Leaving the ivory tower: Leuphana students meet actors in the study field

– by Lara Schönweiss –

Dieser Blogpost ist Teil des Studentenprojektes Transdisziplinäres Projekt: Landkreis Oldenburg im Master Nachhaltigkeit. Lehrende: Moritz Engerbers, Prof. Ulli Vilsmeier, Dr. Maraja Riechers

Four months ago, the transdisciplinary project in the region of Oldenburg has been expanded even more!

Now a group of 22 students from the master program Sustainability Science at Leuphana University Lüneburg affiliated their own transdisciplinary project with the Leverage Points project.

picture by Laurin Berger

Picture by Laurin Berger

What is this all about? Our research project up to now

As transdisciplinary research is considered a key aspect of Sustainability Science3, the curriculum of this master program involves a project lasting for two semesters. During this time students learn how to do research independently, but embedded in a comprehensive scientific context and guided by lecturers.

Within the question of the Leverage Points project “In how far can nature parks be levers for sustainability transformation?”, we decided to focus on two broader research fields concerning the Naturpark Wildeshauser Geest, namely “nourish” and “drive”. These two topics were adapted from the first leading question developed at a workshop by Leverage Points project: “How can a (bio)diversity corridor nourish, promote and drive a viable and sustainable life in the Oldenburg region?”.

After more than two months of developing and organizing our groups and getting theoretically involved in transdisciplinary research and the study field, we finally had our first excursion to the Naturpark Wildeshauser Geest from June 13 to 15.

In Sustainability Science, we deal with complex real-world problems and produce socially robust knowledge which prospectively leads to potential social impact.5 Thus, one major part is to include local people as soon as possible in the research process.

At the moment, our research group is dealing with “Phase A – problem framing”3, so that it has been a perfect time to experience the nature park, meeting local people, press, mayors, people from the artecology_network and the association Naturpark Wildeshauser Geest.

“Why is this so important?”, people might ask.

Sustainability researchers deal with complex systems, but cannot craft usable knowledge on their own. Therefore, it is essential that we get to know practitioners and start collaborating with these local experts.1

Sustainability research should be based on mutual learning between scientists of different disciplines and key actors from society. This way it is possible to apply knowledge and values from practice in science and utilize science knowledge in practice.5 With the help of local people’s systems knowledge and joint reflections concerning the research topic, scientists’ understanding of knowledge-related problems is expected to increase.2,4 Thus, various kinds of knowledge can be integrated within the transdisciplinary process – namely modes of thought, disciplines, cultures, systems and perspectives.5

PRACTICE: First meeting with actors

The Oldenburg region was green, the sun was shining and our first impression was: What an idyllic countryside!

After arriving in Kirchhatten, we prepared dinner and started our excursion with a get-together, including researchers from Leverage Points project, artists from artecology_network and us, nine students of our project. This dinner was taking place at the spot where the collaboration of Leverage Points project and artecology_network is tangible: at the (Bio) Diversitycorridor. This container informs local citizens about the project and is extended with wooden art. Hence, we got a concrete idea of the project and a feeling for the place. All people were very open, friendly and curious about our group. Besides, everyone was excited about the press conference on the following day and preparing for it.

The press conference helped to get a detailed and clear insight into the project (Bio) Diversitycorridor and the connection between artecology artists and scientists of Leuphana University. Furthermore, we had the possibility to observe the collaboration with local people, with politicians  and with the responsible partner of the Niedersächsische Bingo-Umweltstiftung which funded the project.

Moreover, we met the representative managers of the association Naturpark Wildeshauser Geest. Due to a friendly and productive conversation, we received a great overview of the responsibilities and projects of the association. We also already exchanged specific views on how we could collaborate and which issues would offer a connection to our research. In the end, we promised to keep in touch and work together regarding the direction of our research project.

Experiencing two projects of the artecology_network (“GeLIEBter NEOphyt” by Anja Schoeller, http://www.zwischenbericht.eu, and “Civil Wilderness” by Dr. Helene von Oldenburg and Claudia Reiche, http://www.mars-patent.org) we also learned a lot about their approach of reconnecting with nature and dealing with human-nature relationships. Within “GeLIEBter NEOphyt”, for example, we dealt with “foreignness” and enjoyed an evening searching for unfamiliar plants getting to know their effects.

Finally, we reflected our impressions of Kirchhatten with our lecturers and explored the nature park by foot, walking along the river Hunte and through forest.

Clash of science and practice

Because of our excursion to the region of Oldenburg our group of students received a comprehensive picture of the nature park and towns located within. Additionally, we gained detailed knowledge about the network of people living there and working in administrative, political and artistic fields.

The great diversity of possible actors implements a high potential of identifying relevant topics for sustainable transformation within a transdisciplinary project. This is very important as the group’s composition of researchers and actors has a substantial influence on the outcome of a research project.4

Due to the openness and friendliness of all local actors who we met so far, I am very confident to set up an interesting and diverse group of actors to identify sustainability problems within the nature park and to develop strategies for transforming the issues. Thus, in the end hopefully our results will serve as an orientation for the actors to adapt to and utilize it within their decision-making processes towards a sustainability transformation in the region.5


1 Clark, W. C. et al. (2016): Crafting usable knowledge for sustainable development. PNAS 113 (17): 4570-4578.

2 Felt, U. et al. (2016): Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research in Practice: Between Imaginaries of Collective Experimentation and Entrenched Academic Value Orders. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 41 (4): 732-761.

3 Lang, D. J. et al. (2012): Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges. Sustainability Science 7: 25-43.

4 Schneider, F.; Rist, S. (2014): Envisioning sustainable water futures in a transdisciplinary learning process: combining normative, explorative, and participatory scenario approaches. Sustainability Science 9: 463-481.

5 Scholz, R. W.; Steiner, G. (2015): The real type and ideal type of transdisciplinary processes: part I – theoretical foundations. Sustainability Science 10: 527-544.