Our first leverage points annual retreat: thinking like a project

At the beginning of February we had our first Leverage Points annual retreat with the 21 of us. This is the fourth important milestone since the start of this project in April 2015. After laying down the conceptual foundations in early November, having kick-off meetings together with the post-docs and PhDs in September and November, this retreat got us thinking at what makes Leverage Points as a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Our motivation was to bring individual aims together and ‘think like a project’. We spent three intense days exchanging ideas, gaining fresh outlooks, and making decisions on key research questions, cross cutting themes, and the transformative case studies. And here is an overview of our struggle.


Day 1 was dedicated to sharing the progress made within our main WorkPackages and creating a common background. ReStructure (WP2), ReConnect (WP3), ReThink (WP4), and the Formative Accompanying Researcher(s) (WP 7) gave their updates, clarified their conceptual underpinnings and research aims. WP5 (the transformative case studies) presented the current state of the case study selection, described the potential cases, introduced some of the case partners, and highlighted opportunities and challenges.
Most importantly, as a foundation for the work done within Integration and Synthesis (WP6) we tried to see how these pieces fit together. We scoped for synergies and ways to align to the project rationale: understanding systems’ transformations towards sustainability by going beyond descriptive analytical research towards transformational sustainability research, and by using and advancing ‘leverage points’ (Meadows 1999) as a key concept.

On Day 2 we continued looking into the relations between the work packages with an emphasis on the transformative case studies where we strive to link conceptual and empirical insights into place-based studies dealing with actionable knowledge. We mapped our research outlines (using VUE) to the potential case studies, in an exercise. This also facilitated the selection of the transformative case studies within the two study regions of Leverage Points: Transylvania and Lower Saxony.
During Day 2 we also heard and discussed about the interests and concerns of the PhD students, in particular in relation to the transformative case studies.

On Day 3 we focused on discussing and planning fieldtrips to Lower Saxony and Transylvania, as well as tasks and actions of the team members until the end of this year. Day 3 also included a passionate intermezzo from our administrative staff.


The retreat in pics

Now three outcomes and highlights of this vibrant experience:

1. We saw how the individual research pieces fit together, the overlapping points, and what is the resulting big picture. By zooming in and out individual thesis, work packages, and thematic fields (food and energy), we began to solve the Leverage Points puzzle. After many of us worked in disciplinary silos during the past months, the retreat was the signal for coming together in a more consolidated academic research team.

Bonding and nurturing by dialogue: Gradually, during the three days, we tuned into each other’s epistemic living spaces (Felt 2009), calibrated our academic ‘realities’, adjusted our epistemological and ontological expectations, bridged worldviews and knowledge systems, negotiated our values, and checked our normative assumptions. There is still a lot of work to be done especially regarding timing, communication, and coordination, but this little ‘dance’ brought us a closer.

2. Despite some initial confusion, which, as somebody put it, is an intrinsic feature of such a complex setting, we decided on two transformative case studies. Following up field scoping in search of spots of societal need and interest in Lower Saxony and Romania, we selected among two potential case studies in Germany and three potential cases in Romania.

3. Finally, this retreat led us not only to thinking like a research project, but ultimately to ‘feeling’ as a team of people. After some energizing rounds of ‘research speed dating’ we gained a fresh non-academic outlook on our project and decided we are happy to be working together.


The retreat in pics

Although we are going to use this blog more intensively or at least on a regular basis, you can also check other blogs and media channels connected to some of us. Please feel free to let us know what you would be interested in finding on this ‘updates’ page of our blog.

Sustainability Governance
Ideas for Sustainability
Ecology Statistics Sustainability Conservation Happiness
Sustainability Logbook



Felt, Ulrike. “Knowing and living in academic research.” Convergence and heterogeneity in research cultures in the European context (2009): 242.

Meadows, Donella H. Leverage points: Places to intervene in a system. Hartland, VT: Sustainability Institute, 1999.


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