Could the long-term transdisciplinary engagement of a university make a difference in a place?

The Transylvania transdisciplinary case study is coming to an end and there is one more milestone to face. This last step is decisive for the impact of the overall case. The launch of a book on transformational knowledge in one of the Transylvanian villages will mark eight years of collaborative research led by Leuphana University in Southern Transylvania. This blog entry is taking a final stock of this sometimes difficult but meaningful journey, weaves and ties its loose ends together.

The place and the challenge

Southern Transylvania is home to a great natural and cultural diversity, making it one of the largest areas of high nature value farmland in the European Union. Yet, its landscapes are threatened by numerous changes happening within and outside this region, such as draining migration, tenure changes, or the influence of the global markets. Navigating these changes while conserving the unique heritage and responding to global pressures and local aspirations have outlined a delicate balancing act.

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The people

Both science and society have responded to the regional sustainability challenge in Transylvania. On the one hand, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have acted through numerous initiatives dealing with nature and cultural heritage conservation, supporting small-scale farming, or rural community development and education. These local bright spots are vibrant, locally relevant and leading the pathway to transformation. On the other hand, since 2011 Leuphana University has been present in the area carrying out place-based social-ecological research dedicated to a holistic understanding of Southern Transylvania. Organically, the foundations of a science|society partnership were laid starting with 2014. The main goal was to create a safe interfacing space that supports, enhances, connects and scales the efforts of those engaged in transformation in Transylvania. Hence, we set out to recognise, capitalise and nurture what was already wonderfully there: the seeds of a sustainable Transylvania.

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The research

The University’s engagement with this ‘place’ since 2011 allowed us to steadily build a deep understanding of concrete local problem constellations and carry out a complete ‘ideal typical’ transdisciplinary case study. It is relatively uncommon for a research project to succeed in completing all phases of such a process going from Phase A – problem framing, to Phase B – Co-production of knowledge, and Phase C – Integration of co-produced knowledge.  Under this collaborative mode of research the ties at rural community level and between Southern Transylvania’s practitioners of change were strengthened through innovative approaches like design-based, serious games, physical mapping. By working with farmers’ associations and rural communities, the transdisciplinary partnership between the university and the local change agents has also developed a shared understanding of landscape stewardship and the notion of ‘a common good’. Mutual learning enabled contributions towards building the local identity, empowerment and perceptions on agency. The partnership also aimed to foster the dialogue of the newly surfaced and consolidated network of practitioners of change in Southern Transylvania with the local Government, municipalities, and policymakers. To this end, we designed and applied a social network analysis methodology based on leverage points. We also surfaced underlying value orientations and motivations for working towards sustainability in Transylvania, and elicited local understandings of sustainability. What we learned from this in terms of leverage points is that relationships at community level and deeply held values are potential intervention points for prompting the future we want to see in Transylvania.

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The women’s association in Viscri 

 

The impact

Behind these eight years of collaborative research there were (field)work, skills deployed, there were emotions and there were bits of soul invested in being part of the change, in co-creating processes and knowledge and in developing mutually transforming and empowering relationships. We touched one way or the other more than 50 organisations that took part in the multiple group discussions, dialogues and negotiations we provided (voicing) space for. We take this opportunity to wholeheartedly and gratefully thank all of them. A database of Transylvania’s seeds is hopefully on its way to becoming a website. The desired vision for Southern Transylvania’s future called “Balance Brings Beauty”, that we helped co-create back in 2012, continues to act as a boundary object for the region and to draw people near. Finally, we grew together with the increasing network of collaborations between Transylvania’s agents of change. As a result, we are part of the Transylvanian Highlands Eco destination management board together with another dozen organisations.

The (green) book(s)

An outreach publication of success stories and experiences on transformational strategies for moving closer to a sustainable future in Southern Transylvania is ready for the check-out phase of the case. The ideas explored in this book rest on the honest collaborative effort of many like-minded and like-hearted people. Three annual overarching workshops dedicated to the co-creation of Transylvania’s contextualised transformation pathway (September 2016, June 2017, September 2018), approximately ten focus groups on the management of community resources such as pastures, and more than 50 interviews around different strategies for reaching “Balance Brings Beauty” back up the information presented here. We envisioned this (third) book on transformational knowledge as an instrument that paves the way for dialogue and collaboration with policymakers. To some extent Transylvania is growing into a global role model for sustainability and we trust this book will serve when walking the path from vision to action. This book is the corollary of a series of books that marked our research journey: the blue book and the red book.

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A final step

The launch of the Green Book, with an impressive number of 60 confirmations, is scheduled for the 21st of March. We dedicate this event to all those who love this place. We conclude our part of involvement urging them to turn into action the principles, experience and values that came out of our common work. During our unrivalled experinece in the region we believe having found the answer to the above question: „Could the long-term transdisciplinary engagement of a university make a difference in a world’s place?”. Still, we think it is important that the people of Transylvania find their answer.

Bioregional centres: Donella Meadows’ vision for deep local change

A version (edited by Liz Clarke) of a letter read to the Leverage Points conference plenary on Friday 8 February, Lueneburg, Germany.

 

By Isabel Carlisle

I am an activist. I get things done on the ground in the place where I live, South Devon in England. My colleague Jane Brady and I spent the last part of a small grant to come and be at the Leverage Points 2019 conference. At the end of the first day I felt so frustrated at being on the outside of the conversations. Then on the final morning I woke up with two clear thoughts. One was a song to the earth that I sing in my choir that goes “I feel your heart beat under my feet”. The other was the compulsion to write this letter to you.

I know where my leverage points are. In the UK they are Brexit, austerity, the decline of public services, the growing space for action arising from civil society, the frustration of young people and above all climate change. As Naomi Klein said: “This changes everything”. Climate change and the fear and not knowing associated with it are the biggest leverage point we have.

So, on behalf of all activists (and I think we were a bit rare here at the leverage points conference) I am making a plea: we need your expertise to come across and roll up its sleeves and help us pull on that lever together. I am going to suggest some ways to do that, but first I want to honour the inspiration of Donella Meadows in the work we are doing at the Bioregional Learning Centre, as she gave us the blueprint.

When Donella Meadows co-founded the Balaton Group in 1982 she had been wrestling with the imperative, in her own words, of:

 

“Helping people and cultures all over the world develop and express their own capacity to solve their own problems, consistent with their own needs and with the ecosystems around them. And doing that through enhancing the power within all cultures and peoples to combine intellectual knowing and intuitive knowing, reasoning about the earth and living in consonance with it.”

 

And then a vision started to form in her mind, again in her own words:

“… of a number of centers where information and models about resources and the environment are housed. There would need to be many of these centers, all over the world, each one responsible for a discrete bioregion.

They would contain people with excellent minds and tools, but they would not be walled off, as scientific centers so often are, either from the lives of ordinary people or from the realities of political processes. The people in these centers would be at home with farmers, miners, planners, and heads of state and they would be able both to listen to, and talk to, all of them.”

 

I believe that is the work we now need to turn our heads and hands to, as well as our hearts. Place is the only locale in which change happens. Our local places need us now so that they can become the learning regions for long-term climate resilience of which Donella Meadows wrote.

Civil society and policy makers need to access the peer-reviewed papers that you publish so that they can make informed decisions about how to prepare for the future. Speak to them in a language that they can understand. Show them how to get behind the pay walls and interrogate what they find.

Stop being so polite. Use your knowledge to stand up and ask really difficult questions in public, and offer really challenging answers.

Join us in scenario planning for long-term climate change, and all the other ills that will amplify, with policy makers, business and communities. Help us make baselines for our bioregions, and measure progress or falling short in ways that we can grasp.

Bring your expertise in action research alongside our farmers, mental health workers, tourist authorities and shipping companies.

You know about so many examples of change that are already in progress. We need a way in which the models are widely shared, with their pluses and minuses, in just a few easily accessible websites.

There is another kind of wisdom or knowing that Aristotle neglected to mention and that is Sophia. In the Christian tradition, when God created the world, Sophia played by his side, delighting in all that was being created. Then as men became more vexatious she retreated up into the mountains.

She is deep wisdom, the kind that you only get by standing still and listening to what your heart mind and your gut are telling you. I heard her invoked in the words that preceded Trump’s inaugural speech. I guess the founding fathers reckoned they needed her on the streets. May she be with us all today as we move into action.

 

“Mother I feel you under my feet

Mother I feel your heart beat”

From “Heartbeat” album, by Irma

 

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Bio Isabel Carlisle

Isabel Carlisle leads the team for the Bioregional Learning Centre in South Devon. Current work includes creating a learning region rooted in place and community, a bioregional resilience strategy for sustainable economic and environmental futures in the face of climate change, and a charter for the River Dart. The emphasis is on engaging civil society to be an active player in 21st-century problem solving.

Following a long career in the London art world, Isabel set up and directed the Festival of Muslim Cultures that took place across Britain in 2006 as well as more than 120 events to bring audiences into contact with the Muslim world, to build bridges of understanding between cultures. In 2013 she co-founded the Community Chartering Network that played a role in bringing about the Scottish government ban on fracking. She has been a part of the Transition movement since 2008 until recently, including working with the Transition Network team as Education Coordinator.

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Bio Liz Clarke

Liz Clarke is a systems thinker and transdisciplinary researcher, educator and practitioner, specializing in design thinking, social innovation and change, and participatory action approaches to co-production of knowledge and learning. Her interests span natural resource management, disaster risk management, sustainable food systems, climate adaptation, rural development and livelihoods, and environmental management.

Contact Liz at liz.clarke@rethinking4.com

 

Food Democracy Now! The Second Networking Congress of German Food Policy Councils

By Annelie Sieveking

This blog post reports back from the second networking congress of German food policy councils, which was held this year, between 23rd and 25th of November, in Frankfurt, Hesse. This event brought together food policy council (FPC) initiatives from all Germany and its neighbor countries Austria, Luxemburg, Netherlands and Switzerland. The FPC initiatives from the German-speaking countries and regions met for the first time in 2017 (for more details see my blog on “The beginning of a new food movement in Essen” from November 2017). In the meantime, more FPCs were established, e.g. in the cities of Munich or Freiburg, and the number continues to rise. Currently we can talk about around 40 different FPC initiatives that are emerging in German-speaking countries and regions.

About 150 participants joined this event in Frankfurt with the aim of (1) exchanging experiences that they gathered in the early stages of formation of FPCs, and (2) learning from more experienced experts, while (3) strengthening their networking activities. Having accompanied the emergence of one of the first German FPCs in the city of Oldenburg, Lower Saxony as part of my PhD work in the Leverage Points project for 2,5 years now, it was interesting to see the ongoing dynamic as regards new initiatives, but also to hear participants raising concerns about internal challenges and the initiatives´ real-word impact on policymaking.

As a pre-event to the congress, the organizers invited everyone to the Museum für Kochkunst und Tafelkultur (Museum for Culinary Art and Dining Culture), where the attendees were offered locally produced food and drinks such as Ebbelwoi und Handkäs (apple wine and a specific cheese). This evening wasn´t only about getting a sense of local food culture, but also about discussing food production and consumption patterns with Nik Hampel, a farmer from the region.

The congress, taking place at Frankfurt´s Dominican Monastery, officially started on Saturday morning, with two rousing welcoming speeches by two policymakers. First, Priska Hinz, the state of Hessen’s Minster of Environment, Climate Protection, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, summarized the activities at state level related to transforming the current food system, such as strong promotion of organic farming (which currently represents 14,5 percent of all agricultural land in Hesse) or long-term funding for the Vernetzungsstelle Schulverpflegung, a network on school catering. The second speech was by Rosemarie Heilig, head of the Department for Environment and Women in Frankfurt, who stressed the importance of cities to be involved in the formation of FPCs. As patroness of the FPC Frankfurt, she is very in favour of the initiative´s goals and tries to support them as much as she can, e.g. in the current budget negotiations at city level. Both policymakers referred to an emerging trend that motivates them to take action: More and more citizens seem to be concerned about food and would like to know how their food is produced and where it comes from.

In a keynote speech, Olivier de Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food (2008-2014) and Co-Chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) also welcomed the congress´ participants. He expressed his fascination for seeing the FPC movement now reaching the European continent. From his point of view, there are three presumed dichotomies/challenges that seem to be relevant for FPCs: The one between invented and invited spaces, the one between representative and participatory democracy, and the one between non-profit logic and economic logic. De Schutter recommended the initiatives to “make an exercise in political imagination”: Building on the combined knowledge of the different actors involved in FPCs, this exercise might lead to new forms that benefit from the coexistence of the three dichotomies. The moderators of the congress tried to relate de Schutter´s input to the initiatives present at the congress. Referring to the dichotomy between invented and invited spaces, they asked for a show of hands indicating who initiated the council´s formation: The majority indicated being initiated by civil society instead of being invited by policymakers.

This grassroots spirit became even more apparent when individuals from 38 FPC initiatives briefly summarized their current work and their local experiences in a two-hour storytelling session. This presentation confirmed my overall observation that – since the first congress in Essen last year – on the one hand many initiatives intensified their activities and several new initiatives started their work. On the other hand, some initiatives are facing struggles with regard to the acquisition of funding or internal structures. As one member of the initiative in Gießen put it: “We are now trying a second start”.  Also in my case study on the FPC in Oldenburg, the structures created roughly a year ago when they established the council are currently under reconsideration and just a week ago, the council representatives agreed on some changes to facilitate the workflow within the council. For these initiatives, the Beratungsmodul (consulting module), provided by the Institut für Welternährung (World Nutrition Institute), might be a supporting tool. Based on the initiatives´ individual needs, the project team offers workshops in the next months to come, e.g. on internal communication or recruitment of new members.

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Open space discussion on Saturday. copyright: Ernährungsrat Frankfurt

 

As the FPC movement in Germany is still comparably young, learning from international experts remains an important source of knowledge and guidance for the initiatives. Lori Stahlbrand from FPC Toronto, Canada, illustrated how FPCs can have an impact at city level and, reversely, what food can do for cities. In Toronto, they don´t only run a number of community projects but also launched a comprehensive food strategy. Despite all success, Lori also gave a warning to the newcomers on the European continent: It might be difficult to change existing structures and not all favoured policies might be implemented in the end. She stressed the importance of pursuing different strategies at the same time: Striving for changing structures and promoting pilot projects. Kenneth Heigaard from Copenhagen House of Food in Denmark presented one impressive flagship project on promoting organic food in public canteens.

How to shape public catering, especially in schools and kindergartens was also one of the manifold topics that were discussed during the open-space sessions on Saturday and Sunday. Participants from about ten FPC initiatives discussed their local approaches, for example the Bio-Regio-Woche, recently launched by the FPC Berlin, where local caterers served about 250.000 meals based on organic food from the region at schools in the city of Berlin. Having the inspiring experiences from Denmark in mind, the participants of the open-space session wondered if they should also pursue a more radical approach instead of slowly adapting existing school food requirements, which can be frustrating as some participants reported. Among them, there was consensus that it is not only necessary to change the canteen food as such. They consider education and raising awareness as key elements to initiating a transformation. Here, FPCs could potentially help bringing different stakeholders together. Also in my case study in Oldenburg, improving school food came up as an issue during the emergence of the council. Currently, they participate in the development of a new concept for school catering the city of Oldenburg.

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Final plenary on Sunday. copyright: Ernährungsrat Frankfurt

 

After having discussed many more topics in the open-space sessions, the congress participants gathered for a last plenary to adopt the Frankfurter Erklärung (Frankfurt´s declaration). For Jörg Weber from the hosting FPC in Frankfurt the congress was a big success: First, “because the networking between the existing initiatives could be strengthened”, and second, “because we raised some public awareness for our concerns through our first common declaration entitled Ernährungsdemokratie jetzt (Food Democracy Now)”. This title also speaks to the existing academic discourse on food democracy: Hassanein, one important representative, sees FPCs as “a concrete example of a deliberate attempt to develop the practice of food democracy” (2003, p. 79). In my PhD research on FPCs, I am currently investigating how food democracy played out in the emergence of the FPC in Oldenburg.

 

Reference:

Hassanein, N. (2003). Practicing food democracy: A pragmatic politics of transformation. Journal of Rural Studies, 19(1), 77–86.

Conference preparations running under full steam

By Lotte Lutz

It seems that many people are interested in the concept of leverage points, or find that a conference on Leverage Points sounds really good: we were positively surprised by the sheer number of applicants and very happy about the high quality of abstracts and ideas for sessions. We have invited approximately 400 people to present their work!

Now we are very busy to make this a really cool conference.

The whole project team is involved in the different steps that will lead to a (hopefully) inspiring conference. Currently, we are in the process of combining presentations that run in the same session, so that interesting and meaningful discussions can evolve.

Parallel to the design of content, we take all these little decisions on rooms, food, music and extras, so that all participants at the conference will spend a good time with us at Leuphana. For example, brass riot, a group of three young musicians, will play live music at the ice breaking event.

As you have probably seen on our website, we have reserved hotel rooms for conference participants. The reservations expire in the coming weeks, so please don’t forget to book your room soon. Also, the early bird registration is only available until the end of October.

We are very much looking forward to seeing you at Leuphana!

Can a transdisciplinary PhD contribute to transformative change?

Originally posted on https://sesscholars.wordpress.com/

This is the fifth post in the series on ‘Transdisciplinary PhD Journeys’.

My name is David Lam. I am a PhD student at Leuphana University Lüneburg Germany in the research project ‘Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformations’ and currently a guest PhD researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden.

I am doing research in a transdisciplinary case study in Southern Transylvania, Romania. I aim to make my research in Transylvania useful in two ways: First, to better understand a sustainability problem in a specific context. Second, to contribute to possible solutions. We are working with a network of approximately 30 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which try to foster sustainable development in the region by, for instance, supporting small-scale farmers, conserving the cultural heritage, or protecting the unique landscape with its  high biodiversity value. With my PhD research, I want to understand how these inspiring NGOs increase their impact in order to accelerate the sustainability transformation in the region.

A question that always comes into my mind is: How transformative can transdisciplinary sustainability research actually be? Additionally, can my PhD research support transformative change? Scholars have advanced our understanding of sustainability transformations of social-ecological (Olsson et al. 2014) or social-technical systems (Grin et al. 2010) as well as of transdisciplinary sustainability research methods a lot (Lang et al. 2012; Wiek et al. 2012; Wiek and Lang 2016). For PhDs, this literature is strongly motivating and inspiring because it shows that fundamental systems change is possible, and that research can play an essential role to foster such change. I think this is one of the main reasons why many PhDs decide to do transdisciplinary research.

In Southern Transylvania, we seek to answer: How can we reach the sustainability vision, named Balance Brings Beauty? (Hanspach et al. 2014). We developed this question by talking to the people and based on our experience from former research projects in the region. I really like this question. When I started my PhD, I believed that if my research can contribute to answering this question, I will contribute to positive changes in the region.

Today, my thoughts are still the same, but much more nuanced. After two years of being a PhD in a transdisciplinary case study, I realized that my research can contribute to change in so many different ways, such as providing scientific results and evidence, using scientific methods to understand complex system dynamics, or even by simply building up relations with stakeholders and being present in the case study area. In my opinion, the latter are the most relevant ones for transformative transdisciplinary research. However, it is difficult to fulfil them because they need more time and as PhDs we are under pressure to collect and analyse data as well as write and publish papers. This takes a lot of time and happens not in the field, but at our desks in our offices. Being in the field to really connect with stakeholders on the one hand, and writing scientifically rigorous papers on the other hand is a tough challenge. Especially, when you have the ambition that your PhD research should be meaningful and contribute to something better.

So, is it too much to expect transformative impact from your own PhD research? How could we organize a PhD programme for transformative transdisciplinary research (including funding, time, supervision, and evaluation)? I think a lot of PhDs working on sustainability transformations or using transdisciplinary research methods have thought about this. I would love to hear your opinions about this, here, as a comment. Alternatively, I invite you to join our early-career researcher pre-conference event at the Leverage Points Conference 2019 at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany on 5thFebruary 2019.

 

Grin J, Rotmans J, Schot J (2010) Transitions to Sustainable Development: New Directions in the Study of Long Term Transformative Change. Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Hanspach J, Hartel T, Milcu AI, et al (2014) A holistic approach to studying social-ecological systems and its application to Southern Transylvania. Ecol Soc. doi: 10.5751/ES-06915-190432

Lang DJ, Wiek A, Bergmann M, et al (2012) Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: Practice, principles, and challenges. Sustain Sci 7:25–43. doi: 10.1007/s11625-011-0149-x

Olsson P, Galaz V, Boonstra WJ (2014) Sustainability transformations: a resilience perspective. Ecol Soc 19:. doi: 10.5751/ES-06799-190401

Wiek A, Lang DJ (2016) Transformational Sustainability Research Methodology. In: Sustainability Science. Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht, pp 31–41

Wiek A, Ness B, Schweizer-Ries P, et al (2012) From complex systems analysis to transformational change: A comparative appraisal of sustainability science projects. Sustain Sci. doi: 10.1007/s11625-011-0148-y

Registration for Leverage Points 2019 conference is now open

We are happy to announce that the registration for the Leverage Points conference in February 2019 is now open. Emails are currently being sent out to all people who have submitted an abstract.

We had the privilege to read many very interesting and well-founded abstracts. Now we are doing our best to offer you different platforms for enriching discussions, inspiring exchange and playful experiences with the leverage points concept.

We very much look forward to seeing you in Lüneburg in February.

More information on registration and payments can be found on the conference webpage, and you can register and pay directly in the ticket shop.

Transformations’ Deep Change Challenges

By: Steve Waddell, Lead Staff – SDG Transformations Forum

Leading up to the first face-to-face SDG Transformations Forum meeting last September in association with the Transformations2017 conference, I talked with over 80 people involved with what I perceive as a transformations initiative. The key question I asked was “What is holding you back from being even more successful with your transformations work?” Their responses were key to designing our meeting, organizing of the Forum and developing a Theory of Transformational Change (ToTC).

The Forum distinguishes between incremental, reform and transformational change by associating each with different loops of learning as pioneered theoretically by Argyris and Schon (single, double) and extended to triple loop by various theoreticians. Since learning is a core change activity, this definition provides a particularly powerful perspective. Transformational change is distinguished by its depth of challenge to prevailing systems including ways of thinking, assumptions and power structures; it involves re-defining of purpose and system boundaries and structures. Of course there is often misalignment between an espoused transformational vision, and the type of change tools and strategy used.

A thematic analysis of the responses to my question resulted in the following:

  1. Transforming Assessment and Evaluation: Current input-output assessment approaches undermine transformations, which require deep learning; jurisdictionally and project limited boundaries are limiting scale and time of transformation.
  2. Meta-narrative: The current economic-focused stories about success associated with growth and GNP must be displaced with sustainable ones focused on human and environmental well-being.
  3. Innovation: Rather than designing innovation based on some physical technology propelled by financiers, we need to categorically design with integration of the new narrative.
  4. Financing Transformations: The current finance system is highly fragmented between “pots” of money (e.g.: commercial finance, government finance, philanthropy, science funding, sovereign wealth funds) with very inadequate ways of smooth connections for funding the quality and quantity associated with transformation.
  5. Capacity: “Change” capacity efforts are highly fragmented and generally mired in non-transformational change methods and approaches.
  6. Transformational Systems Analysis: We need ways to see the complexity associated with transformation, for purposive transformation efforts. Although mapping and data visualization methods are advanced and advancing rapidly, they are generally under-utilized and still under-developed.

The Forum’s September meeting was organized around these responses, and subsequently the Forum has organized its Working Groups around them. The responses are not seen as comprehensive – for example, “governance” as a transformational challenge is missing; nor are they seen as silos, but rather as mutually inter-acting and informing issues.

This has led to understanding these challenges as “deep causes”, in contrast to direct and proximate causes of transformational difficulties. The Table helps illustrate these.

This distinction is part of the Forum’s evolving ToTC.  Today people refer simply to “theories of change” without distinguishing the type of change they mean. However, given the types of change are very different in terms of dynamics, required tools and activities, this simplistic approach results in muddling of actions. To address this, the Forum is evolving a theory of transformational change, including its relationship to the other types of change. In this, the need to address the deep causes by emerging new patterns of relationships and actions as the basis for transforming systems, is a critical ingredient.  We look forward to further advancing this work at the Leverage Points 2019 conference.

 

The call for abstracts for the Leverage Points conference is now open until 15 July 2018.

For more information please visit: http://leveragepoints2019.leuphana.de

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact: LP2019@leuphana.de

Seeking narratives of transformation in Transylvania

By Liz Clarke and Ágnes Balázsi

In an earlier post on this blog, Karen O’Brien describes humans as being simultaneously individuals (particles) and collectives (waves), and that we have individual agency to be leverage points as well as being part of system processes and relationships.

This is very apt for our research in the fertile and biodiverse, but rapidly changing, landscapes of Transylvania, where we have been interviewing change agents or “transformers” who are seeking transformation of livelihoods, food production and their relation to the land, to create not just a sustainable future but a regenerative and meaningful one. The narratives we heard wove together individual insight, innovation and transformation and at the same time revealed deep and emerging connections – to other people and to the landscape in what we describe as a system of social innovation.

We were particularly struck by the diversity of these change agents and the networks of transformations for sustainability that are emerging within the Transylvanian system. These change agents already hold some of the key ingredients for sustainable system change such as: 1) small, but influential local networks of change agents and community; 2) practical pilot projects or individual activities; 3) influential international backgrounds and flow of global knowledge transfer on sustainability; 4) strong sense of environmental stewardship; 5) motivation to act against the dominant mindsets which we argue limit our efforts to achieve sustainability transformation.

From the Leverage Points perspective, these narratives reveal sources of deep leverage — engaging with the deepest of Donella Meadow’s 12 leverage points to intervene in a system:

No. 4: Self-organisation

No. 3: changing the goals of the system

No. 2: changing the mindset out of which the system arises

No. 1: the power to transcend paradigms

 

But more personally, the interviews and the narratives struck a deep personal chord within each of us, and led to some deep self-reflection.

Liz said: Listening to these stories inspired me and renewed my faith in our (human) ability to change and be changed for the better, as well as admiration for those who are prepared to undertake the difficult and painful process of self-reflection and personal change. Feeling their deep connection to their landscape, I began again to feel the deep tug of my own roots in the landscapes of Australia as well as reinforcing for me the importance of strong international connections and dialogue.

Ágnes said: Each story found fertile ground inside of me and activated something that I was hiding for a long time. I am a potential change agent, but I do not assume my motivations actively and constructively. Interviewees repeated several time “practice what you preach”. The most meaningful was to see that they followed an internal motivation to act, to make their place a better one. It was empowering for me to connect with such potential change agents in Romanian society and to see the opportunities that might appear as a next stage of our research, and of my life.

 

Hear more about this at the 2019 Leverage Points Conference, February 6-9th.

The call for abstracts is now open until 15 July 2018.

For more information please visit: http://leveragepoints2019.leuphana.de

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact: LP2019@leuphana.de

 

Emerging ideas for a leveraging conference

by Rebecca Freeth

The Leverage Points conference will be a place to think and talk about Restructuring, Reconnecting and Rethinking for sustainable transformations.  It will also be a place to experience restructuring, reconnecting and rethinking.

Expect the structure of the conference to bear the hallmarks of what works best for sharing knowledge and information.  And anticipate some re-structuring of what you may have come to expect at conferences.  Enjoy opportunities for deeper dialogue and creativity.  We hope this will encourage (re)connecting with each other and, as far as the winter weather allows, with nature.  You’ll find abundant woodland just a few steps from the conference venue at Leuphana University.   From experience, we know that these kinds of reconnection can ignite re-thinking.

In other words, we are designing the conference as a productive place to discuss key concepts for leveraging sustainability transformations, and as a productive place to practice with these concepts – with the hope that the combination enriches our understanding of leveraging change and broadens our ideas for addressing and approaching sustainability transformations.

For this, we will be preparing a “leverage games room” for the conference, in which you can physically experiment with some of Donella Meadows leverage points. We are planning formats of presentation and engagement that lend themselves to meaningful engagement.

Over the last 3 years of the Leverage Points project, we have learned that the concept of leverage points is a useful boundary object. It has epistemic and intuitive appeal to many people. In that way, it can bring together a wide diversity of people and potentially support a more coherent discourse on sustainability transformations, for a more global community. We hope to realize some of these ambitions at our conference. People all over the world are learning important things about leveraging change. This conference is an invitation to keep learning together.  We hope you take advantage of the extended deadline to submit an abstract and join us.

 

We have now extended the deadline for the submission of abstracts until 15th July 2018 Submit your Abstract here.

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact: Leveragepoints2019@leuphana.de

Deadline extended to 15 July

By Dave Abson

Due to popular demand and academia’s somewhat loose interpretation of the notion of a deadline*, we have extended the abstract submission deadline for the Leverage Points 2019 conference until 15 of July 2018. Please spread this information within your networks.

* Best said by the late great Douglas Adams “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”

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Leverage Points 2019: International conference on sustainability research and transformation, Lüneburg, Germany, 6-8 February – Call for abstracts

Humanity sits at a crossroad between tragedy and transformation, and now is a crucial time for sustainability research. Radical approaches are needed in sustainability research and praxis if they are to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Inspired by the work of Donella Meadows’ “Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system”, this conference will explore the deep leverage points that can lead to sustainability transformations, asking: how do we transform ourselves, our science, our institutions, our interventions and our societies for a better future?

The conference is premised on three principles: 1) The importance of searching for places where interventions can lead to transformative change; 2) Open inquiry, exchange and co-learning across multiple theoretical, methodological and empirical research approaches; and 3) The need for reflection on modes of research and processes in sustainability research. We hope that this conference will help us move from incremental to transformational change; extend our thinking about complex sustainability challenges and deepen our collective and transdisciplinary research practices.

The call for abstracts is now open until 15 July 2018.

For more information please visit: http://leveragepoints2019.leuphana.de

If you have any specific enquiries about abstract submission please contact: LP2019@leuphana.de