Methodological Competence at the ZTG
The ZTG provides a pool of methods that have proven themselves in many projects, and that are constantly used and which have been added to the international stock of methodological research, where they are adjusted in the light of criticism and further developed in a constructive way.
The ZTG regards this methodological competence as an option for operationalizing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research projects at a university of technology. In this connection, individual methods of qualitative and quantitative social research are remodeled in such a way that they enable and support collaborations with the engineering and natural sciences as well as transdisciplinary research.
The pool of methods provided at the ZTG is continually developed by means of practical testing and new combinations of existing methods. The main focuses of these further developments fall on two axes:
- The challenge with regard to interdisciplinary questions lies in finding procedures in which the different disciplines can deal with each other’s different worldviews in a productive manner and on an equal footing. In transdisciplinary contexts, however, the challenge lies in the question of how the legitimate views of laypersons (stakeholders or ‘ordinary citizens’) can be integrated into the specifically academic production of knowledge.
- On a second axis, academic methods can be distinguished with regard to whether they focus on a better description of the extracts of reality in question or whether they aim at ‘healing’ apparent deficits within existing patterns of academic knowledge production and, in particular, technology development.
In addition to these methodological focuses, the ZTG also provides management methods that seek to improve processes for the production of knowledge, as well as for the latter’s evaluation or utilization.
Modeling of Socio-Technological Constellations
Every interdisciplinary project – no matter what specific question it pursues – is confronted with the problem of having to integrate heterogeneous and often simply incompatible views. Under modern conditions, this integration cannot take place, either theoretically or ultimately, within the framework of a guiding discipline, but must be realized using appropriate methodological procedures. All of these procedures are based on a model of the connection or set of problems being investigated that considers
- in an adequate manner the impact of natural, technological and discursive elements in addition to social factors of influence in the narrow sense
- so-called “objective” factors (everything measurable and quantifiable) and so-called “subjective factors” (the “attitude of societal groups”)
- as well as different levels of analysis – for example when analyzing governance regimes – from local to regional, national, EU-wide and global level
and aims to grasp the correlations between all these dimensions. The development and practical testing of feasible and productive methods for this integration beyond the “two cultures” is one of the ZTG’s specialties. One example of such methodological integration is the constellation analysis developed at the ZTG that enhances the potential of graphic presentations of the collective production – and use – of shared models of heterogeneous interrelationships.
Cooperation with partners from the realm of practice
For some time now, the inclusion of the knowledge and know-how of partners from the realm of practice has been requested and promoted for the purpose of mastering the complexity of situations that are socio-technologically or socio-ecologically problematic. The academic community has entered into dialog with different societal players to involve them in determining the actual demand for technological solutions or to give them the opportunity to contribute actively to the sustainability discourse and its implementation process. In the different topic areas, this transdisciplinary, problem-oriented linking of different forms of knowledge is increasingly regarded as indispensable for the development of new and innovative perspectives for action.
At the ZTG, methods are developed to create a broader knowledge base for
- processes of technology development (for instance, by means of demand analyses that survey group-specific user behavior)
- technology-related decision-making processes (for instance, by means of focus groups)
- complex negotiation and regulation processes (for instance, by means of multi-level governance).
In recent years, traditional technology assessment has opened itself towards a broader understanding of technology design that aims to consider societal demands and problem-situations in all phases of the process of technology development, while being considerably more technophilic than traditional approaches. Methodological components for this type of approach include
- the application of usability tests and acceptance research as early as the initial stage of the technological development, preferably in several interactive loops;
- the assessment of future relations between technical potential and societal needs, for instance, by means of scenarios and social experiments;
- the further development of sustainability assessment by means of multi-criteria assessment procedures.
In recent years, a research group at the ZTG has been working on an integrated concept that attempts to bring different assessment and design methodologies into an innovative context, with reference to the international discussion on "Constructive Technology Assessment". Following this, a method for integrated technology assessment and development has now been worked out within the framework of the 4D-Sicherheit project, which enables the systematic inclusion of various socio-technically relevant aspects.
Methods that not only survey the needs and expertise of laypersons and stakeholders but systematically include them in the development and decision-making processes under examination are referred to as participatory procedures. At the ZTG, such procedures are used and further developed in three fields:
- in the integration of usage practices into the process of technology development (based on ”participatory design”);
- in the involvement of “ordinary citizens” in technology-related decision-making processes (for instance, by using citizens’ juries);
- in the involvement of stakeholders, but also of diverse technical expertise, in a broader negotiation process (for instance, in the approach of “participatory governance”).
The goal of this procedure is to attain better results and/or increase the legitimacy of the negotiation or decision-making process. One example in this regard is the citizens’ exhibition “Wir sind die ENERGIE der REGION...” (“We are the ENERGY of the REGION...”) that was part of the exhibition “Energieland Lausitz” (“Lusatia, Land of Energy”) in the context of the International Architecture Exhibition (IBA). The exhibition posters presented an overview of the spectrum of views and opinions of 15 citizens on the future of Lusatia as an “energy region”.
Reflecting on the experience gained at the ZTG during many years of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary practice, a number of systematic support methods have been developed and systematized as toolboxes. This encompasses
- methods for managing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary projects, summarized in the form of guidelines;
- methods of qualitative knowledge management, also by developing suitable internet platforms;
- methods for conducting formative evaluation that do not (only) evaluate in a distant manner but also provide constructive advice;
- methods for the participation of different players that are adapted and developed according to the specific context.
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