RGS-IBG annual conference

By Mel Rohse

The RGS building on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London

Last week, I attended the Royal Geographical Society – Institute of British Geographers annual conference in London. I gave a presentation entitled “Interdisciplinarity in drought research: experimenting with combining narratives and modelling” in a double session called “The Interdisciplinary Field“. It was a great opportunity to think about  our interdisciplinary practice in CreativeDrought. Whilst “interdisciplinary” is a complex concept with many related terms (e.g. multi-disciplinary, cross-disciplinary, intra-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary), the aim of the session wasn’t to unpack all these terms, but to exchange ideas on what it means to work across disciplines in a range of settings, from individual work to multi-institution projects and also including teaching.

In my own presentation, the interdisciplinary methodology we have designed was used as a backdrop to map how the various disciplines in the project were brought together at various phases of the project. In preparing for the presentation and reflecting on the last 10 months, it struck us that we had not actually sat down to try and ‘force’ a conversation about what interdisciplinarity might be. Rather, through discussions, attending each other’s research groups and introducing colleagues to our own ways of working whilst learning about theirs, we incrementally developed an understanding of each other’s disciplinary norms. It wasn’t always plain sailing and there are still disciplinary concepts that we all struggle with. Yet, as our various phases of fieldwork unfolded, we started to see the value in bringing together (broadly) hydrology, water management and human geography. We feel we’ve been able to refine our understanding of drought, more than with just taking disciplinary approaches, and we’ve engaged with the participants in the research in ways that some of us wouldn’t have considered only a year ago.

The journey isn’t over. An audience member remarked that it was interesting to read the personal reflections of team members on the process (see slides). But, they asked, what of the stakeholders in the project, be it the participants, the villagers, or the local water managers? How did they take on board our interdisciplinary approach? As we prepare to engage with water managers who are perhaps more used to dealing with models and predictions about future drought and weather patterns, this is an important question, which we will be addressing in the coming months.


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