By Niko Schäpke and Ioan Fazey
How should formalized knowledge systems, including universities, research institutes and education, transform to keep pace with wider and inevitable societal transformations associated with accelerating global change? What kinds of changes are needed in these knowledge systems and how can they be encouraged?
These questions were explored by participants of the Transformations 2017 conference and in subsequent research (Fazey et al., 2020). This included highlighting current challenges, envisioning future systems and the policy and actions required for the transition. These are summarized in the figure below.
Challenges of current knowledge systems
Current systems are limited by frequently being disconnected from action, being elitist, fragmented and compartmentalized. Narrow interpretations of what counts as knowledge prevail, excluding integration with ethics and aesthetics. Knowledge production is also based on a worldview of a disconnect between humans and nature. There is limited questioning of how knowledge creation is influenced by, and reproduces, the unsustainable societies in which knowledge creators are embedded.
What we envision for future knowledge systems
To be a genuinely creative force for change, knowledge systems will need to be much more collaborative, open, diverse, egalitarian, reflexive, responsible and able to work with values and systemic issues. They need to be able to work with interconnected issues; be much more action-oriented locally and globally; be inclusive of diverse forms of knowledge; and be supported by processes promoting trust, collaboration, and high levels of creativity. Overall, future knowledge systems need to support a science for all that goes beyond producing knowledge about our world to also generating wisdom about how to act within it.
What policies and actions are required to support transformation from current to future knowledge systems?
A range of interconnected policy and action domains were identified that would help the transition to future, envisioned knowledge systems:
- Connect champions and innovative examples of transformative knowledge production to increase momentum.
- Initiate broad societal engagement in knowledge production through creative, critical mass participation involving diverse audiences to challenge accepted knowledge.
- Embody creativity and agency in knowledge production to inform action for transformation and support learners to become agents of change.
- Actively foster and democratize a global knowledge commons to integrate diverse knowledge sources and make knowledge accessible in a transparent and equitable way.
- Create and nurture safe spaces to experiment, learn from and develop capacities for new forms of collaborative knowledge production, supported by boundary spanning organizations and collaborative partnerships.
- Restructure funding and incentives in line with community priorities such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and support transdisciplinary and action-oriented types of research consistent with these needs.
- Create a new social contract for co-production of knowledge in which agendas, decisions and actions are informed by democratic collaboration between citizens, trans-disciplinary scientific networks and policy makers.
- Develop free, intercultural and holistic education systems and practices for life-long learning which promote, for example: critical reflexivity; diverse knowledge perspectives; mind-body-emotion, place, nature, science-art connections; and experiential learning.
- Build complex systems literacy at all ages allowing learners to gain capacities for systems thinking and understanding the implications of complex system dynamics for practice.
- Encourage ways of learning from action that include agency and wisdom, making use of iterative learning cycles combining action and reflection.
- Create socio-economic conditions to empower participation of billions of currently excluded people in knowledge systems. Global reforms are required to abolish exploitative structures and provide fair access to income, employment and education.
Current knowledge systems are not well aligned to the new world in which we find ourselves and are not sufficiently oriented towards working with issues like climate change which pose existential threats to people and many other species on our planet. The level of change needed in knowledge systems to effectively support wider societal transformations should not be underestimated. To overcome deeply entrenched assumptions and patterns, this change probably needs to be at the scales seen during the Age of Enlightenment (1715-1789) and the scientific and technological revolution accompanying the Second World War (1939-1945).
While this may be daunting, much is already known about what needs to be achieved and how it could be encouraged. At this critical climate juncture and sixth planetary species extinction, we urgently need to shift towards the generation of wisdom to ensure longevity of human life and other species on our planet.
What do you think? Are there key challenges we have missed? Would you add additional elements to future knowledge systems? Are there other policy and action steps to be taken to speed up the transformation?
To find out more:
Ioan Fazey, Niko Schäpke, Guido Caniglia, Anthony Hodgson, Ian Kendrick, Christopher Lyon, Glenn Page, James Patterson, Chris Riedy, Tim Strasser, Stephan Verveen, David Adams, Bruce Goldstein, Matthias Klaes, Graham Leicester, Alison Linyard, Adrienne McCurdy, Paul Ryan, Bill Sharpe, Giorgia Silvestri, Ali Yansyah Abdurrahim, David Abson, Olufemi Samson Adetunji, Paulina Aldunce, Carlos Alvarez-Pereira, Jennifer Marie Amparo, Helene Amundsen, Lakin Anderson, Lotta Andersson, Michael Asquith, Karoline Augenstein, Jack Barrie, David Bent, Julia Bentz, Arvid Bergsten, Carol Berzonsky, Olivia Bina, Kirsty Blackstock, Joanna Boehnert, Hilary Bradbury, Christine Brand, Jessica Böhme (born Sangmeister), Marianne Mille Bøjer, Esther Carmen, Lakshmi Charli-Joseph, Sarah Choudhury, Supot Chunhachoti-ananta, Jessica Cockburn, John Colvin, Irena L.C. Connon, Rosalind Cornforth, Robin S. Cox, Nicholas Cradock-Henry, Laura Cramer, Almendra Cremaschi, Halvor Dannevig, Catherine T. Day, Cathel de Lima Hutchison, Anke de Vrieze, Vikas Desai, Jonathan Dolley, Dominic Duckett, Rachael Amy Durrant, Markus Egermann, Emily Elsner (Adams), Chris Fremantle, Jessica Fullwood-Thomas, Diego Galafassi, Jen Gobby, Ami Golland, Shiara Kirana González-Padrón, Irmelin Gram-Hanssen, Jakob Grandin, Sara Grenni, Jade Lauren Gunnell, Felipe Gusmao, Maike Hamann, Brian Harding, Gavin Harper, Mia Hesselgren, Dina Hestad, Cheryl Anne Heykoop, Johan Holmén, Kirsty Holstead, Claire Hoolohan, Andra-Ioana Horcea-Milcu, Lummina Geertruida Horlings, Stuart Mark Howden, Rachel Angharad Howell, Sarah Insia Huque, Mirna Liz Inturias Canedo, Chidinma Yvonne Iro, Christopher D. Ives, Beatrice John, Rajiv Joshi, Sadhbh Juarez-Bourke, Dauglas Wafula Juma, Bea Cecilie Karlsen, Lea Kliem, Andreas Kläy, Petra Kuenkel, Iris Kunze, David Patrick Michael Lam, Daniel J. Lang, Alice Larkin, Ann Light, Christopher Luederitz, Tobias Luthe, Cathy Maguire, Ana-Maria Mahecha-Groot, Jackie Malcolm, Fiona Marshall, Yiheyis Maru, Carly McLachlan, Peter Mmbando, Subhakanta Mohapatra, Michele-Lee Moore, Angela Moriggi, Mark Morley-Fletcher, Susanne Moser, Konstanze Marion Mueller, Mutizwa Mukute, Susan Mühlemeier, Lars Otto Naess, Marta Nieto-Romero, Paula Novo, Karen O’Brien, Deborah Anne O’Connell, Kathleen O’Donnell, Per Olsson, Kelli Rose Pearson, Laura Pereira, Panos Petridis, Daniela Peukert, Nicky Phear, Siri Renée Pisters, Matt Polsky, Diana Pound, Rika Preiser, Md. Sajidur Rahman, Mark S. Reed, Philip Revell, Iokiñe Rodriguez, Briony Cathryn Rogers, Jascha Rohr, Milda Nordbø Rosenberg, Helen Ross, Shona Russell, Melanie Ryan, Probal Saha, Katharina Schleicher, Flurina Schneider, Morgan Scoville-Simonds, Beverley Searle, Samuel Petros Sebhatu, Elena Sesana, Howard Silverman, Chandni Singh, Eleanor Sterling, Sarah-Jane Stewart, J. David Tàbara, Douglas Taylor, Philip Thornton, Theresa Margarete Tribaldos, Petra Tschakert, Natalia Uribe-Calvo, Steve Waddell, Sandra Waddock, Liza van der Merwe, Barbara van Mierlo, Patrick van Zwanenberg, Sandra Judith Velarde, Carla-Leanne Washbourne, Kerry Waylen, Annika Weiser, Ian Wight, Stephen Williams, Mel Woods, Ruth Wolstenholme, Ness Wright, Stefanie Wunder, Alastair Wyllie, and Hannah R. Young. (2020). Transforming knowledge systems for life on Earth: Visions of future systems and how to get there. Energy Research and Social Science, 70, 101724. (Online – open access) (DOI): https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2020.101724
Biography: Niko Schäpke PhD is an assistant professor at the University of Freiburg, Germany. He is an interdisciplinary social scientist interested in the governance of sustainability transformations. His research focus is on settings and methods of transdisciplinary and action-oriented sustainability science as well as dynamics of human agency and spaces for societal learning and change. He is passionate about advancing the capacity of sustainability sciences to contribute to transformations.
Biography: Ioan Fazey PhD is Professor of the Social Dimensions of Environment at the University of York, UK. His research and teaching focuses on resilience, transformations and sustainability. He actively supports and facilitates a growing field of research and action associated with understanding how to achieve significant change in relation to social and environmental sustainability.