Academic Programs Supported by MARI


Fall 2019:
658 Modeling
466W/566 Adaptation
250N Natural Hazards and Disasters

Summer 2019:
369 Internship
467/567 Sustainability Ledership

Spring 2019:
466W/566 Adaptation

2018 and earlier
250N Natural Hazards and Disasters
369 Internship
467 Leadership
Teaching Archive

Project and Programs:
ILC Project
CURE Project
Conservation Leadership Minor
Grad. Certificate in Conservation Leadership
MARI Case Study Template


MARI CASE STUDY TEMPLATE

Introduction

Purpose

The MARI case study template (MCST) is designed for tackling wicked problems related to sustainability, mitigation of threats, and adaptation to changes. Wicked problems are social or cultural problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden associated with progress towards a solution, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems. Super-wicked problems have four additional characteristics: (1) time is running out; (2) there is no central authority to address the problem; (3) those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it; (4) policies discount the future irrationally. Wicked and super-wicked problems can hardly be addressed in the framework of traditional discipline-based approaches, and a transdisciplinary approach is needed to tackle these problems.

Background

The template is based on sustainablility science and utilizes the core concepts of adaptation science. Sustainability is an emergent property of a complex system. Two criteria need to guide human behaviour in order to maintain the health of the planetary life-support system and for sustainability to emerge. For that, humans need to consume flows in this life-support system while conserving the stocks (that is, live off the interest while conserving natural capital, increase society’s stocks (i.e., human resources, civil institutions) and limit the flow of material and energy as much as possible (Brown et al., 2005). Both are central aspects of a regenerative culture.

A particular challenge of the quest for sustainability arises from the need to create transformation knowledge guiding the development of interventions to make progress towards sustainability as this emerging property. Science needs to support society and interact with societal agents in effort to work out this transformation knowledge. Reaching societal goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations present policy makers with a complexity individually and through many interconnections. At the same time, the unsustainability of the current global trajectories of society and the Earth's life-support system introduces an unparalleled urgency to develop the necessary transformation knowledge. A major gap exists in the absence of an epistemology for the creation of transformation knowledge. While there are increasingly efforts to carry out transformation research in “real-world laboratories,” there is no thorough epistemological approach available for this new type of research.

Because of its transformational and transdisciplinary character, sustainability science differs from traditional modes of knowledge production. Sustainability science links system knowledge and goal knowledge through transformation knowledge (Fig. 1). System knowledge informs about what might happen, the possible threats and hazards, and the past, current and potential future system trajectories. Natural sciences have focused on system knowledge and created a broad basis of that knowledge. Goal knowledge describes what we want to happen and what desirable futures we want to realize. Transformation knowledge identifies the interventions required to change the system trajectory and to facilitate pathways to desirable futures. Over the last few decades, social sciences have developed both the epistemology and methodology for the creation of goal knowledge. The elaborate process that led to the agreement on the seventeen SDGs exemplifies the level of goal knowledge that can be reached today, and a transition to global governance by goal-setting appears feasible. What is currently lacking is a fully developed transformation science that links the system and goal knowledge through the disturbances and interventions needed to ensure a progress towards desirable futures. Transformation science as part of sustainability science focuses on the identification of disturbances and interventions that can divert the Earth's life-support system from its current trajectory out of the “safe operating space for humanity” onto a trajectory towards desirable futures closer to the agreed-upon goals expressed in the SDGs.


Figure 1: The three main parts of sustainability science. Sustainability science relies on three main kinds of knowledge: system knowledge, goal knowledge, and transformation knowledge. While the epistemology of creating system and goal knowledge is well developed, the epistemology of creating transformation knowledge is in its beginning. From Plag and Jules-Plag (2018).

However, the epistemological basis for the creation of transformation knowledge has been neglected to a large extent. A major unsolved problem in the epistemology of sustainability science is therefore the understanding of how transformation knowledge can be generated, tested, and validated. This raises important epistemological questions: How is knowledge for transformation produced? What is the role of experimental interventions in producing transformation knowledge? What theories can support knowledge production for transformational sustainability?

Developing the interventions to change the system trajectory in a desirable way is an iterative process (Fig. 2). Any intervention through policies, organizational changes, and technologies needs to be validated as far as possible prior to implementation, which poses epistemic challenges due to the fact that a priori validation is impossible: only during implementation can the impacts be monitored and there is no chance to go back in time and try another intervention. Model simulations can be used to explore possible futures under different scenarios for drivers, an approach used, e.g., for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment or the assessment of future climate change.

The iterative nature of implementing transformation (Fig. 2) requires detailed monitoring of the complex system trajectory after interventions in order to ensure that the resulting trajectory brings the system closer to the desired future and accepted goals and to detect in a timely manner the need for further interventions.


Figure 2: The iterative nature of bending system trajectories towards desirable futures. Achieving the transformation from the current state and trend to a desired future requires an iterative process of disturbances exceeding the system's resilience and corrections to bring the system's trajectory closer to the desired future. From Plag and Jules-Plag (2018).

The MCST has a living systems thinking perspective of the world. The very common event-oriented perspective focuses on symptoms and aims to reduce the direct causes for these symptoms. By doing so, the problem-solving remains at a superficial level that links apparent causes to symptoms without understanding the fundamental casual loops that can only be captured in a systems thinking perspective. The MCST guides the investigations from the common superficial level into the fundamental level where root causes can be discovered and addressed.

The MCST can be used for case studies carried out by individuals or groups. A case study can be combined with a virtual (simulated) or actual participatory modeling effort. In some cases, participatory modeling utilizing role-playing can substitute for one that engages the societal agents of the wicked problem considered.

The Case Study Template

Objective of the Case Study

The goal of the case study is to research a wicked problem and to develop options that would address the problem in the context of mitigation and adaptation science (Figure 3). The MCST ensures that the five main areas of Adaptation Science as defined in Moss et al. (2013) (i.e., the hazards, the vulnerabilities, foresight, decision making, and options) are reflected in the structure of the case study report, and that the case study takes a systems theory approach.


Figure 3: Case Study Structure. The aim of a case study utilizing the MCST is to address a wicked problem and to provide recommendations to selected social agents for transformative mitigation or adaptation actions that would help to tackle this wicked problem. The main outcome of a case study is the case study report.

Case Study Outcomes and Readership

In most cases, the cases study outcome consists of a detailed case study report and a presentation of the main aspects of the cases study. In more advance cae studies, the students are also asked to prepare one-page summaries as well as a video giving an overview of the case study.

The students are asked to assume that they are writing the case study report in support of decision making by a specific stakeholder group engaged in addressing a real-world wicked problem. This implies that the case study paper is written in a way that a non-expert can understand the text.

Case Study Report

The case study report has eight sections reflecting the seven boxes in Figure 3 and providing a summary of the conclusions and recommendations. After a brief introduction giving a general description of the issue considered and why this issue has to be considered as a wicked or superwicked problem, the next section provides a more detailed description of the wicked problem and the questions to be asked. This section includes a conceptual model representing this problem, which is designed to deliver answers to the core questions. This conceptual model identifies the relevant flows and the stocks, and it includes the relevant decision space appropriately. A figure will represent the conceptual model as a causal loop diagram that can be translated into a stock and flow model.

The subsequently five sections consider the five areas of adaptation science. A final section summarizes recommendations on how to address the issue and make progress towards a desirable future. The sections present the following information, with appropriate attention to detail throughout and the appropriate bibliography.

In detail, the report section have the following contents:

  1. Introduction: Gives a brief overview of the real-world issue being addressed. Questions considered here include: What is the challenge? Where is this a problem? What system is being considering (eco-system, species, human community, ...)? Who (human or non-human) is impacted? What and who has caused the problem? Who is trying to solve/address the problem? Is this a wicked or super-wicked problem? What has been done to address it? Who are the societal agents that may benefit from the case study report?
  2. Wicked Problem and Conceptual Model: Gives a detailed description of the real-world problem from a living systems thinking perspective and provides a conceptual model that represents the system underlying the problem. This conceptual model includes all relevant stockes and the flows between them. It also links the integrated environmental human and non-human system with the decision space relevant to implement tranformative interventions.
  3. Hazards and Threats: What are the hazards that constitute threats for the system considered? What system trends could lead to threats? Gives a comprehensive overview of the hazards, how they interrelate, and how they may change over time. Discusses the hazard probabilities as a function of hazard magnitude. Which of these hazards can be mitigated?
  4. Vulnerabilities: What are the vulnerabilities of the system considered? As much as possible, these vulnerabilities are discussed quantitatively. The goal is to get a realistic, tangible and precise characterization of the vulnerabilities. Which of the vulnerabilities can be reduced through adaptation of the system?
  5. Foresight: What was/were the causes that led to the system being exposed to threats and what future developments can be anticipated? What are the risks that require some form of risk and resilience governance? What future challenges can be expected? What is the full spectrum of possible futures for your system? Is there a prognosis and what does this prognosis look like? A scenario-based approach with three or more different scenarios can help to explore the spectrum of possible futures. What are the long-term consequences of the “no action” option? How are small-scale (local) and large-scale (global) processes impacting the system's current and future trajectory. What has been done to move the system towards desirable futures? What were the outcomes of these efforts?
  6. Decision making: Who are the societal agents involved and impacted by the problem and how do they make decisions related to interventions? The system is embedded in a societal framework with many stakeholders with potentially conflicting interests. The viability of any option proposed to move the system toward a desirable or desired future will depend on the decision making of these social agents, in particular those that have the authority to implement interventions impacting the future of the system.
  7. Options: What are viable options for interventions that would put the system on trajectories towards desirable futures? Are they addressing the problem through mitigation of the causes, managing and mitigating the impacts, or adapting the system to the changes. Are the options likely to increase the system's resilience and antifragility? Considering that wicked problems have no defined solution, only better or worse options, and most realistic options are not going to be simple, what are the practical advantages and disadvantages of competing options? Who are the potentially competing societal agents and what do they stand to gain/lose from each option. At least three options are considered and the associated scenarios and potential system trajectories are discussed. Importantly, the options considered here are consistent with the foresight developed in the Foresight Section.
  8. Discussion, Conclusions and Recommendations: Summarizes the case study and briefly discusses the sitation. Recommends specific transformative interventions that have a realistic potential to impact the future of the system in a desirable way. Relates these recommendations to the scenarios discussed in the sections on foresight and options. Clarifies to whom these recommendations are directed and who could play a major role in implementing them.

Format: The case study report has to be typed with one-and-a-half line spacing preferred. Start with the title of your paper. Then write you name and the class identifier below the title. Then have the numbered sections of your paper (see below). Give each section a meaningful headline. At the end, include the bibliography with the heading "References". For the format of references, see below the section on References.

Figures and Tables: Insert figures and tables in the text. Figures and table must be numbered and must be referenced in the test. Figures must have a caption below the figure, including the source of the figure. Tables have a caption above the table. If the table comes from a source, the source needs to be cited in the caption. Make sure that each caption explains the figure or table sufficiently but does not add significant text.

Units: All units must be System International units (e.g., km instead of miles; mm, cm, m instead inches and feet; degrees Celsius instead of Fahrenheid; g and kg, instead of pounds).

References: Citations and Reference have to follow the documentation style defined by the Council of Scientific Editors, known as the CSE style. See SSF-Guide or the WISC page for more information on the CSE style.

Oral Presentation and/or Video

The case study report is paired with an oral promotional presentation. This presentation can be used to produce a promotional video. The oral presentation should last 12 minutes and normally include additional three minutes for questions and answers. The video should be between 10 and 12 minutes and cover the full promotional presentation. The goal for the presentation is to inform the audience (general public and peers) about the real-world issue and to convince the audience to care about it and act responsible.

Presentations and videos can be prepared in powerpoint of keynotes. In general, presentations should not have more than 10 to 12 slides. A template for the presentation is available in powerpoint, keynotes, and pdf.

Using the Case Study Template

Case Study Topics

In most cases, students are provided with a list of potential topics from which they can select their case study. In most classes, only one student can work on a topic, and once a topic has been selected by a student, it will disappear from the list of available topics. Students can, however, propose their own topics, and if the instructors agree, they can focus their case study on this topic.

Conducting the Case Study

The development of the case study has five separate steps, which have to be completed in sequence:

  1. Selection of topic. Note that topics are assigned on a first come-first-serve basis.
  2. Submission of a brief outline and draft bibliography (online form): The instructors will comment on this, but there are no points for this item.
  3. Upload of the draft case study report: The instructors will comment on this and give points (see below). This draft counts for 20% of the total class grade.
  4. Upload of the final case study report: The instructors will comment on this and give points (see below). This final version counts for 15% of the total class grade.
  5. Upload of the case study presentation and presentation in class: The instructors will comment on this and give points (see below). The presentation counts for 20% of the total class grade.

Requirements

Requirements for the case study outcomes depend on the level. In most undergraduate classes, the following requirements are used for the case study report and the presentation.

Case Study Paper: The requirements are:

  • Each student needs to write a 2000-2500 word paper (excluding illustrations and bibliography) on a given topic that includes the sections described above.
  • Paper have to include the citations of all the sources used and a bibliography has to be provided at the end of the paper that includes all of the sources cited in text.
  • Each student must use and cite at least six references for the project. These can be web-based or print, but be sure they are legitimate and of high quality. At least three references have to be from peer-reviewed literature. For most topics, you will be able to find good material from websites provided by government, conservation, and/or academic organizations. Newspaper articles and web pages of unclear origin are not acceptable as references. Be sure to evaluate the source of the information carefully; remember that anyone can put anything on the web, and that conservation organizations vary in their degree of balance and bias.
  • All references must be cited in the outline that you submit as second step of the case study. If you make any changes to the list you will need to resubmit a new bibliography as soon as possible. Failure to adhere to these guidelines will result in a reduction of points.
  • You have to re-write the information that you have learned from the literature using your own words and must cite the sources from which the information is derived. You may use direct quotes from the source only in exceptional cases where the exact wording is of importance. Otherwise, you have to rewrite information from sources completely, NOT just make a few changes in the sentence!
  • Failure to rewrite will result in a loss of points up to 0 for the paper contents. Failure to cite sources, even if you paraphrase content, constitutes plagiarism and will result in a score of 0 for the entire project and an Honor Code sanction.
  • Grades will be based on thoroughness, accuracy, mechanics, and adherence to instructions. For details on the criteria, see above.

Case Study Presentation: TBA

Grading the Outcomes

Grading Criteria

The weight of the grade of the case study paper for the overall class grade depends on the class. Normally, the students can submit a draft and after receieving comments provide a final report. The grade for the draft has a higher weight than the one for the final paper. Often, the draft accounts for 4/7 and the final paper for 3/7 of the total report grade.

The following grading criteria are used for the draft and final case study reports:

  • Length; 20 points: Points are subtracted if the paper does not meet the length requirement.
  • Conceptual Model; 15 points: Points depend on how well the wicked problem is introduced and the associated conceptual model is presented and described, and how well this conceptual model captures the system representing the wicked problem (including processes, agents, variables).
  • Hazards; 8 points: Points depend on how well and how comprehensively the hazards are described that the system is exposed to.
  • Vulnerability; 8 points: Points depend on how well and how comprehensively the vulnerabilities inherent to the system are described.
  • Foresight; 8 points: Points depend on how well the possible futures of the system are presented and the how well the likelihood of these futures are analyzed.
  • Decision-making; 8 points: Points depend on both the description of the framework for decision making related to the wicked problem considered and the societal agents involved or impacted by relevant decision-making.
  • Options; 8 points: Points depend on whether the presented options are viable interventions that can put the system on a trajectory toward desirable futures and how well these desirable futures are identified.
  • Figures and tables; 5 points: Points are subtracted if the required figures are not included, if a sufficient caption is missing, or if the figure/table is not referenced in the text.
  • Citations; 5 points: Points are subtracted if the citations are not sufficient and if the format of the citations is not correct.
  • References Format; 5 points: Points are subtracted if the format of the references in the List of References is not correct.
  • References Quality; 10 points: Points are subtracted if the quality requirements for cited literature are not meet.

The Writing style has to meet the standards of scientific writing. Note that since this is a writing class, the writing style as well as spelling and grammar impact the points received for each section.

The following grading criteria are used for the presentation:

  • Length; 5 points: Points are subtracted if the presentation is too short or cannot be completed within the alloted 12 minutes.
  • Conceptual Model; 15 points: Points depend on how well the wicked problem is introduced and the associated conceptual model is presented and described, and how well this conceptual model captures the system representing the wicked problem (including processes, agents, variables).
  • Hazards; 8 points: Points depend on how well and how comprehensively the hazards are described that the system is exposed to.
  • Vulnerability; 8 points: Points depend on how well and how comprehensively the vulnerabilities inherent to the system are described.
  • Foresight; 8 points: Points depend on how well the possible futures of the system are presented and the how well the likelihood of these futures are analyzed.
  • Decision-making; 8 points: Points depend on both the description of the framework for decision making related to the wicked problem considered and the societal agents involved or impacted by relevant decision-making.
  • Options; 8 points: Points depend on whether the presented options are viable interventions that can put the system on a trajectory toward desirable futures and how well these desirable futures are identified.
  • Figures and layout; 15 points: Points are subtracted for confusing or hard-to-read layout, insufficient of low-quality figures, and overload with text.
  • Presentation; 25 points: Points depend on the quality of the oral presentation based on the speaking style and scientific wording, the speed, as well as the sufficiency of the explanations of the presented material.

In case, other outcomes are requested (summary and video) similar grading criteria are used.