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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Collaborative Evidence: the role of research institutes in supporting interdisciplinary approaches to evidence


Professor Veronica Strang (Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University) and Professor Brad Gregory (Institute of Advanced Study, Notre Dame University)

The nature and use of evidence is, simultaneously, one of the major issues that divides disciplines, and one of their most important opportunities for collaborative exchanges of knowledge. Information becomes ‘evidence’ in relation to specific disciplinary epistemologies and research practices. Even when researchers share common questions, they may call upon different kinds of evidence to answer these. Or they may approach the same body of evidence with quite different research questions and methods of analysis. What kinds of data or materials constitute evidence in different disciplinary areas? How is evidence analysed, understood and evaluated? How should evidence be used?

A critical role for Institutes of Advanced Study and interdisciplinary Centres is to foster conversations between disciplinary areas that enable them to reconcile sometimes radically different views on these questions. How, for example, can we bring a reductive commitment to measurement together with a stronger emphasis on qualitative material and the discernment of patterns and recurrences? How can we help groups to navigate different ideas about the ‘objectivity’ of evidence and the positionality of the researcher? How do we bring into alignment evidence collected on diverse spatial and temporal scales? Interdisciplinary projects need to develop narratives about evidence that encompass disciplinary differences yet provide sufficient common ground for a collective endeavour. They must find ways to represent their approaches to evidence both internally, to enable collaboration, and externally, to engage with particular social and ideological contexts.

What can Institutes and Centres do to help interdisciplinary researchers to create successful narratives about evidence? This panel will bring directors of IASs and Centres together to consider their experiences in reconciling different approaches to evidence, and to lead a roundtable discussion aimed at sharing good practice. A possible output is the production of a joint ‘guidelines’ paper aimed at assisting interdisciplinary groups in composing collaborative evidence.