Four quadrants of ScienceforLife.365

Kristin: One of the models I teach to postgraduate students is Wilber’s Integral Four-Quadrant Model. The model is a useful diagnostic for ensuring that a more holistic view of an issue can be presented by considering factors through four perspectives. These four perspectives embrace both the observable word of metrics and systems, and the internal world of values and culture.

The issue we’ve been working on across the last few weeks is “What does science communication and engagement look like if it’s successful?”. The inquiry stems from a rich picturing & visioning activity we run during the #bigsci13 Science Rewired Summit in Sydney on 5th June. The purpose of the activity was to move beyond the issues, frustrations and even solutions to imagining the future we were striving to create. Previous Bridge8 consultant and freelance writer Dr Sarah Keenihan was watching the conference via livestream, posting her reflections to her daily science blog Science for Life.365. Our subsequent conversation opened the idea to use four-quadrants to explore why science communication matters for the future. Thanks to Sarah for reposting this series of blog posts here to share those insights.

Home Conference

home conference

I’m sitting in my office in suburban Adelaide participating in Sydney’s The Big Science Communication Summit.

Thank-you twitter and live-streaming, the saviours of many home-based workers!

Today at the Summit, Kristin Alford asked:

What does science communication look like if it’s successful?
What’s the outcome?

Here are my thoughts.

When science communication is successful, I will see changes in me and in the people around me.

We will be free, willing and capable of applying evidence to inform decision-making.
We will take the time to think through our actions relating to health, food and lifestyle.
We will deliberately chose schools and jobs that are close to our homes because we will know the value of walking for our health, and the impacts on pollution of minimising use of vehicles.
We will all have backyard productive gardens because we will know the benefits to our mental health from being outside, and the nutritional and health benefits of eating mostly vegetables and fruits.
Of the food we buy, we will chose to spend $8 on a single loaf of good quality bread instead of $2 on a packet of manufactured jam biscuits because we have the knowledge to make an informed assessment of the nutritional benefits of each.
We will try our darndest to deliver our children in safe environments with minimal surgical interventions and then breastfeed them whenever possible, because together these encourage the establishment of bodily microbiomes which support their good health into the future.
We will vaccinate our children against diseases because we understand how to conduct a balanced assessment of risk versus benefit.
We will listen to sprukers trying to sell us all manner of health-related and other products whose efficacy has not been proven and decide they do not deserve our money.
We will not be afraid to listen to and embrace but also argue with scientists when they publish their results. We will be able to conduct a limited but informed critical analysis of what they have done, why and how. We will appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of different experimental approaches.

As I put this list together, I’m struck by the how ‘First World’ it is. In light of that my final thought is:

We will see communities around the world also free and able to embrace science as a way to generate knowledge which can inform peoples’ lives.

24 hours later


24 hours after my blog post of yesterday, I’ve been thinking.

It was a wonderful vision, but how on Earth can we get there?

To fuel the fire, I had a twitter chat with the expert herself in Kristin Alford, who is used to to looking forwards to scenarios of the future.

This is what she said:

I read that, got me thinking. But I’m wondering whether all that knowledge and choice is just hard work? #bigsci13

Why not make our systems so those are the default options as per @TimJarvisAM’s opt-out suggestion. #bigsci13

Wouldn’t system change rather than knowledge be more effective in changing health and sustainability? #bigsci13

Her point is that it’s no good hammering our communities of people with scientific and health information if it’s just too damned hard for them to act on.

(Thinking of climate change, anyone?)

Kristin mentions Tim Jarvis in the conversation above as a result of his presentation at TEDxAdelaide in 2010, in which he asked:

Why is it that we have to opt in to environmentally-friendly plans in our home energy packages?

Why is it that legislation is not in place to make environmental choices the default position? Consumers can then opt out if they feel motivated to do so.

So, to reflect on the original question of ‘What does science communication look like if it’s successful?’, the answer is perhaps ‘it is reflected in the guidelines and systems in which our societies operate.’

And hence to a new question: How can we make our cities and communities and government policies structured to reflect current scientific evidence, and to easily incorporate new evidence as it emerges?

Oh man, I think you’ll just have to go and ask Kristin.

She tells me secrets


I’ve recently talked about the objective and social elements of science.

But what does science mean to me?

Science is a friend, a confidant. She whispers to me, she tells me secrets.

Science tells me secrets as I stand at the dunes and look over a beach I’ve been visiting for over 15 years. She tells me how the rock layers formed, and what the tides will do tomorrow. She tells me what the dark shapes are that swim in the weedy shadows, and the identities of the carcasses and remnants that wash up on the sand. She tells me we need to limit the fish we catch.

Science tells me the secrets of my own body. She lets me know I need to eat well and exercise. She reminds me that I’m too old to reasonably have another baby. She pokes me in the back when it’s time to have an afternoon nap. She lets me know I need to submit my pride and lose a few cervical cells and have my breasts compressed so that my risk of some cancers can be assessed.

Science plays coy with numbers. She reveals them in the flowers and shells, in the patterns of our climates and in my children’s times tables. Why is it that the digits of the 9-times tables all add up to 9 themselves? (See for yourself: 09, 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, 63, 72, 81, 90). This secret is well held.

Science hides in the secrets of the skies. She overwhelms me with vastness as I stare at endless stars and millions of years gone by. She sends a rover to Mars and operates it remotely to send back whispers from a red planet.

Science reveals the secrets of my own family. We are a family prone to science. We are often obsessive, usually fussy, and inclined to be solo operators. We tend to favour rules and systems. Knowing I am not alone in these traits helps me to sleep at night.

My genes and my environment reveal the secrets of me.

Science is me, and my secrets.

I am also we


It’s clear that science and I sit very happily together.

But in my life, I am not just me.

I am also ‘we’.

We, me and my family.
We, me and my friends.
We, me and my work colleagues.
We, me and my running buddies.
We, me and my neighbourhood community.
We, me and my city dwellers.
We, me and my men and women of South Australia.
We, me and my country fellows.
We, me and my world peoples.

Going back to the original question which started this chain of blog posts (see Day 297 and also Day 298, Day 303):

What does science communication look like if it’s successful for each ‘we’?

Each ‘we’ has its own culture, its own morals, its own values, its own politics. Some of these elements overlap, some are unique to that group in particular.

The way science is represented to each ‘we’ should be different.

“Oh no!”

I hear you cry.

“This just makes the job even harder!”

But if it’s done right, this makes the job more successful too.

Science communication – done properly – speaks to a ‘we’.

That ‘we’ then ascribes its own meaning to the information and incorporates it into daily rituals, lifetime practices and thinking about the future.



Recently I’ve been talking about the social, behavioural, individual and collective perspectives relating to science communication.

Possibly you’re wondering where on earth this new drive came from?

It’s called the integral approach, and it’s a tool futurists use a lot. (Futurists like Kristin Alford, who tickled me in the right direction).

Put simply,

The integral approach suggests that every sentinel being has, at minimum, four fundamental, simultaneous perspectives that must be taken into account for a deeper and more integral understanding.

Those four perspectives are also referred to as quadrants.

Now I’m not a futurist. But you don’t need to be fully versed in futures studies to obtain value from the integral approach.

I used it very simply as a framework to guide my analysis of a problem which I’ve been thinking about for years, and needed some new perspectives on: how can we best communicate science, and what does it look like when it works?

Have a try at the integral approach yourself: you’ll find lots of great information and some guidelines here.

[image thanks to Andrew Cavell on flickr]

See more of Sarah’s writing at ScienceforLife.365.


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  1. […] We’re reviewing the outcomes from discussions on the future from the Science Rewired Summit on 5th June. Kristin and previous Bridge8-er Sarah Keenihan have been reflecting on successful science engagement using the four-quadrant integral model. […]

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