understand things all-around without ignorance of little important things”. This is because transdisciplinary research tries to deal with the complex world that has many processes, facets and impacts. Transdisciplinary research connects cross theoretical approach and body of literature reviews.

Photo: For Christian churches which are bustling and full of people on weekends, these places are currently for taking pre-wedding photos of Vietnamese couples.

Photo: For Christian churches which are bustling and full of people on weekends, these places are currently for taking pre-wedding photos of Vietnamese couples.

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Photo: The Mahayana Buddhist temple which is located on the top of the mountain among nature.

Photo: The Mahayana Buddhist temple which is located on the top of the mountain among nature.

I am interested in migration and transnational migrants which are ones of the key issues of this project. Having conversations and exchanging ideas with other participants of the project who are interested in similar issues was like opening myself up to new visions in both width and depth. In the width, I had learned a lot about issues and case studies of migration and transnational migrants from other participants of the project from Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Austria, and the Czech Republic. This made me understand the context of migration of each country, similarity, difference, and the study method of each person. We had learned important words, such as 'Banana Child', a self-reference for Vietnamese children living in the Czech Republic, etc. In the depth, I had learned the method of transdisciplinary research and peer session participation. This had given me an insight of the complexity of migration which is related with economic aspects (such as home remittances and economic growth of migrants), political aspects (such as power, entitlement and exclusion of migrants), and social aspects (such as acceptance, interaction and assimilation between migrants and people in the community). Moreover, I had learned that, although the issue of migration is not a new issue, it is an issue with its own dynamic. We had anticipated new challenges that may arise and involved with migration, such as migration from environmental problems. In addition to migration issues, I also learned about other important issues, such as “environmental change and social inequality" additionally.

Photo: "I Love You" in Different Languages at sky garden, Tam Dao City

Photo: "I Love You" in Different Languages at sky garden, Tam Dao City

In this final part, I would like to thank all the parties who had implemented the project, especially for the course of Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy in International Development Studies (MAIDS-GRID), Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. Joining this program was very beneficial to both learning, gaining new visions, including obtaining experiences, networks, and friendships from sharing ideas and working mutually with other participants. Most of all, it also contributed to the development of researching in the future.

BLOG: "2017 KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip - Where Ideas Innovate and Live" Written by Huong Ngoc Nguyen

2017 KNOTS summer school and field trip - Where ideas innovate and live

Written by Huong Ngoc Nguyen

MAIDS Alumni - Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

 

Two weeks ago, I joined the first summer school and field trip of the Fostering Multi-Lateral Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies to Tackle Global Challenges (KNOTS) project[1] in Tam Dao and Duong Lam, Vietnam. I still have mixed feelings about the trip until now.

Tam Dao – where ideas innovate

Our trip began with the one-week summer course in Tam Dao hill station, a summer retreat place for nearby urban habitants due to its cool climate and beautiful landscape. Although the town kept on satisfying me with its famous dishes “su su xào tỏi” – a fried leafy green vegetable with garlic, I felt sad while observing its changes during my stay there. 

My favorite dishes “su su xào tỏi”. Source: Internet

My favorite dishes “su su xào tỏi”. Source: Internet

Memories in the past reminded me of Tam Dao as a small town located on the hilly mountain and surrounded by the natural forests, with only a few small hotels and facilities for tourists. At night, there were a few electric lights and not much entertainment so travelers often walked around the foggy town or into the forest up to the TV tower and tasted the misty and quite atmosphere, which made the sixteen-year-old girl (me) felt like “Alice in wonderland”. Instead of being thicken by forests, at the moment the “wonderland” has been mushroomed with lots of construction sites, hotels, villas, coffee shops, central square, etc. which are dense but disordered. They seem to be built without much planning.

High dense buildings in the town

High dense buildings in the town

Surprisingly, at weekend flocks of people jam-packed the town with interweaving sounds of the motorbikes from tour groups, the music from coffee shops and local radio, the loud from conversations, and the noise from construction sites. All blend together and make the town become chaotic. In spite of acknowledging that the changes is inevitable, I felt that the town has been put too much burden on its small shoulder and I wondered why this happened and what I can do.

Questions hanged on my mind, I turned energy to classes at the summer school of KNOTS where researchers, lecturers and graduate students from eight universities across Europe, Thailand and Vietnam exchange and discuss the transdisciplinary studies in tackling global challenges, especially in Southeast Asia. To me, KNOTS in general and the first summer school in particular are the promising environments to create networks of not only ideas but also people.

Participants of the first KNOTS summer school. Source: KNOTS Facebook

Participants of the first KNOTS summer school. Source: KNOTS Facebook

First, high-density flow of ideas and knowledge has innovated during the intensive week of the summer school. Through appealing presentations, constructive discussions and team work, I have learnt that the more integrated the world become, the more complex and interlinked global development issues are. These challenging problems including human migration, environmental degradation and social inequality are not usually defined in such clear and tangible way due to different perspectives, contexts, and cultures. Consequently, it requires the mixture of different disciplines and participation of diverse actors to co-produce knowledge, ultimately to comprehensively and appropriately understand the complexity of the problems. This is considered as one of the key theme of transdipciplinary approaches. As a student interested in environmental issues, KNOTS’s summer school gave me the chance to learn, discuss and examine the transdipciplinary approaches through political ecology lens in researching on forest governance, ecotourism and river. Political ecology is understood as the combination between the disciplines of ecology and a broadly defined political economy which could help us not only understand the co-production between nature and society but also look for a chain of causality operating between the relation[1]. More notably, I have discovered some reasons answering for the chaos of current Tam Dao which are lack of co-management in tourism planning, the weakness of enforcement of forest management regulations and unclear buffer zone planning[2]. Looking deeper, the region including the town and surrounding national parks has confronted the issue of unequal distribution of forest land access due to local power structure under decentralized administration of forest land allocation policies[3].

Second, the summer school offers me valuable networking opportunities with diversity of students and researchers. Besides the classes, we chit-chat about life stories, explore the town and gather through “collective” meals and games. Through these activities, I can understand about different backgrounds, perspectives as well as different cultures. Saying goodbye to Tam Dao, the feeling of nostalgic has not been disappeared yet, but I am pleased that I have found a part of answers and more importantly have chance to know interesting people.

One of “collective” games connects us together. Credit to Winnie Wichitra, CMU

One of “collective” games connects us together. Credit to Winnie Wichitra, CMU

Duong Lam – where the ideas live

After the summer school, in order to make the ideas happen, KNOTS built “an experimental lab” to connect the dots between the theory and reality which allows researchers apply the transcipdiplinary approaches into practice with the four-day field trip at Duong Lam commune, Son Tay, Hanoi. We were divided into three groups with key main themes discussed at the summer school including human migration, social inequality and river. I chose the river group studying the aspects related to the Red River within the scope of the commune because I think the river would be a great example of applying transdipciplinary approaches and understanding human-nature linkages.

The remark of the field trip for me was the day we spent at Hung Thinh village – a small village with total length around 1,000m along Red River and with about 830 local inhabitants. The major livelihoods are 70% agriculture (rice farming) and 30% non-agriculture (factory workers, sand transportation, etc.). By using different research methods including meeting with the commune leaders, wandering around and discussing with locals, our group got an overview of the current situation of the river. Meanwhile, the river is under pressure of various factors from industrial waste from upstream factories, human waste from nearby villages, agriculture, sand mining, and further upstream dams.

Our river group walked with villagers to see the Red River and new-built bridge

Our river group walked with villagers to see the Red River and new-built bridge

Moreover, we have learnt about the perception of locals about their current state as well as future vision of the village through the co-mapping method. Villagers were asked to draw pictures of the village and important elements they perceived as important or effect to their lives with the support and facilitation of our group. To my surprise, not only the river is stressful, the village itself seems to be at the margin of urbanization and industrialization with significant problems, namely loss of livelihoods (loss of agricultural land and informal market beside the riverbank due to new built bridge and changed land use) and the risk of settlement (landslide of the riverbank). For future development, stable settlements and alternative livelihoods are two major wishes of the villagers when they were asked to dream about their future. The challenges of the village could be explained by the rapid urbanization within the commune since Son Tay (Ha Tay province) geographically merged to Hanoi – the capital in 2008 and the industrialization trends in the country since the economic reform (“doi moi”) in 1986. On the whole, the current situation of the river and the village reflects what I have learnt from the summer school that the co-produced and return way of causality relationship between environment and society in which human actions are continually producing the environment and environmental change “loops back” onto people and society.  

Locals draw mapping of their current and future village under the support of our group. Source: KNOTS Facebook

Locals draw mapping of their current and future village under the support of our group. Source: KNOTS Facebook

Returning from the trip, I somehow find out the answer for the question of “what can I do?”. Firstly, I have realized the importance of being responsible and conscious in producing knowledge. As a student planning to pursue the PhD, to consider transdipciplinary approaches as a mindset helps me critically shaping thoughts since the first stages of the pathway, namely developing research proposal including research questions, objectives and methods, and thinking about different actors including both academic and non-academic actors who are related to the research issue and who should involve in the research process. Furthermore, the field trip taught me to be organized but flexible, which is useful skill for me doing future researches. Since transdipciplinary studies require adequately address complexity of problems and diversity of perceptions, it is highly recommended for the researchers to be prepared to learn the cutting-edge issues but also be open-minded to grasp new information or explore changes. Last but not least, even though the challenging problems are big and complex, I believe that I should start from small steps, for example be conscious about what I produce and consume, not only knowledge but everything in life.

[1] KNOTS project is a three-year project which was initiated in October 2016 and created by the collaboration between seven universities in Europe, Thailand and Vietnam including the University of Vienna, Austria; Charles University, Czechia; University of Bonn, Germany; Chulalongkorn University and Chiang Mai University, Thailand; and Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Southern Institute of Social Sciences, and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Vietnam. The project is funded by the European Commission’s ERASMUS+ programme. 

[1] Presentation of Ajarn Carl Middleton, KNOTS summer school and field trip, 19 – 30 September 2017

[2] Duong, V.H. (2013). Tam Dao National Park. Evidence-based conservation: lessons from the lower Mekong. Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR.

[3] Cari, A.C. (2012). Local Power Structures and Their Effect on Forest Land Allocation in the Buffer Zone of Tam Dao National Park, Vietnam. The Journal of Environment & Development, 22(1), 74–103.

BLOG: "Transdisciplinarity as a Modern Approach for Global Challenges: Experiences from 2017 Summer School and Fieldtrip, Vietnam" Written by Veng Seang Hai

Transdisciplinarity as a Modern Approach for Global Challenges: Experiences from 2017 Summer School and Fieldtrip, Vietnam

Written by Veng Seang Hai 

If you think just giving money to the poor and building a great wall are ready-made answers to issues of poverty and migration, you may knock on the wrong door. An answer should be more critical since current global challenges have arrived at a wicked and complex system whereby there is no fixed recipe or final solution. Expertise is not always applicable to all contexts since knowledge can be co-produced and reproduced by other forms of knowledge and actors such as the non-trained or non-experts.  

This paradigm shift allows seven universities in Europe and Asia to tie together and create a multilateral program called Fostering Multi-Lateral Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies to Tackle Global Challenges (KNOTS). The seven universities include the University of Vienna (Austria), Charles University, (Czech Republic), University of Bonn (Germany), Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), Chiang Mai University (Thailand), Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Southern Institute of Social Sciences (Vietnam) and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (Vietnam).

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Photo: Opening remark for KNOTS summer school at Vietnam Academy of Social Science (VASS)

Global challenges change so rapidly that they require new innovations in teaching and research methodologies. Besides methodological framework, KNOTS is to build a network of transdisciplinary studies by drawing a platform which represents close collaboration between the academic and non-academic actors, particularly focusing on 1) Environmental Degradation 2) Migration and 3) Social Inequality.

From 18 September to 1 October 2017, KNOTS team organized a hybrid program comprising of summer school in Tam Dao and a field trip in Duong Lam commune, Son Tay town, Hanoi. The idea is to facilitate students from concerned universities to put conceptual information about transdisciplinarity approach into practices during the fieldtrip.

This essay covers information, experiences and reflections that I have learned from the event. What’s more is about challenges faced while applying transdiciplinarity approaches in Duong Lam commune.

Tam Dao National Park: Found by the Occident, Consumed by the Orient  

The summer school was held in picturesque Tam Dao National Park, not far from Ha Noi. The side hides itself in the ocean of green jungle covered by blanket of white cloud underneath amusing blue sky. Such the breathtaking landscape made me no doubt why the French colonists were so deep in loved in this site decades ago that they territorized the site as their legacy. Are there any Frenchmen now?

Photo 1: Tam Dao National Park, view from my hotel

Photo 1: Tam Dao National Park, view from my hotel

Thanks to the French, who tried their best discovering such the recreational heaven on earth, Tam Dao, but now it is more popular to Chinese, Korean and local Vietnamese tourists and businessmen. In context of increased number tourists, supply of accommodations and tourist services has reached the peak—peak of price and peak of mountains. New buildings have emerged getting taller than mountains somehow. It seems to me that the massive emergence of tourist infrastructure could be potential threats to authenticity of the beautiful site. This is Tam Dao in 2017, which is being replaced by modern structures and touristy landscape over its former well-known French legacy. Not all gone. We still find some remained French architects—French ancient stone church, for example.

Photo 2: French ancient stone Church, erecting in the middle of new taller buildings and surrounded by power lines

Photo 2: French ancient stone Church, erecting in the middle of new taller buildings and surrounded by power lines

Photo 2: French ancient stone Church, erecting in the middle of new taller buildings and surrounded by power lines

Photo 3: Development sees no exhaustion. It was about 7 P.M while an excavator was still preparing a new construction site.

Photo 3: Development sees no exhaustion. It was about 7 P.M while an excavator was still preparing a new construction site.

Photo 4: Mushroom of old and new buildings including tourist accommodations and residential houses

Photo 4: Mushroom of old and new buildings including tourist accommodations and residential houses

Staying in Tam Dao for one week, I not only learned about the transdisciplinarity but also realize a part of potential issue represented by rapid growth of tourism infrastructure in the National Park. Not to claim I am 100 % correct, I only raise an alert for related stakeholders to think about construction and building regulation for Tam Dao in avoiding losing its authentic beauty of magnificence and ensuring sustainability of the site.

KNOTS Summer School: The Enlightenment in 21th Century

This section focuses on content I learned from the intense summer school on transdisciplanarity as a new paradigm for researchers and teachers in development and in general. One sentence to reflect all my thoughts is “from now on it comes to the second-path of Enlightenment where experts and academics are taken down to meet non-trained and non-academic knowledge producers and where no single discipline is dominant on a platform of mutual respects.”

I make the claim after Richard Barnthaler and Petra Dannecker kicked off the ball toward history of science and research paradigms in relation to transdiciplinarity. According to Richard, the Western history during 18th and 19th century was marked by “Western Enlightenment Project” during which Western scientific revolution took its root.

In this context, boundaries amongst scientists with different disciplines were drawn, and flawed understanding of objectivity existed. There were problematic assumptions with regard to standard science. While people started to question science more and more, sharp distinction between lay (not trained) and expert knowledge arouse. Therefore, it called for a promotion on epistemology goal aimed to have social conventionality of research. What Richard Barnthaler shared fascinated me in the sense that we could not over distinguish between scientific knowledge and other forms of knowledge produced by the untrained since people in different cultural, social and political context tend to contextualize problems differently.

   Photo 5: Richard Barnthaler giving a presentation on History of Science

   Photo 5: Richard Barnthaler giving a presentation on History of Science

Photo 6: Petra Dannecker giving her presentation on Research Paradigm and Transdiciplinarity

Photo 6: Petra Dannecker giving her presentation on Research Paradigm and Transdiciplinarity

In consequence to Richard, Petra Dannecker proceeded to update the momentum of research paradigm with emphasis on pragmatism. In this sense, researches are expected to be more conventionally important and need neutral context and partnership between development researchers and practitioners.

More importantly, Petra further gives insights into three phases of conducting transdisciplinarity. They include (1) framing, (2) research process implementation, and (3) outcomes. Firstly, a planner should ask a question for what and whom his research is designed, empathizing on aims and beneficiaries. To put in other word, research issues and questions should be amendable or feasible to scientific inquiry and ideally co-designed with non-academic actors. Secondly, transdisciplinarity implies that appropriate roles of practitioners or the non-academics and researchers have to be assigned with reference to the interests, needs, wishes and fears of all actors (i.e. there might be political threat for non-academic actors to participate). Thirdly, it acknowledges different forms of knowledge produced through transdisciplinarity. In detail, “system knowledge” reflects a complex problem; “target knowledge” is important for orientation of what a certain issue should look like. What’s more is transformative knowledge which is co-produced by other knowledge. More importantly, transdisciplinarity produces knowledge which can be used by non-academic actors and contribute to policy-making discussions or actions.

Despite fascinating elements of transdisciplanarity, challenges are inevitable. One of the challenges relates to potential conflicts of epistemologies of actors in addition to contestation of values, interests and expectation. It would be a hard work to manage the difference. Another challenge is explained by symbolic participation since not all actors are guaranteed to have intrinsic motivation or inspiration to get things done. Related to this, we should go back to participant selection process whereby each participant has to be ensured of their motives and responsibilities.

Overall, notwithstanding difficulties in transdisciplinary, I still hold strong optimism since it serves as a new turning point for searchers and scientists to rethink their roles in making better deal for global challenges. That is why I call it 21th century Enlightenment.

Duong Lam Commune: Trajectories of Human Mobility       

The idea behind having a fieldtrip in Duong Lam is to translate conceptuality into practicality. At the beginning, we had a chance to meet with leaders of Duong Lam and union leaders. I was fascinated to stories related to historic heroes born in Duong Lam. For this reason, the place became a sacred place, and 9 villages in Duong Lam became cultural heritage in 2006 due to their ancient houses.

Photo 7: KNOTS team having a meeting with leaders of Duong Lam commune

Photo 7: KNOTS team having a meeting with leaders of Duong Lam commune

Photo 8: KNOTS migration group having focus-group discussion with villagers and union leaders

Photo 8: KNOTS migration group having focus-group discussion with villagers and union leaders

General issues faced by Duong Lam relate to social inequality, conservation of ancient houses and human mobility. 70 % of total populations are farmers while 30 % of people are local business owners and traders. Therefore, migration and movement of people in the village became remarkable. Since there are different issues to focus, three different groups were divided in accordance to different issues. Particularly, I am in migration group joined by other four students from Vietnam and Thailand, under helpful supervision of ajan Naruemon Thabchumpon, Alexandra Heis, Bara Jirkova.

For benefit of broader understanding of the issue, my group decided to extend the inquiry into general nature of mobility and movement of people. Three sample groups include farmers, non-farmers and entrepreneurs who were aimed to give diverse perceptions on mobility. Our case studies lie in two villages in Duong Lam: Dong Sang and Doi Giap. 2 in-depth interviews and 4 focused-group discussion were conducted, plus observation and informal talk.

Neoliberalism in Socialist Vietnam?: A Case of a Local Chicken Business

I would consider what I learned here as a success story of the summer school because I was able to reflect to the content that Petra Dannecker talked about outcomes of transdisciplinarity related to transformative knowledge and co-produced knowledge. I also leant this content from discussion and literature on political ecology from ajan Carl Middleston and ajan Chusak Wittayapak. 

Photo 9: Group photo with the chicken farmer family. I am in the middle in black. The farmer is on my left hand and his wife is on the right hand. They are showing us a small vacuum sealer used for chicken packaging.  

Photo 9: Group photo with the chicken farmer family. I am in the middle in black. The farmer is on my left hand and his wife is on the right hand. They are showing us a small vacuum sealer used for chicken packaging.  

In theory, common knowledge of neoliberalism relates to state level of analysis on such principles as Keynesian economic model, deregulation, privatization, free trade and cross-border relocation of cooperation and territorization as touched by David Harvey.

However, I seem to have learned a new thing related neoliberalism theory after meeting with Gia Mia (sugar can chicken) business owner in Dong Sang village. An implication I learned is that neoliberalism is not always the matters at state level, but it is also village level and individualistic matter.

One aspect I found related to neoliberalism is concerned with business relocation. Gia Mia (sugar can chicken) enterprise have located in the village for generations because the owner inherited the chicken raising and breeding technology from his ancestors who had lived in the village. Since Dong Sang is enlisted to cultural heritage, the business is under strict regulation and intervention by the central Vietnamese state. The owner is not allowed to expand his farm due to concern of smell and environmental pollutions to the village. Thus, expansion of the business is not possible unless it is relocated outside the protected village. 

What fascinates me is the business owner’s future plan to expand his business by relocating the farm to another village with no regulatory restriction by the Vietnamese state. It means that he can move to outside locality beside the cultural village if he wants to make the farm bigger and more profitable. To put in other word, this case represents “laissez-faire” economic system at micro-level where the chicken farmer aims to liberate his business from government intervention such as regulatory restriction based on cultural village protection. Hence, I argue that Vietnamese individuals have neoliberal nature as reflected from relocation view.

Another neoliberal aspect relates to Gia Mia association which seemed to play a different game from the central government. What I mean by a different game is that members have different specialized roles and resources used to exchange and trade with one another due to agreed terms and price. Association serves as financial resources for the chicken business since it received limited fiscal support from the Department of Agriculture. Moreover, the association has various cooperatives which sell chicken products outside the village.   

I cannot say my preliminary analysis is sorely correct due to time and knowledge constraints. By the way, I personally come up with uncertainty since seeing it as a paradox of socialism in Vietnam. On state level, it is obviously socialist system, but at individual level, it is more related to neoliberal economy system and principles. For me, the case of Vietnam has a unique definition of socialism if analyzing state and individual perspectives.

Emotional Involvement in Transdisciplinarity: “He thinks you are his father”

Going to a field study gives you not only cultural knowledge but also something beyond. That something is what I call “emotional knowledge” gained through direct engagement with local people. However, tracking back to what Richard Barnthaler mentioned, we will think of why researchers lost their trust by public because of emotional involvement in their scientific analysis.

Here I have no means to say that it is a bad idea to have emotional connection with the local people. Actually I just share my experience in Duong Lam where I had chance to be thought as a father to a kid whose parents left him to work in Malaysia since he was 6 months old.  

Photo 10: I was spoon feeding the kid with lemonade. Ladies beside me uttered that he would consider me as his father indeed. 

Photo 10: I was spoon feeding the kid with lemonade. Ladies beside me uttered that he would consider me as his father indeed. 

That kid kept looking at me and started to touch my hand. Again and again, he came closer to me before I smiled back at him. At first, I felt normal .But later on while he kept playing with my hand, I played with him and lifted him up. The chubby kid was heavier more than I expected. I took him down and continued spoon feed him with my almost-finished lemonade. He has the same age of my niece and nephew back home. I do not know how to describe my feeling. I just started to feel happy cracking open my smile unconsciously.

According to this situation, I may say that emotional connection a researcher has with local people would be an unexpected consequence which tends to overwhelm a researcher to be unintentionally or subconsciously biased when analyzing his findings. Also, the researcher would have absolute rejection or denial against other different views and interests which do not serve the local people, which is problematic to transdisciplinarity implementation. That is what I can reflect to skeptical challenges to scientific sciences and transdisciplinarity.

CALL FOR APPLICATION: "KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip 2017"

Master of Arts Program in International Development Studies (MAIDS) and Center of Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

in collaboration with and support from

The Fostering Multi-Lateral Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies to Tackle Global Challenges (KNOTS Project), co-funded by Erasmus+ Program, European Union

 

CALL FOR APPLICATION

“KNOTS Summer School and Field Trip 2017”

18 September – 1 October 2017

Ha Noi, Tam Dao, Vinh Phuc, VIET NAM

Theme: “Migration, Environmental Change, and Social Inequality”

(The Summer School is Free-of-charge)

Requirements:

1.      Be a graduate student (MA and PhD) of Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

2.      Good command of spoken and written English (English proof is required for non-English native speaker)

3.      Eager to participate in the activities and absorb new experience

4.      ***The participant is required to write 1500 words essay or diary with pictures in our blog or webpage after summer school

 

How to apply?

            Application form, Statement of purpose, Curriculum Vitae (CV), and English proof must be submitted to knots.chula@gmail.com

Deadline:      19 July 2017  

 Interview date:         TBC

EVENT: "KNOTS Roundtrip to Klong Yong, Nakhon Pathom; and LPN Foundation, Samut Sakhon" [19-20 June 2017]

Klong Yong Community Enterprise, Nakhon Pathom Province; and Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation, , Samut Sakhon Province

Co-Organized by The Master of Arts Program in International Development Studies (MAIDS), Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), and Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Monday 19 June, 2017

Round Trip to Klong Yong, Salaya

“Environment, Organic Farming and Water Governance

through Trandisciplinary Approach from Field Visiting”

Ban Chanote, Klong Yong-Lantakfa Community Enterprise located in Lantakfa, Nakhon Chaisri, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. The community enterprise has a main goal in producing organic rice and preserving the local paddy seeds in Nakhon Chaisri field. They also applied many technics in rice field management to increase the production. This community enterprise was established in 2010.  The president of this community enterprise is Nantha Prasarnwong. The missions of Ban Chanote, Klong Yong-Lantakfah Community Enterprise are to produce organic rice which directly connects with the consumers and lift up the income of rice farming more than chemical-used or low quality rice. The community enterprise started with organic vegetables and rice. The members of the community enterprise joined to build a small community rice-mill for consumption and enterprise.

9.00        Van leave for Klong Yong

10.00     Arrival at Ban Chanote-Klong Yong-Lantakfa Cooperative

10:30     Presentation of current situation on environment and water governance issues

12:00     Lunch   

13.00     Visit pomelo farm and discussion on the need for transdisciplinary approach

15:00     Come back to Bangkok

Tuesday 20 June, 2017

Round Trip to Samut Sakorn (Mahachai)

“Cross Border Migration, Diaspora Community’s Livelihood and

Trandisciplinary Studies from Field Visiting”

                Mahachai seaport is located in Samut Sakorn which is Thailand’s largest fish processing zone. The area is accommodated hundreds of migrant workers, mainly from Myanmar, though workers from Cambodia and Laos are also present. International attention has been given to trafficking in the fishery industry. During the roundtrip, participants will meet and discuss with the organizations working on migrant workers’ rights and counter-trafficking.

9:00        Van leave for Mahachai

10:00     Arrival at Labor Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN)

10:30     Presentation on migration issues and the need for transdisciplinary studies 

12:00     Lunch Time

13:00     Visit migrant education center and primary school at the temple              

14:30     Discussion on the need  for transdisciplinary approach   

15:00     Free time around Burmese market

16:00     Come back to Bangkok

EVENT: "Stakeholder Conference on Transdisciplinary Approaches to Migration, Environmental Change, and Social Inequality" [21-22 June 2017]

09.00 - 17.00

Alumni Meeting Room, 12th Floor, Building 3,

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Co-Organized By: The Master of Arts Program in International Development Studies (MAIDS),

Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), and

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Background

Many contemporary development challenges in Southeast Asia are complex and inter-related, including environmental degradation; migration; and social inequality. To appropriately understand these challenges and identify novel insights and innovative solutions, transdisciplinary approaches are required. Not only does this therefore require new research methodologies and new skills for researchers and practitioners, but it also requires universities to develop new curriculum, teaching/ learning materials, and programs.

The Fostering Multi-Lateral Knowledge Networks of Transdisciplinary Studies to Tackle Global Challenges KNOTS project aims to contribute towards meeting this challenge. The three-year project was initiated in October 2016, and is a collaboration between seven universities in Europe, Thailand and Vietnam: the University of Vienna, Austria, which is also the project coordinator; Charles University, Czechia; University of Bonn, Germany; Chulalongkorn University and Chiang Mai University, Thailand; and Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Southern Institute of Social Sciences, and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Vietnam. The project is funded by the European Commission’s ERASMUS+ programme.

 

Event objectives

The objectives of the Stakeholder Workshop are as follows:

·        To deepen understanding on development challenges in Southeast Asia as viewed through a transdisciplinary lens, focusing on environmental degradation; migration; and social inequality

·        To inform KNOTS project design towards establishing innovative teaching methodologies with contribution from academics and non-academic stakeholders in Southeast Asia

·        To contribute towards establishing a “transdisciplinary knowledge network” on Southeast Asia

 

Agenda

Wednesday 21 June, 2017

9:00 – 9:20                  Opening remarks

Assistant Professor Dr.Nunghatai Rangponsumrit, Assistant to the President for Research, Development and Innovation (Social Sciences and Humanities), Chulalongkorn University

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana, Dean of Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

 

9:20 – 10:00                Keynote address

“The need for transdisciplinary studies: Towards transforming a challenging world” by Emeritus Professor Surichai Wun’gaeo

 

10:00 – 10:30              Coffee break

 

10:30 – 12:15                 “Migration and transdisciplinary perspectives

Academic perspective: Emeritus Professor Dr. Supang Chantavanich

Civil society perspective: Sompong Srakaew, Labour Protection Network

Educators perspective: Dr. Laddawan Tantivitayapitak, DEAR Burma

Chair: Assistant Professor Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon, MA in International Development Studies program, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Discussant: KNOTS partner

 

12:15 – 13:15              Lunch

 

13:15 – 15:00              Social inequality and transdisciplinary perspectives

Academic perspective: Dr.Sayamol Charoenratana, CUSRI

Civil society perspective: Poonsub Suanmuang Tulaphan, Homenet  

International organization perspective: Representative from FES

Chair: Assistant Professor Dr. Sukanda Lewis, Institute of Asia Studies, Chulalongkorn University

Discussant: KNOTS partner

 

15:00 – 15:30              Coffee

 

15:30 – 17:00              Panel discussion on “Bringing transdisciplinary thinking into Higher Education”

Representative from KNOTS partners

Assistant Professor Dr. Wasana Wongsurawat, Thai Studies Program, Faculty of Arts,     Chulalongkorn University

Dr. Susan Vize, UNESCO

Chair: Assistant Professor Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon

 

Thursday 22 June, 2017

9:00 – 10:45                Environment and transdisciplinary perspectives                       

Academic perspective: Dr. Soimart Rungmanee, Thammasat University

Civil society perspective: Pianporn Deetes (International Rivers) 

International organization perspective: Dr. Babette Resurrecion (SEI)

Chair: Assistant Professor Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon

Discussant: KNOTS partner

 

10:45 – 11:15              Coffee break

 

11:15 – 12:30                 Linking transdisciplinary themes together…  and making it policy relevant

“Flooding and migration in Southeast Asia” Assistant Professor Dr. Carl Middleton

“Migration and development” Professor Dr. Petra Dannecker                            

“The need for transdisciplinary perspectives in ASEAN policy” Apichai Sunchindah

Chair: Emeritus Professor Dr. Supang Chantavanich

 

12:30 – 13:30              Lunch

 

13:30 – 15:00              Roundtable discussion and reflections amongst KNOTS partners

One representative from each KNOTS partner institution

Chair: Emeritus Professor Surichai Wun'gaeo                          

   

15:00 – 15:30                 Concluding remarks

Professor Dr. Petra Dannecker, Department of Development Studies, University of Vienna

Assistant Professor Dr. Naruemon Thabchumpon, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

EVENT: "KNOTS Project Launch" [16 June 2017]

09:00 - 12:00

Alumni Association Conference Room, 12th floor, Building 3,

Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Co-Organized By: The Master of Arts Program in International Development Studies (MAIDS),

Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS), and Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

Background

The KNOTS project will focus on contemporary development challenges in Southeast Asia, where transdisciplinary research methods could offer novel insights and innovative solutions. The particular focus is on: environmental degradation; migration; and social inequality.

The KNOTS project will prepare curriculum and teaching/ learning materials on transdisciplinary methods to be integrated into each universities’ teaching programs. Three summer schools and fieldtrips will be organized in Vietnam and Thailand over the duration of the project to pilot and refine these materials. There will also be a Stakeholders Workshop in June 2017 and a final conference in 2019, to be hosted at Chulalongkorn University.

The three-year project was initiated in October 2016, and is a collaboration between seven universities in Europe, Thailand and Vietnam: the University of Vienna, Austria, which is also the project coordinator; Charles University, Czechia; University of Bonn, Germany; Chulalongkorn University and Chiang Mai University, Thailand; and Ho Chi Minh City Open University, Southern Institute of Social Sciences, and Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Vietnam.

The project is funded by the European Commission’s ERASMUS+ programme. At Chulalongkorn University, the MA in International Development Studies program is the project partner, alongside a network of academics and practitioners interested in teaching and practicing transdisciplinary research approaches.

 

Event objectives

This event will launch the KNOTS project at Chulalongkorn University. The objectives of the event are:

·         To formally launch the KNOTS project at Chulalongkorn University

·         To introduce the Chulalongkorn University team to the KNOTS project partners, and share about each team member’s institute/ department programs