The Buffett Institute to hold first Idea Incubation Workshop to develop research plans to solve global issues


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Annelise Riles. Riles said the Buffett Institute’s new approach to research is “open, transparent, and collaborative.”

Amy Li, Campus Editor

The Buffett Institute for Global Affairs will launch its first Idea Incubation Workshop this weekend from Nov. 15-17.

The institute plans to hold Idea Incubation Workshops annually to bring together Northwestern faculty across a number of disciplines with multiple forms of expertise to solve a select number of global issues that align with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Annelise Riles, director of The Buffett Institute, described the institute’s new approach to research and problem-solving is “open, transparent, and collaborative.”

“The new genius is really a collaborative genius, not an individual genius,” Riles said. “Our task at Northwestern Buffett is to incubate those teams and provide the space for people to work together across disciplines and across schools in a way that they don’t have the opportunity to do elsewhere in the university.”

The Idea Incubation Workshop is the second stage of the institute’s three-step approach to determining which contemporary problems will be researched and how funding will be allocated. The first stage, “Idea Dialogues,” involves bringing faculty together for lunches to broadly explore ideas and how academics can collaboratively work towards them.

The upcoming Idea Incubation Workshop will allow researchers to form thematic groups, or “Idea Streams,” to determine a plan for collaborative research and who could be included in each project.

The workshop spanning the upcoming weekend will look at proposals for three “Idea Streams” — “Censorship, Propaganda, and Persecution of Journalists,” “Palliative Care in Humanitarian Crises,” and “Disproportionate Impacts of Environmental Challenges.”

Elisha Waldman, Feinberg professor and chief of the division of palliative care at Lurie Children’s Hospital, has developed an interest in how the international community can integrate palliative care into the delivery of aid during humanitarian crises.

Starting last year, Waldman and a group of colleagues began putting together a field manual designed to teach international aid providers and local clinicians on the ground how to integrate palliative care into their relief efforts. His colleague, Feinberg prof. Josh Hauser has been in the development of an educational program, Education in Palliative and End of Life Care.

“We’re now hoping to adapt the EPEC curriculum to a new course which will be based on the field manual,” Waldman said. “Our hope is to then market the course to aid organizations, military field hospitals — basically anyone who might deploy to crisis zones.”

Political science prof. Kimberly Suiseeya, said over the past several years, there has been a large global shift towards “collaborative, multi-, inter-, and especially transdisciplinary approaches” in solving pressing challenges.

“As we have deepened our understanding of problems — across social, economic, political, environmental, ecological, and technical dimensions — we increasingly seek for ways to understand how these dimensions interact to entrench problems like injustice, biodiversity loss, and climate change,” Suiseeya said. “These problems can neither be separated nor can their solutions.”

Suiseeya said she is interested in the intersection between social and environmental justice and global environmental governance, specifically in understanding why attempts at mitigating injustice can perpetrate and produce environmental injustices.

Riles said the objective of the weekend is to give scholars like Waldman and Suiseeya an opportunity to develop a structured, tested process for taking their ideas, organizing and strengthening them into concrete, collaborative research plans with “clear, determined impact.”

A panel of judges with “a real breadth of expertise” will hear the pitches, deliberate over lunch and make recommendations about which groups are ready to move forward to the next stage. Successful groups will be supported “very substantially” by the institute, including providing annual packages of funding support of around $150,000, access to coaching and communication support and resources from other foundations, Riles said.

Riles said while scholars are well-trained in research methodology in particular fields, the institute hopes to address the challenge of conducting research across disciplines.

“The challenge is that scholars are not necessarily trained to work outside of their fields, and so to do that kind of innovation, you have to cross-train and learn to open your horizons and engage in a broader space,” Riles said.

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