Now published: Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

Finally, the first paper is out from our Leverage Points project. It’s led by Dave Abson, and lays out a conceptual framework and research agenda, all around the notion of “deep leverage points”. Please share it through your networks.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 10.31.56.pngThe paper draws on Donella Meadows’ notion of “deep leverage points” – places to intervene in a system where adjustments can make a big difference to the overall outcomes. Arguably, sustainability science desperately needs such leverage points. Despite years of rhetoric on sustainability science bringing about “transformation”, the big picture is still pretty dull: globally at least, there is no indication that we’re starting to turn around the patterns of exponential growth that characterize our era. A potential reason is that much of sustainability science has focused on parameters and feedbacks, rather than system design or “intent” (see above) — when actually, it’s changing a system’s design…

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The perils of technocratism: Will environmentalists learn from Brexit?

 

Excellent thoughts by colleagues from Seattle, highlighting the role of justice and participation in sustainability transformation.

The GOVERNANCE blog

By Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash.  What do the Brexit vote, the rise of Trump and Sanders, and apathy towards climate change mitigation have in common? The perils of relying on technocratism to justify policy choices.

Much will be written on why the British have voted for Brexit. There are already dire predictions about the future of the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the world economy. Mainstream newspapers are puzzled as to why the British voted for the exit even though it might hurt them. They blame populism, the rise of the far right, fears about immigration, economic globalization and so on.

While this is true, the mainstream media has not seriously engaged with the source of voter dissatisfaction with the EU. More broadly, we ought to ask: why are voters less willing to take marching orders from the economic and scientific elites? Why are they willing to…

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New doctoral programme “Democracy under Stress” – 7 PhD positions

Leuphana’s Center for the Study of Democracy has been awarded a major grant for funding a total of 14 PhD scholars. The first 7 scholarships are advertised now.

The doc­to­ral pro­gram in­ves­ti­ga­tes how the new po­li­ti­cal, eco­no­mic, eco­lo­gi­cal, and cultural chal­len­ges (‘stress fac­tors’) that mo­dern de­mo­cra­cies en­coun­ter are per­cei­ved, dealt with, and sol­ved in view of the exis­ting ten­si­on bet­ween po­li­ti­cal le­gi­ti­ma­cy and re­stric­ted per­for­mance. It will fur­ther look into the im­pli­ca­ti­ons that dif­fe­rent mo­des of pro­blem-hand­ling have for the ‘sur­vi­val chan­ces’ of de­mo­cra­cy. This two­fold re­se­arch agen­da will be ana­ly­zed in three fiel­ds of stu­dy that re­pre­sent the core func­tions of de­mo­cra­cies: par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on, re­pre­sen­ta­ti­on, and in­clu­si­on.

The first field of stu­dy is con­cer­ned with how ci­ti­zens in de­mo­cra­tic so­cie­ties per­cei­ve cur­rent so­cie­tal – e.g. environmental or sustainability-related – chal­len­ges in light of in­cre­a­sing ’eman­ci­pa­ti­ve’ va­lue ori­en­ta­ti­ons and how the­se per­cep­ti­ons are trans­la­ted into po­li­ti­cal be­ha­viour (participatory democracy).

In the frame­work of the se­cond field of stu­dy, the re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve ca­pa­ci­ty of po­li­ti­cal in­ter­me­di­a­ry or­ga­niza­t­i­ons as well as po­li­ti­cal in­sti­tu­ti­ons wi­t­hin and outs­ide the na­ti­on sta­te will be ana­ly­zed (representative democracy).

By me­ans of selec­ted po­li­cy fiel­ds (e. g. en­vi­ron­men­tal, cli­ma­te, sci­ence and me­dia po­li­cy) the third field of stu­dy looks into the is­sue of how new forms of po­li­ti­cal par­ti­ci­pa­ti­on in­ter­act with tra­di­tio­nal in­sti­tu­ti­ons, ac­tors, and pro­ces­ses of re­pre­sen­ta­ti­ve de­mo­cra­cy (inclusive democracy).

Deadline for submission of applications is 12 June, 2016.

For more information, please see http://www.leuphana.de/en/research-centers/zdemo-english/doctoral-program-democracy-under-stress.html

Do we all agree on the importance of learning and knowledge integration for environmental governance?

By Jens Newig

A couple of days ago, I received the report of a symposium I was invited to earlier this year. The symposium, held in May at the Stockholm Environment Institute, was about “Environmental Governance in an Increasingly Complex World: An Interdisciplinary Exchange on Adaptation, Collaborative Learning and Knowledge Integration”, gathering some 25 researchers and practitioners (You can access the website here, and the report here).

Learning and knowledge integration were the key issues discussed by speakers like Ryan Plummer (adaptive co-management), Bernd Siebenhüner (transdisciplinarity), Arjen Wals (social learning in education), Stephen Elstub (deliberation) and myself (governance learning). There certainly was a lot of interesting detail from empirical and conceptual studies. One key insight, however, emerged more implicitly: There seemed a remarkable consensus in the whole group that more learning – either through participation, co-management, or transdisciplinary interaction – would benefit sustainability and environmental governance. To quote from the report, knowledge integration and learning were even seen as “a necessary precondition for transformative change toward more sustainable futures”.

I certainly agree that without learning no major leap forward can be achieved – whether this concerns sustainability or not. I just have this slight unease with the high level of consensus on the issue. Are we still asking the right questions? Are we as reasearchers still learning (sic!) enough when studying learning? Going against the grain, a couple of contributions appeared to indeed question the dominant focus on standard models of learning. Arjen Wals, for example, brought forward the idea of un-learning. While this is not new as such, I believe it would be worth discussing more thoroughly in this community. (In the Leverage Points project – WP 2 “Re-Structure” – we will focus on related topics of de-institutionalisation for the benefit of sustainability). Perhaps it is as important to study what kind of (unsustainable) beliefs, convictions, practices, institutions we need to do away with, as it is essential to examine what new things we need to learn.

Linking transdisciplinary sustainability research with governance

By Jens Newig

On attending the 2nd International Conference on Public Policy (ICPP 2015) in Milan, I would like to share some thoughts on the relationship of transdisciplinary research and the governance of science-policy interactions.

For those of us working in sustainability and environmental studies, transdisciplinarity (Hirsch Hadorn, Pohl, Scholz, Lang, Bergmann, …) has become an important feature. Some prefer the terms “mode 2 science” (Nowotny, Gibbons) or “post-normal science” (Funtowicz and Ravetz). They all refer essentially to the participation of non-academics in academic processes, aiming to democratise research and to produce better and societally more relevant (“socially robust”) research outputs. Whether we see it as a new mantra, or as a mere necessity to produce knowledge relevant to solving today’s looming environmental sustainability problems – it is virtually impossible to ignore transdisciplinarity when engaging in sustainability-relevant research.

Connecting academia and practice

At the well-attended ICPP 2015 plenary session on “Academics and practitioners, opposed or complementary?”, established scholars and policy-makers discussed different venues through which the academic sphere and that of policy-making are or could be linked.

The following list blends those points raised in the panel discussion, mainly by Leslie A. Pal and Rob Hoppe, with some of my own thoughts that immediately followed this. (For the purposes of simplification, I call those people outside academia who are to some degree influential in what they do “decision-makers”).

So what are those interfaces between academia and practice?

  • Decision-makers have typically themselves gone through a university education, perhaps up to PhD level or beyond.
  • Some decision-makers publish in (academic) journals.
  • Some decision-makers even read academic journals.
  • Countless think tanks, established by policy-makers themselves, consult policy-makers
  • Decision-makers selectively draw on consultants for particular purposes, and those consultants sometimes engage more with the academic sphere than do policy-makers in their day-to-day practice.
  • Some decision-makers attend (academic) conferences and exchange here with academics.
  • ‘Public intellectuals’ publish their ideas in newspapers, bridging academia and public opinion.
  • Boundary workers who, through participation in academia and in practice, facilitate co-production of knowledge.

Why is transdisciplinarity not mentioned?

Surprisingly, to me at least, transdisciplinarity, mode 2, post-normal science – those concepts that appear as the epitome of science-practitioner interaction – none of them were even mentioned in this 90-minute plenary panel.

How can this be? Perhaps most obviously, different academic discourses do not diffuse evenly into scholarly communities. Transdisciplinarity might in comparison still be a niche discourse. This does not mean that it should not be important to other fields of research, too. Exchanging about this is of course why conferences such as ICPP are important.

Another reason could be that the discourse on transdisciplinarity is much focused on (funded) research projects. Projects are limited in scope and time, often short-term, which makes on-going interaction between science and practice more difficult. Hence what Rob Hoppe – one of the plenary speakers – calls the preoccupation of transdisciplinary sustainability scholars with trust-building, whereas classical ‘policy analysts’ in other areas tend to have more stable relationships with decision-making (see http://works.bepress.com/robert_hoppe1/2/).

Third, as someone with experience in leading and studying transdisciplinary projects (→ project MONA), my impression is the following: By calling for an involvement of non-academics into research, and even an empowerment of practitioners (Brandt et al. 2013), transdisciplinary researchers (often implicitly) assume academic research to be on the side of those who are in power to decide. The plenary discussion at ICPP showed, however, that practitioners tend to see things quite differently. For public decision-makers, the point of departure is public decision-making (quite naturally), into which academics can or should be involved (through think-tanks and other mechanisms listed above). In their view, decision-makers have the power to decide, whereas academics just do research. Someone at the panel even mentioned a certain angst on the part of academics of being left out of decision-making.

The final point connects to the previous one. In response to my question of why transdisciplinarity did not figure in the said plenary, one of the panellists (I think it was Rob Hoppe) mentioned the typical normative stance of sustainability researchers in their desire for changing the world for the better, in Germany now hotly discussed under the label of “transformative science”. The general tendency at the panel was, however, to keep academia and policy-making apart (referred to as ‘demarcation’) lest we run into important legitimacy issues if researchers engage in decision-making themselves. Nevertheless, both worlds should of course connect, which is then referred to as ‘coordination’.

What role for governance?

These thoughts might sound awfully critical of transdisciplinary sustainability science. They are not. But perhaps they help us put transdisciplinarity into perspective and remind us that this is just one of many ways in which research and practice can connect. After all, we are still struggling to understand the pathways though which transdisciplinarity actually leads to an effective co-production of knowledge. This is what colleagues and I are trying to find evidence for, comparing 100 completed sustainability-related research projects (→ MONA).

So how does all this concern governance? As sustainability governance scholars, we should be aware of the multiple avenues through which we can interact with practitioners. Transdisciplinary research projects are one important way (with many different facets). Others are listed above. In particular, we might want to engage in boundary work, or connect with boundary organisations such as consultancies.

Regarding public sustainability governance, research funding organisations in particular should likewise take into account the multiplicity of research-practice interactions. While certain environment and sustainability-oriented funding programmes in Germany and Switzerland demand transdisciplinary interactions in projects they fund, the United Kingdom funding bodies are heavily concerned with the practical and societal impact generated through research (see Julia Leventon’s recent blog entry on ideas4.sustainabiliy.org). Both of these approaches appear somewhat one-sided. One could consider, for example, encouraging and funding long-term interactions between research and policy, or creating and funding intermediary organisations that serve as institutionalised bridges between research and decision-making.

Readings

Brandt, P., Ernst, A., Gralla, F., Luederitz, C., Lang, D.J., Newig, J., Reinert, F., Abson, D.J., Von Wehrden, H. (2013) A review of transdisciplinary research in sustainability science. Ecological Economics 92, 1-15.

Funtowicz, S.O., Ravetz, J.R. (1993) Science for the post-normal age. Futures 25, 739-755.

Hirsch Hadorn, G., Hoffmann-Riem, H., Biber-Klemm, S., Grossenbacher-Mansuy, W., Joye, D., Pohl, C., Wiesmann, U., Zemp, E., (2008) Handbook of Transdisciplinary Research. Springer.

Hoppe, R. (2005) Rethinking the Science-Policy Nexus: from Knowledge Utilization and Science Technology Studies to Types of Boundary Arrangements. Poiesis Prax 3, 199-215.

Lang, D.J., Wiek, A., Bergmann, M., Stauffacher, M., Martens, P., Moll, P., Swilling, M., Thomas, C.J. (2012) Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges. Sustainability Science 7, 25-43.

Nowotny, H., Scott, P., Gibbons, M. (2004) Re-thinking science. Knowledge and the public in an age of uncertainty. Polity Press, Oxford.

Stauffacher, M., Flüeler, T., Krütli, P., Scholz, R. (2008) Analytic and Dynamic Approach to Collaboration: A Transdisciplinary Case Study on Sustainable Landscape Development in a Swiss Prealpine Region. Systemic Practice and Action Research 21, 409-422.

Governing transformation to sustainability: A new blog on environmental and sustainability governance

By Jens Newig

Climate change; biodiversity loss; depletion of natural resources; air, water and soil pollution… humankind is facing enormous environmental challenges. Given an imperfect human nature, designing the ‘right’ institutions is a vital factor for bringing about the necessary change towards an ecologically more sustainable development.

In this blog, we will share ideas on designing and implementing institutions, policies, and governance processes across the broad area of environmental and sustainability governance. Our group – the Research Group on Governance, Participation and Sustainability, based at Leuphana University Lüneburg – studies polycentric decision-making in the public realm, and in particular the involvement of broader sectors of society in this. Our research is as much about effective steering (achieving substantive change towards sustainability) as it is about fair decision processes and democratic structures. Our perspective is mainly from political science, but blends approaches and insights from other fields such as human geography, sociology and social-ecological systems. While we approach environmental governance issues mostly form a social science perspective, we collaborate with colleagues in the natural sciences and also with non-scientists.

Politics and policy on multiple levels, from the very local to the global, working across scales, and involving a variety of stakeholders and process forms, from top-down policy implementation to processes of social learning in collaborative networks are at the center of our research. We ask whether and how participation and collaboration foster environmental sustainability. How can sustainability transitions be governed? How can we meet the challenges of governing global social-ecological telecoupled systems?

We set up this blog to share our thoughts on exciting new ideas, concepts or findings; but also on critical thoughts on recent books and articles; reflections on conferences; or simply to recommend and spread contributions we find interesting and useful. We understand this blog as an open forum, and invite readers to comment on our posts. We hope readers will find our contributions useful, and by this hope to contribute to the discourse on environmental and sustainability governance.