Realizing the Sustainable Development Goals presents probably the most audacious human organizing challenge ever. Their number, global scale, range of issues, timeline, and number of actors involved is surely unparalleled. They require transformational change. But what is transformational change? How does it differ from other forms of change? What’s required to achieve it?
What can we learn from international relations about how ‘normative’ or ‘ethical’ power can be used in successful negotiations, for example, for pathways to sustainability? Here I build on Ian Manners’ (2002) concept of “Normative Power Europe”. He argues that the European Union’s specific history “pre‐disposes it to act in a normative way” (Manners 2002: 242) based on norms such as democracy, rule of law, social justice and respect for human rights. I explore the broader ramifications of the normative power concept for empirical studies and for practical negotiation and collaboration more generally.
First, the concept of normative power implies that the spread of particular norms is perceived as a principal policy goal, whether that relates to foreign policy, environmental policy or other kinds of policy.
By Franziska Stelzer, Uwe Schneidewind, Karoline Augenstein and Matthias Wanner
What are real-world laboratories? How can we best grasp their transformative potential and their relationship to transdisciplinary projects and processes? Real-world laboratories are about more than knowledge integration and temporary interventions. They establish spaces for transformation and reflexive learning and are therefore best thought of as large-scale research infrastructure. How can we best get a handle on the structural dimensions of real-word laboratories?
What are real-world laboratories?
Real-world laboratories are a targeted set-up of a research “infrastructure“ or a “space“ in which scientific actors and actors from civil society cooperate in the joint production of knowledge in order to support a more sustainable development of society.
Although such a laboratory establishes a structure, most discussions about real-world laboratories focus on processes of co-design, co-production and co-evaluation of knowledge, as shown in the figure below. Surprisingly, the structural dimension has received little attention in the growing field of literature.
Overcoming structure as the blind spot
We want to raise awareness of the importance of the structural dimension of real-world laboratories, including physical infrastructure as well as interpretative schemes or social norms, as also shown in the figure below. A real-world laboratory can be understood as a structure for nurturing niche development, or a space for experimentation that interacts (and aims at changing) structural conditions at the regime level.
Apart from this theoretical perspective, we want to add a concrete “infrastructural” perspective, as well as a reflexive note on the role of science and researchers. Giddens’ use of the term ‘structure’ helps to emphasize that scientific activity is always based on rules (eg., rules of proper research and use of methods in different disciplines) and resources (eg., funding, laboratories, libraries).
The two key challenges of real-world laboratories are that:
both scientists and civil society actors are involved in the process of knowledge production; and,
knowledge production takes place in real-world environments instead of scientific laboratories.
How can Elinor Ostrom’s social-ecological systems framework help transdisciplinary research? I propose that this framework can provide an understanding of the system in which the transdisciplinary research problem is being co-defined.
Understanding the system is a first step and is necessary for adequate problem framing, engagement of participants, connecting knowledge and structuring the collaboration between researchers and non-academics. It leads to a holistic understanding of the problem or question to be dealt with. It allows the problem framing to start with a fair representation of the issues, values and interests that can influence the research outcomes. It also identifies critical gaps as our case study below illustrates.
‘Transformation’ has become a buzzword in debates about sustainable development. But while the term has become very popular, it is often unclear what is meant exactly by ‘transformation’.
The fuzziness of the concept can be seen as a strength, giving it metaphoric power and facilitating inter- and transdisciplinary cooperation. However, this fuzziness means there is also a danger of the transformation debate being co-opted by powerful actors and used strategically to impede societal change towards more sustainable pathways.
By Russell Gorddard, Matthew Colloff, Russell Wise and Michael Dunlop
Adapting to climate change can require profound alterations in environmental management and policy. However the social context of a decision process limits options and resists change, often dooming attempts to adapt to climate change even before they begin. How can decision makers in policy and management more effectively see the institutional and social water they swim in, in order to better drive change?
Values, rules and knowledge (vrk) provide a useful heuristic to help decision makers analyze how the social system shapes their decision context. Put simply, decisions require:
knowledge of options and their implications
values to assess the options
rules that enable implementation.
Viewing the decision context as an interconnected system of values, rules and knowledge can reveal limits to adaptation and suggest strategies for addressing them (Gorddard et al. 2016).
Values are the set of ethical precepts that determine the way people select actions and evaluate events.
Rules are both rules-in-use (norms, practices, habits, heuristics) and rules-in-form (regulations, laws, directives).
Knowledge is both evidence-based (scientific and technical) knowledge and experiential knowledge.
Decision context is the subset of interacting subsystems that are at play in a particular decision process. One core idea is that the decision context may exclude relevant values, knowledge or rules from being considered in decisions. Adaptation may therefore involve change in the decision context.
How do we improve? In the context of sustainable development, we continually confront the question of how we can develop meaningful and positive actions towards a ‘better’ world (social, ecological, economic outcomes) despite inherent uncertainties about what the future holds.
Co-creation is one concept among several that seek to reorientate us from simplistic, largely linear ideas of progress towards more nuanced, subtle ideas that highlight that there are many different aspects of ‘progress’, and these can be deeply contested and challenging to reconcile. Enabling co-creation, then – or operationalizing it – means finding practical ways to work together, to deal with our different experiences, aspirations and expectations as well as the uncertainties of the future.
Co-creation sits within a learning paradigm that suggests engagement, social and mutual learning, adaptation and flexibility are key to enabling action in the face of uncertainty. But how do we think about learning?
¿Cómo pueden los gobiernos, las comunidades y el sector privado efectivamente trabajar juntos para lograr un cambio social hacia el desarrollo sostenible?
En este blog describo los procesos claves que permitieron a Uruguay lograr uno de los regímenes más avanzados de protección del suelo de tierras de cultivo de secano en el mundo. Una explicación del proceso es la creación de una cultura pragmática de la complejidad, una cultura inclusiva, deliberativa que reconoce la naturaleza compleja del problema y abraza el potencial de lo posible.
When we talk about co-creation, co-production, and co-design as exciting and productive alternative ways of approaching collaboration, it often doesn’t take too long for the conversation to turn to the challenges. Barriers, roadblocks, and disincentives appear and are lamented, or perhaps we celebrate that they have been overcome in a research-practice equivalent of the triumph of good over evil.
For every project the triumph may look a bit different – from the support an innovative funding agency, to a policy-maker or practitioner who understood the value of research, to the dedication, energy and sheer persistence of people who enjoy working together – the solutions are many and multi-faceted. These achievements should indeed be celebrated, and the lessons from them should be harvested.