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15 April 2013

New view of knowledge production in sustainable urban development

Topics discussed at Mistra Urban Futures’ meeting in Cape Town in March included ways in which research and practical activities can be enrich each other. Joint knowledge production involving both researchers and practitioners is one way forward, soon to be discussed in an anthology.

Merritt Polk, a senior lecturer in human ecology at the University of Gothenburg, is linked to Mistra Urban Futures. She is working on an anthology about the concept of joint knowledge production.

What is joint knowledge production?
‘It’s a way of generating knowledge that is relevant to both research and practice. By collaborating right from the idea stage and continuing to work together throughout the knowledge production, practitioners and researchers develop common terminology, enrich one another’s spheres and, by identifying new critical perceptions and tools, give both research and practice an additional dimension.’

Why is it important?
‘Because many of the problems confronting our cities cut across sectoral and disciplinary boundaries. These problems relate, for example, to climate, poverty and resource use — where causal connections are complicated and opinions differ concerning the content, solution and basis of problems. Our way of working is supplementary: it replaces neither efficient administration nor excellent research but, rather, confers a new kind of knowledge derived from both knowledge and practice.’

How is joint knowledge production achieved?
‘One way is, as in Mistra Urban Futures in Gothenburg, to create neutral arenas in the form of research projects where researchers and practitioners can get together as equals and tackle joint problems. It’s very much a matter of communication and learning. Researchers and practitioners must learn to understand one another in depth. We bring a new way of formulating knowledge that works in both academic and practical terms. Another way is to follow the example of Cape Town, where PhD students work in the city administration and urban planners spend periods working at universities.’

What will the anthology contain?
‘The anthology will contain various examples of drivers and requirements for joint knowledge production, based on experience from Mistra Urban Futures’ local platforms and partners in Gothenburg, Cape Town, Kisumu, Manchester, Melbourne and Shanghai.’

When will the anthology be published?
‘This year or early in 2014, we hope. It addresses a broad readership of researchers and practitioners. In a subsequent stage, we plan to write a more practical manual reporting on our approaches and actual results.’

Text: Thomas Heldmark, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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Merritt Polk, a senior lecturer in human ecology at the University of Gothenburg.

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