I've always had a hard time answering the questions "What do you do?" and "What is your research focus?" I often rely on answers that are true, but not all that helpful:
- I am a computer geek who likes to get his hands dirty.
- I am a multi-disciplinary infidel.
- I do a little bit of lots of things, and I am interested in nearly everything.
- I only occasionally unleash bad jokes (depending whom you ask).
A wide range of projects in very different fields over the first twenty years of my career have led me to a more useful (but maybe not simple) answer:
I am interested in the ways we express, think about, and understand systems: the complex interactions at multiple scales that produce the patterns and behaviours we observe in our world. I explore the techniques and tools that we have - and that we still need to build - to capture and describe our conceptual understanding of these systems, and to connect our data and observations to this understanding, so we can make useful decisions.
I explore these questions by drawing a LOT of boxes and lines on whiteboards and scraps of paper, and then developing software that allows us to do these things for different problem domains. If tools and methods can tackle problems in more than one domain, that is a good sign that I am getting at more general principles. Inter-disciplinarity, collaboration, and cross-pollination are absolutely necessary for my kind of work.
Up to a few years ago I spent most of my time working in hydrological and environmental systems. I then spent a brief period examining commercial and industrial facilities. My attention is now focused on examining academic institutions and expanding the emerging field of academic analytics, using several useful conceptual metaphors including the 'knowledge metropolis' and the 'learning ecology', and developing new methods in academic analytics for problem discovery, exploration, and decision support.
Primary approaches I use in my work are:
- systems thinking
- design thinking
- pragmatic approaches to epistemology and ontology
- software development methods, especially agile approaches
- modelling and decision support systems
- visualization and communication methods
For problem domains I tackled in the past, GIS, geomatics and geocomputation were especially useful tools. They still inform my work to some degree, but much less so.
Interests that get my personal attention and thinking time, but have not yet found their way directly into my formal work, are:
- sustainable building architecture, design, and construction
- cities, sustainability, and urban planning
- sustainable food systems, and healthy approaches to food
- the creative process, and the ways that ideas spread