Redesigning our view on research, academics and engagement in the “field”
Why did we leave our desks? Because we believe that any research in disaster management can only be relevant, if it involves a process of joint learning and co-creation. To learn, we have to break norms, overcome barriers of current thinking or “best” practices in both science and practice. This is, at times risky – but we believe that this is (sometimes) for academia and society to take the greatest leap forward In the past 30 years, research and the number of publications on disasters, vulnerability and resilience have grown exponentially. So have the damages from disasters – in any scale you might want to choose; from number of fatalities, to affected population or economic losses. Our scientific results, all the models, and experiments, and tests, have not (yet) lead to better preparedness for and management of disasters. And in the quantitative disciplines, related to modeling or decision support, disasters are a domain that is considered as inaccessible.
We decided to engage with the professionals that we met and interviewed in the field. We are grateful to all our interviewees, who took the time to answer our questions during an ongoing response, and for all of us, this field trip lead to new insights. Being researchers, not professionals or consultants, we started from the aim of understanding the problems in practice, and structuring needs, and requirements – instead of going into the field with ready-made solutions.
Many of the drawbacks of going to the field have been discussed – from the difficulties to publish results, to the actual workload of doing field research on top or besides an academic position. For us, field work is about overcoming silo thinking, and the silence between the professional cultures. Field work requires us to redesign the research paradigms: to reconsider what actually good research is, and how we can achieve societal relevance. It is a long way from the practices of "neutral" observing and the ideal of extracting and purifying knowledge to co-generation of questions and answers. Yet,with field engagement a whole new world of experience and learning lies ahead of us. This may be daunting for some, since workflows and foundational issues need to be redesigned. It may not be journals and conferences which are our first outlet any more, but communication that is required in a continuous process of professional and academic learning. Yet, for many researchers, our identities of professional self worth, and alos our monetary value are tightly tethered to countable academic achievements. Some accept this, but we will continue to challenge the core assumption that we’re taught to believe: that our engagement in advancing science and implications for the real world is tightly and directly linked, but our structures in academia often sit closer in bed (or at desk?) with academic culture than the real-world itself.
Academia is no longer the sole driver of the knowledge & information – but it is our choice if can be among the leading ones also in future.