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The Knowledge Hub: How We Got Here and What We've Learnt

The Knowledge Hub, an exciting new project developed by the Green Office Research and Education team, is close to being launched. The Hub is an interactive platform designed to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration for sustainability research and projects at the UvA (find out more here). With the launch set for the 22nd of April, be sure to sign up for an email alert for the launch and follow the UvA Green Office socials to keep up to date with the latest developments. We can’t wait to welcome you to this exciting, new platform!

With the launch coming so soon, the team behind the Knowledge Hub have now had a chance to reflect on the development process over the past six months. They’ve gained great insight into how interdisciplinary collaboration played a key role in the project’s formation and how the experience of designing and developing the Hub reinforced the need for its very existence. The following is a look back at the difficulties, opportunities and learning experiences of the process.

Where it all began

Complex problems nearly always require complex solutions. These types of issues are sometimes described as “wicked problems”; problems which are almost impossible to solve because of contradictory or conflicting information, resulting in their complexity tying you in knots. Almost all sustainability challenges are wicked problems, encompassing a tangle of interlocking issues which are inseparable from one another. Scientific knowledge and technological innovations alone will not save us from the climate crisis; instead, the issues we are facing have a far more complex, human face. This problem calls for an integrated approach to problem solving which acknowledges the systemic interdependence of real-world challenges. This integrated approach also requires an appreciation that every academic discipline can bring value to the climate conversation.

Previously, opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration have been somewhat absent at the UvA, and the Green Office was regularly approached by students and staff struggling with the lack of communication between different departments. The purpose of the Hub is therefore to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration in sustainability-related projects across the UvA. The design and development of the Hub has been rooted in the understanding that the sustainability transition is embedded within complex, dynamic systems, and that in order to begin to get our heads around the almighty tangle that we face, we have to work across disciplinary boundaries and integrate a mosaic of theories, methodologies and practices. Boundaries, whether they be institutional or intellectual, present a potential limit to our creative problem solving. Whilst there is clearly no silver bullet to the challenges we face, the Knowledge Hub provides key infrastructure to support interdisciplinary collaboration at UvA, moving us a step in the right direction.

What a team!

The creation of the Green Office Knowledge Hub would not have been possible without the innovation, hard work and dedication of the Knowledge Hub team. Since September 2020, Research and Education team members Julia, Nina, Gabriella, Zeynep and Sorcha have all worked alongside team leader Milly to create every aspect of the site; from what it is trying to achieve, down to the designs, features and layout.

Each member of the team came from a totally different academic background; Julia’s expertise was in Business and Data Science, Nina specialised in Biomedical Science and Science Communication, Gabriella’s background was in Political Communication and Sustainable Development, Zeynep’s was Art and Museum Studies, Sorcha’s focus was on Psychology and International Development, and Milly’s work centred around Social Anthropology, Urban Planning and Design. Safe to say, there was a lot to be learnt from each other…

Although not always plain sailing, the collaboration underpinning the Knowledge Hub team has been inspiring, and each of the team members has brought a unique contribution to the creative process. Without the myriad of skills, knowledge, and perspectives, we would not have been able to make the Knowledge Hub as interactive, inclusive and accessible as it will be. With each of us coming from an array of academic and personal backgrounds, we came to experience just how necessary interdisciplinary work is, and the positive, innovative and forward-thinking outcomes that can come from this kind of work. Of course, this type of collaboration is not without its challenges. From the moment when the Data Scientist explained to the Anthropologist what a roadmap was, to when the Development student explained that qualitative research entailed ‘a lot of chatting’, working together has emphasised both the differences and interrelations between each discipline, and the blindspots that we all have.

Looking forward

Now, as we’re less than a month away from the Knowledge Hub’s launch, it seems an opportune moment to reflect on our own teamwork. Working on the Hub has been a transition from theory to practice; moving from our academic foundations to the practical process of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Working with people with different specialities requires self-awareness and reflection. What assumptions underpin our approach to the challenges we face? How can we find a common language to articulate our ideas? How can we ensure co-creation and collaborative decision making? It requires a deeper mode of critical thinking where we consider our own positionality and sensitivity to others. Here, empathy is key.

In a curious way, the collaborative process which underpinned the Knowledge Hub’s design and development simultaneously reflected the need for the Hub’s existence. It illuminated the inherent intersectionality of sustainability, and showed how working across disciplinary boundaries can be incredibly innovative, and, at times, challenging. For a team of student researchers, the experience of practical interdisciplinary collaboration has been an invaluable foundation in learning how to work together to face complex tasks. Given the almost infinite complexity of the climate crisis, this is more important now than ever.

It's here!

The goal of the Knowledge Hub is clear; to create a collaborative and interactive platform for students and staff to work together within sustainability projects and research. The Knowledge Hub fosters this goal in its entirety, incorporated throughout the vision, the team and even within the individual designs and features within the site itself. A prime example of this is the integrated tagging-system operating within the site. This tag system will allow Knowledge Hub users to search for projects and research within the UvA based on themes, as opposed to disciplines, departments, or courses. The themes will be based on the Sustainable Development Goal’s, therefore embedding the projects within a wider, global movement. With the tag system, students and staff can discover ongoing research and opportunities for collaboration in a way that transcends disciplinary boundaries and encourages interdisciplinary research grounded in a passion for sustainability.

The opportunities board will feature a host of open research positions, exciting upcoming events, collaborative projects to work on and the chance to network with members of the UvA community equally committed to bringing about the sustainability transition.

Furthermore, the code of the Knowledge Hub website will be open-source, meaning that the blueprint of this website will be accessible to other academic and sustainability institutions who want to implement a similar platform. In recognising the importance of interdisciplinary research, we felt that to gate-keep the designs would not be in line with our ethos, and instead want to encourage the creation of similar collaborative platforms within other organisations who have a similar goal in mind; to facilitate cooperation in sustainability projects and research.

To say we are excited to finally be able to share this platform with you all and to build a community of passionate sustainability students, researchers, enthusiasts and practitioners would be an understatement. The Green Office Knowledge Hub will officially launch on 22nd April 2021, falling fittingly on the annual event of Earth Day. In the lead up to the Hub’s launch, we will be keeping you in the loop about what is to come, including information about the website, as well as exciting prizes, collaborations and opportunities that are up for grabs both pre and post-launch! You can find all of this information via the Green Office Instagram and LinkedIn channels, so keep your eyes open for our latest updates. The Knowledge Hub is a unique space for UvA students and staff, and we are so looking forward to you being a part of it!

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