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DES Centennial Celebration

Environmental Sciences Seminar

DATE/TIME:  Friday, October 8, 2021, 2:30 pm

Hildegaard Link
Department of Human Ecology, Rutgers University

Post Normal Science in Problem Solving and Process Design
seminar recording link

This past August, the National Academy of Engineering announced their new suite of initiatives: Focus on People, Systems, and Culture. Segments of the initiative direct attention to the areas historically excluded from engineering scholarship and practice; "understanding how cultural, ethical, social circumstances, and the natural and constructed environment affect the practice of engineering" and the complex interplay of "technical and social systems" (NAE, August 2021) In 1993, Drs. Funtowicz and Ravetz published their article "Science for the post-normal age", in Futures (Sept. 1993). They define post normal science as circumstances when “facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent”. In a subsequent article, Dr. Ravetz notes "mathematical reductionism (such as risk calculations for low-probability, high-consequence disasters) is an inappropriate strategy for policy-relevant science." (Ravetz, June, 2020)

In engineering practice, I have been frustrated by exclusion of the social and lived experience in engineering design or operations. This NAE initiative is long overdue. Among the tools we have for this work are collaborative leadership, Lin Ostrom’s design principles and a range of participatory modeling and design techniques. Ravetz notes “the way forward is an extension of the scientific peer community to assess quality (to include, for instance, people in communities affected by environmental hazards)” (Ravetz, June 2020) This lecture will propose a research and teaching agenda to build the sustainability of our work as engineers; problem solvers and designers and challenge us to reimagine our practice, our teaching and our student mentoring.