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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Disproportionate Impacts of Environmental Challenges

The goal of the Disproportionate Impacts of Environmental Challenges group is to help solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, while recognizing the disproportionate effects that environmental challenges and their solutions have on marginalized communities.

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About the Project

With each community partnership, the working group will start by cultivating a collective knowledge base around environmental change. Partners include communities, particularly indigenous youth, community elders and knowledge keepers, as well as practitioners, scientists and engineers (Reo et al 2017). It will develop an understanding of traditional ecological knowledge and climate change experiences and solutions through interviews, story-telling, and other participatory techniques. This will be used to co-create a knowledge sharing platform to facilitate co-designed solutions that mitigate—and possibly prevent—the disproportionate impacts of environmental change their communities face. In addition to building productive engagements between traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge, the project will enable Northwestern to leverage its extensive expertise in the physical sciences, social sciences, and engineering to solve wicked problems.

The project is motivated by two core questions:

  • How can marginalized communities effectively mitigate or adapt to climate change impacts?
  • How can we produce research that is meaningful, relevant, actionable, and rigorous?

The working group will partner with communities to support their abilities to mitigate or adapt to climate change impacts while also achieving community-determined United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 13 (Climate Action), and 15 (Life on Land), guided by the collective principles of humility, responsibility, respect, and rigor. The work will begin through enhanced collaboration with existing community and practitioner partnerships to develop a Northwestern model for participatory transdisciplinary research.

The central aim of transdisciplinary research is societal impact; not simply bridging divides within academia, transdisciplinary work reaches outside of the academy to co-produce and use knowledge (Toomey et al 2015). The approach will begin by cultivating deeper community relationships, responding to communities’ research needs, working with them to identify, design, and carry out research.

Group Members

  • Andrew Dillon (NU Kellogg School of Management)
  • Jennifer B. Dunn (NU McCormick School of Engineering)*
  • Dean Karlan (NU Kellogg School of Management)
  • Patty Loew (NU Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications)
  • William M. Miller (NU McCormick School of Engineering)
  • James Schwoch (NU School of Communications)
  • Pam Silas (NU Center for Native American and Indigenous Research)
  • Kimberly R. Marion Suiseeya (NU Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences - Political Science; Environmental Policy and Culture Program)*
  • Niraj Swami (Applied AI & Innovation Ventures, The Nature Conservancy)
  • Anita Van Breda (Environment and Disaster Management, World Wildlife Fund)
  • Sera Young (NU Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences - Anthropology)
  • Nyree Zerega (NU Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences - Plant Biology and Conservation)

*indicates Group leaders