What type of infrastructure most effectively enables our examples of transdisciplinary co-production processes to impact change? We suggest three components that together strengthen the research and institutional capacity to reach second and third order effects without delimiting the creativity and responsiveness of the processes. These components address capacities for learning, new ways of working together, and maintaining new types of relationships through training, facilitation and spatial support.
The first component focuses on training. The TD literature suggests that capacity building requires continuous learning efforts, since productive interactions between different stakeholders and knowledge cultures do not just happen but need to be developed and practised. This could be done in different ways, such as training in a particular method, in joint analyses of real-life wicked issues and in propositional ways to organise a TD research project around them (Wiek et al. 2014). Training can also include discussions of the theoretical underpinnings of concepts such as conflict, power/ knowledge and reflexivity, and in programmes that include both researchers, practitioners and policy makers from the public and private sectors. Mistra Urban Futures’ platforms have developed a number of different training alternatives for these purposes. One is the Gothenburg platform’s Open Research School,Footnote 4 which invites both practitioners and PhD students to participate in a practice-based programme of method training and theoretical analysis. The Open Research School also organises Open Method Seminars addressing a wide local group of practitioners, researchers and professional facilitators to practice particular methods or together engage with the challenges in practising TD co-production.
Another example of training infrastructure is the Cape Town platform’s Knowledge Transfer Programme (KTP). This infrastructure consists of an exchange program between the City of Cape Town and the University of Cape Town, where city officials are trained in theoretical considerations of their practice, and PhD students are embedded in City departments to provide critical perspectives on how the departments operate and highlight the value of potential bridges between administrative silos (Patel et al. 2015; Smit et al. 2020). Such targeted initiatives extend beyond training a handful of individuals for a particular project, and seek to build systemic capacity and competencies at the cohort level within and across organisations. The goal is to build up a critical mass of experienced individuals capable of carrying both new perspectives, awareness of wicked issues and tools for how to re-organise around their possible solutions into their home organisations. When they do so, they create a bridge from first to second order effects, ensuring that first order outputs such as articles and reports together with outcomes such as new networks and collaborations between academics and civil servants, are having second order effects in terms of policy- and decision-making in the participating organisations, or contributing to beneficial organisational changes as defined earlier. This illustrates how one particular type of support infrastructure can produce both first and second order effects according to the target and scale of activities.
The second component focuses on facilitation. Jordan (2014:51) points out that complex issues require actors possessing “sophisticated capacities for managing different kind of complexities”. As few individual actors might fulfil this requirement, skilful facilitation would instead enable groups to accomplish tasks that would otherwise be out of reach of each participating individual. Jordan (2014:50) adds that the knowledge of and interests in facilitation in collaborative processes have emerged primarily from the experiences of co-production among practitioners. Academics engaged in interdisciplinary and TD research tend spontaneously to take on a facilitator’s role in these deliberative processes without necessarily having the requisite skills and competences (Stokols 2014). To understand the challenges of facilitation, Jordan identifies different stages in need of different kinds of support, either through guided deliberative methods or structured facilitation. These supports he refers to as a scaffolding (Hmelo-Silver et al. 2007; Stone 1993; Wood et al. 1976, in Jordan 2014), as it comprises deliberative methods and facilitation in terms of a skeleton carrying an ongoing process of construction. Jordan (2014:51) defines six major fields of functions which need an integrative scaffolding: attentional support; relationships; attitudes/ feelings; understanding; empowerment and creativity; and decision-making and co-ordination of action. This range of facilitated functions also points towards a sliding scale of outputs and outcomes of the first order towards possible outcomes of the second order, such as decisions and different kinds of actions.
To establish both awareness of these functions in a co-production process, and skills and capacities for their scaffolding, requires intentional infrastructural support. Consequently, at the Gothenburg platform, a local network of professional facilitators was invited to use the facilities and to ‘spill over’ into the activities of the platform. The platform also hired a professional facilitator to engage with the platform projects and to build up long-lasting structured support. To embed facilitation in TD processes is also to carry experiences from one TD process to another and, again, to build a critical mass, not of experienced individuals, but of experiences as such, reaching different individuals engaged in different processes respectively. Here, too, the scale and duration of effort required for effectiveness demonstrate a bridge from first to second order effects.
The third component focuses on the spatial dimensions of learning. Learning spaces and spaces for TD research are often discussed in broad and conceptual terms, where ‘space’ connotes an equal (Polk 2014) trustful and reflexive relationship between the different actors of the knowledge process (Pohl et al. 2010) and their mutual engagement (Perry and May 2010), or the space for action in terms of attention, or setting aside resources such as time, or the legitimacy of participation. Less has been written in the TD CP literature about the physical spatial implications and requirements of TD co-production and learning. Yet, participants in the Gothenburg platform’s projects testify to the importance of having access to a ‘neutral space’, to be able to step out of daily roles and formal alignments to act in a new constellation unburden by these bounds (Hansson and Polk 2017). Others have called this space ‘safe’ as safe from judgements and pre-set power arrangements (Palmer and Walasek 2016; Patel et al. 2017; Perry et al. 2018). From a spatial discourse perspective, few would argue for space as being neutral, since all spaces are affected by their production and usage, and are loaded with symbolic and representational connotations. However, the essence here is the importance of having access to a space which is unaligned and not controlled by any of the participating organisations. To explore the role of physical space for TD research and learning further, we suggest three spatial criteria in terms of location, capacity of allowing and dignity.
Since TD research endeavours often have a university base, the drive to locate the particular spaces at the university campus tends to be unquestioned. However, from our platform experiences, we have seen the significance of a spatial separation of TD spaces from the university and from public agency corridors. In the Kisumu platform (KLIP) the difficulties of bringing a multi-stakeholder group to the university space promoted the renting of a specific KLIP House as starting point for further research collaborations (Palmer and Walasek 2016). With this distinctive and separate space, the different stakeholder groups could, for the first time, come together in a conducive, neutral space fostered by the KLIP Trust as an independent organisation that had its finances ringfenced from those of its member institutions. Participants representing the public organisations in the GOLIP also affirmed the importance of a space located at the edge of the university campus, but separate from institutional facilities, as it also promotes easy access from their everyday engagements in the city. In current discussions regarding how universities need to embrace transdisciplinary education and research, and thereby change pedagogical structures, the matter of spaces for TD learning and their locations should be taken into account, since institutional spaces are always marked by ownership and inherent power. In this way, the locations of TD spaces could transform both the physical fringes of the university and of participating organisations, creating new intermediate spaces. Such locations are consequently important for first order effects by enhancing collaborations and the fostering of networks. Furthermore, they facilitate understanding these fringe spaces for collaborative knowledge production as an ‘edge-scape’ of new societal spaces, possibly having third order effects.
The second aspect of space is its capacity of allowing by supporting different kinds of actions and ways of coming together due to its form, size, light and other designed features. This classic architectural knowledge shows how consideration should be given to how spaces should be designed to support different processes of collaborative openness and learning to function as scaffolding. By constructing such spaces, we are not only supporting the TD process itself, but also creating a new physical and institutional space aimed at another type of societal practice, e.g. collaborative learning and investigation. Following Lefebvre’s (1991) notion of space as a product of social processes, we can imagine these spaces as new urban contributions, destined for a practice of collaborative urban making. This is clearly an effect of the third order, as it contributes to changing our understanding of the urban and its common and commoned spaces.
Finally, we add yet another dimension to this kind of space, beyond unalignment and allowing features, namely dignity. Too often, experimental activities and alternative approaches are directed to leftover spaces. Even so, these spaces need to speak with respect to their users, who then attribute dignity, without being exclusive, and with respect to the research process itself. ‘Dignified spaces’ is also a concept used to upgrade informal settlements, to make a difference in everyday life, about which spaces are negotiable and which are not, i.e. spaces that cater for everyone’s needs and hence belong to everyone (Southworth 2002). For the same inclusive reason, it makes sense to bring spatial dignity into the TD and CP research. In so doing, perhaps here too we can discern a scalar shift from the specific and particular ‘safe’ spaces to collective or generic spaces, which open up those spaces to new institutional and urban possibilities as outlined above – and which also target second and potentially third order effects.
This ‘system’ of different infrastructural components needs to coincide and work jointly in a flexible manner. In total, these three components would ultimately function as an interwoven supportive structure across the different Mistra Urban Futures’ platforms, allowing clear entry points for practitioners and academics alike. In any long-term research program, such components would benefit from being promoted as an institutional and structured systemic intervention under constant reflexive development.