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“Groundbreaking research into the nexus between research and community engagement”Date Released: Wed, 29 January 2014 15:10 +0200
In an effort to share their groundbreaking research into the nexus between research, water resource management and community engagement, Rhodes University’s Institute for Water Research (IWR) will hold its annual open day today with a focus on various scientific and conceptual models and modelling, and their use.
The day will feature presentations by members of the Agricultural Research Council, Department of Water Affairs, Institute for Water Research and its Unilever Centre for Environmental Water Quality, and Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands.
According to Professor Tally Palmer, Director of the Unilever Centre for Water Quality, the aim of the open day is to discuss the extensive range of models and modelling, a process which can be received as a barrier in the process of water resource management.
“Sometimes people can make the mistake of equating models with maths, and we think ‘impossible’, ‘unhelpful’, ‘no entry’. What we are trying to do is show a range of models and how they fit together and how we can use them.”
Scientific modelling is a scientific activity which aims to make a particular part or feature of the world easier to understand, define, quantify, visualise, or simulate. It requires selecting and identifying relevant aspects of a situation in the real world and then using different types of models for different aims, such as conceptual models to better understand, operational models to operationalise, mathematical models to quantify, and graphical models to visualise the subject. Models are typically used when it is either impossible or impractical to create experimental conditions in which scientists can directly measure outcomes.
According to Prof Palmer, who will be presenting feedback from her research into and engagement with models of complex social-ecological systems, the value of a model lies in how it enables individuals to understand and act.
“Models have a crucial role to play in understanding the mystery of the natural and social world and the fact that we can never get enough data to replicate it. Even if we did the data would overwhelm us with the same complexity of the real world.”
“Because we’ve chosen to take bits from the natural and social world to analyse, and can never really be sure if we’ve taken the right bits or if we can measure them effectively, we are constantly in the process of matching our model against what we observe.”
For Prof Palmer, integrating scientific models into broader social contexts is a crucial element to successful research, comprising the “groundbreaking interface” between water resource management and community engagement with which she is involved at Rhodes.
Working alongside hydrological and water resource modelling expert and Director of IWR Prof Denis Hughes, Prof Palmer is involved in integrating scientific models into their broader social context, “so that when the research outputs are being developed and when they are ready for use, they are actually used … If our research needs to be transformative, given Rhodes’ commitment to community engagement and making a difference, let’s do the work of practising applied research in a very practical way.
When you combine science and social science you are combining very different original concepts and you need to check if concepts align or whether there are assumptions that negate the assumptions of another one.
“There is intellectual work to be done. All the time we are doing research and watching ourselves do it and reflecting on it and that for me is a groundbreaking frontier of respect relationships with citizens about using knowledge for their benefit,” she added.
The IWR Open Day will be held at Economics B Lecture Theatre.
By Sarah-Jane Bradfield
Photo by Sophie Smith