One of the main challenges in dealing with research is indeed framing the right questions. Einstein’s quote “if I had one hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution” highlighted that before jumping into solutions we should step back investing time and energy in the definition and understanding of the problems.
This is true for any research field, but I’d argue it is even more challenging when your research topic has to do with some fuzzy and broad concept, like Sustainability or Resilience. In the last decades, such concepts sprawled disciplines and policy domains, and nowadays the Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the forthcoming New Urban Agenda and others multilateral processes are increasingly using those concepts for driving planetary (urban) development strategies and goals. The question is: in the light of those concepts fuzziness, theoretical abstraction and lack of systematic operationalisations are they contributing to further enlarge the existing gap between research practices? How should researchers frame sounding research questions in dealing with them and real life urban problems?
Since I’m not able to provide you with a proper answer to these questions, I’d like to introduce here, to whom is interested, a pathway toward a potential source of inspiration, and hopefully solutions/answers. Indeed, when during my first years of PhD I was trying to frame reasonable research questions in dealing with urban resilience, I found the best answers in the debates and brainstorming processes with colleagues having my same trouble. Strongly believing in the success of this strategy, I’d like to introduce to you an initiative which to me is strongly contributing to the debates toward the integration of different disciplines and perspectives on urban resilience, helping to frame relevant and meaningful research questions. This initiative is the Urban Resilience Research Network (URNet).
This network was born when four PhD students from very different backgrounds, institutes and countries found themselves debating during the International Resilience Conference (Arizona University, March 2011) on why they had a so different perspective about urban resilience. Few months later I proposed to organize an international workshop in order to address synergies and conflicting meanings or perspectives of resilience thinking applied to urban systems, in order to set a common research framework among us. In November 2011, we held the First International Workshop on Urban Resilience in Barcelona, and based on its success we edited a book and stated to set up a network of researchers interested in this discussion. In 2012, the first book titled “Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Urban Resilience” was published launching also the blog of the Urban Resilience Research Network. The mission of this network was, and still is, to support researchers (of any kind, from different background and disciplines) in dealing with the complexity of framing and operationalising urban resilience researches.
In order to help identifying challenging and necessary research questions, a new section in our web has been launched, titled “Viewpoints”. Here a variety of scholars from different disciplines will introduce their perspectives on urban resilience, outlining their own point of view about which is the most pressing research question that should be answered. The section opened few months ago with the contributions from two invited authors, namely Ilan Kelman and Jon Coaffee, which introduced respectively a critique on the concept of resilience (how distant it is from the reality of our world practices) and the challenges posed by operationalizing a “holistic urban resilience”. In the following months we will publish different essays, introducing also viewpoints from not only researchers but also practitioners around the world, and the principal international organizations promoting city resilience initiatives, to explore both the academic and non-academic perspectives about how to frame problems and research questions.
In so doing, we hope to contribute to at least partially filling the gap between research and practices, and at the same time enhancing the quality of future research. However, in order to do that, and coming back to my first words of this post, the best way to pose the right questions, and the best way to find the answer, it through debates, networking and critical research. Therefore, I’d strongly encourage any interested person to enter in touch with us, subscribe to our mailing list, and join the conversations.