The impacts of social-ecological system change on human-nature connectedness: A case study from Transylvania, Romania

By Ágnes Balázsi

How were social and institutional shifts of the last century perceived by communities of rural areas in Transylvania and how have those changes influenced the connectedness of locals with nature and their landscapes? – These were the starting research questions in our case studies carried out in 2017 in Erdővidék and Aranyosszék. The answers were revealed to us because locals shared stories about their perceptions on landscape changes and confessions about inner connections to nature.

In our recently published paper we distinguished four major governance eras that have influenced human-nature connections:

(1) formal and informal institutional governance after the World Wars and before socialism (before 1947), (2) top-down governance during socialism (1947–1989),

(3) during sovereign state governance and transition to European Union (1990–2006), and

(4) multilevel governance since European Union accession (after 2007).

Agnes

The two areas were similar at the beginning of the 20th century, but developed differently in their intensity of landscape management in the 21st century.

Fig. 1. Timeline of social-ecological system changes as described by local interviewees. The figure shows big events in Romanian history above the timeline. Below, we outline the four eras that our respondents talk about, and summarise the perceived broad changes in social-ecological systems.

Our conclusions of this study were that material connections have weakened as a result of changes in food production and rising consumerism. Experiential and emotional connections were influenced by socio-economic and landscape management changes. Cognitive connections reflected changes in the knowledge system on the environment. Philosophical connection was influenced by changes in ideologies and globalization. Our findings highlight the central influence of social and institutional change on perceived human-nature connectedness. Understanding this influence provides important pointers for how to reconnect humanity to nature in the coming decades.

Another special issue: Human-nature connectedness as leverage point for sustainability transformation

By Maraja Riechers

The notion of human-nature connectedness and specifically the idea of reconnecting people to nature are rapidly gaining prominence in sustainability science, conservation biology, environmental psychology and education. Scholars argue, for example, that an emotional and experiential connection with nature has many positive outcomes for human well-being, especially health or the cognitive development of children and pro-environmental behavior and may promote conservation initiatives of natural and cultural heritage.

Ignoring these effects could lead to a downward spiral of ever increasing disconnection of people and societies from nature, which may further exacerbate the global environmental crisis by enhancing un-sustainable behavior patterns. Based on this, scholars state a need for strengthening human connections with nature. Yet, many calls for such ‘reconnection’ lack concrete insights about what human-nature connection means and how it might be fostered.

In our special issue in the journal Ecosystems and People we would like to address the multi-dimensional complexity of human-nature connectedness and emphasize its implications for sustainable landscape management. We propose that human-nature connectedness (and related concepts such as nature relatedness, natures’ contribution to people, connectivity with nature etc.) have great potential to be a leverage point for sustainability transformation. Leverage points are places in a system where relatively minor interventions can lead to relatively major changes.

Inspired by the seminal paper by Donella Meadows (Places to intervene in a system, 1999) our proposed issue will focus on the relationship between humans and nature and how it can be used as a leverage point to foster sustainability. The relevance of findings for decision making and management is a crucial aspect as the leverage points perspective addresses intervention within a system.

This special issue is based on the great success of the Leverage Points 2019 conference at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, particular on its theme of human-nature connectedness. Hence, we welcome contributions from anyone involved or concerned with the connectedness between humans and nature. We particularly invite participants of the Leverage Points 2019 conference, young scholars and non-academic authors, as we aim at including a diverse group of authors from different backgrounds, disciplines and geographic origins.

We invite contributions which present innovative and new ideas, concepts and methods, empirical case studies such as, but not limited to:

  • relational values
  • local indigenous knowledge
  • biocultural diversity
  • gender aspects
  • transdisciplinary, and
  • alternative science communication/arts-based approaches

We are looking forward to receiving your contributions!

Ágnes Balázsi, Marina García Llorente, Jacqueline Loos, and Maraja Riechers

Learning to collaborate while collaborating

By Rebecca Freeth

None of us was born knowing how to collaborate. We learn to collaborate. For most of us working as researchers or practitioners in the field of sustainability, collaboration is intrinsic to how we work. Which gives us endless opportunities to learn to collaborate while collaborating.

There’s ample evidence that projects designed for intensive collaboration, whether inter- or transdisciplinary, get watered down to “additive multidisciplinarity” (Roy et al., 2013: 745). This is at least in part due to failures to navigate collaboration challenges, from finding conceptual common ground to managing interpersonal tensions (Haider et al., 2017; Klein, 1996; Strober, 2011). Indeed, collaboration is “unabatedly demanding” (Defila and Di Giulio, 2018: 101). Even if you’re a researcher with considerable team experience, a new project can present novel and unexpected collaboration challenges. Learning to collaborate is life-long.

In the Leverage Points project, we also experienced some challenges. During my interviews with members of the team, I heard my colleagues say things like:

“At the beginning, I thought it was interesting that people had different viewpoints and backgrounds. Now … we’re having to decide which ones are going to be larger driving forces in our work.”

 “I find it exciting that people are so different and sometimes I overlook the fact that it might also be very difficult.”

Having to navigate quite fundamental differences – which may lead not only to confusion and misunderstanding, but to conflict – can create distinct discomfort (Strober, 2011). In our article “Learning to collaborate while collaborating: Advancing interdisciplinary sustainability research” (2019), Guido Caniglia and I propose treating team research as a magnificent opportunity to experience discomfort, allowing it to point out our next collaborating growth point. Horst (2013: 39) argues that in collaboration, “…a sense of discomfort often works as an alarm signal that calls for further investigation.” This aligns with experiential learning theories, which suggest that, under the right conditions, discomfort can prompt us to re-examine difficult experiences and learn from them (Kolb, 1984; Mezirow, 2009). Alternatively, if experiences of discomfort are not addressed, they can undermine both the enjoyment and the epistemic outcomes of collaborative research projects.

Or, using the language of leverage points for change (Meadows 2008) and the way we clustered these in our project (Abson et al. 2016), we can think about this as working with the deeper leverage points of intent and design.

Lp

The deepest source of leverage is intent. Being curious about my discomfort involves revisiting my paradigms about how collaboration should happen. If I catch myself thinking: this collaboration would work so much better if ‘they’ adopted my methods / thought more like me / had a more positive attitude (like me), then my assumptions deserves further exploration.

But it’s a lot to expect each of us, individually, to continuously excavate our assumptions. Another deep leverage point is design. This means that when a collaborative research project is first conceptualized, it is advantageous to think about how it can foster learning to collaborate.  While team members are working together, how can the underlying conditions of their work (project goals, the ways in which information flows and opportunities to self-organize) support them to reflect and learn, especially from moments of discomfort?

So what collaborative skills can we learn? The literature is already full of good ideas. In the table below, we have identified some of the key challenges and matched them to some of the good ideas we found.

Collaborative challenge Collaborative skill
1. Difficulties of finding common ground Cultivate both “methodological groundedness” and “epistemological agility” for a strong scientific base from which to explore other ways of knowing (Haider et al., 2017: 6)
2. High levels of complexity, uncertainty and conceptual ambiguity Build thinking skills for engaging with complexity (Cilliers, 2001).

Develop skills for dealing with uncertainty (Tauritz, 2012)

3.        Lack of skill to synthesize and integrate knowledge Build ability and experience in interdisciplinary literacy (Lotrecchiano et al., 2016)
4. Interpersonal tensions, exacerbated by disciplinary territoriality and competitiveness Hone “social sensitivity” – i.e. a combination of empathy, honesty, clarity, integrity and accountability (Cheruvelil et al., 2014: 33)
5. Lack of skill in managing interpersonal tensions Develop deliberation, negotiation and conflict resolution skills (Cheruvelil et al., 2014; Wiek et al., 2016)
6. Power asymmetries Learn to regard differences as meaningful (MacMynowski, 2007) and to harness them to the benefit of the collective (Carr et al., 2018)
7. Divergent and competing expectations, values and norms Develop research practices that include pausing and paying productive attention to tacit tensions, including those resulting from restrictive administrative and policy requirements (Reich and Reich, 2006)

A future step, which I look forward to taking with Guido and others, will be to design workshops and courses for developing and practicing these kinds of collaborative skills.

“It’s the end of the world as we know it”

Relational Thinking

This is a Conference Report on Leverage Points 2019, 6-8 February 2019, Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany

By Maraja Riechers and Joern Fischer

for-lp-blog

What can we do to actually turn around global patterns of un-sustainability? How can we bring about transformative change? What role do different types of leverage points play in such a transformation? – These were some of the questions addressed at the inaugural Leverage Points 2019 Conference at Leuphana University Lueneburg, Germany, which was attended by well over 400 participants.

A guiding theme throughout the conference was the idea of “leverage points”, as formulated by Donella Meadows in her seminal essay on “Places to intervene in a system”. Her idea has, since then, inspired a new suite of work on leverage points, as exemplified and detailed in recent papers from Leuphana University and elsewhere (e.g. here, here, and here). Key themes addressed at…

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Where and when to intervene?

By Josie Chambers

The uphill struggle for a more sustainable future can seem endless. The leverage points framework seeks to inform where and when to intervene to help gather momentum to truly transform old systems into new systems – rooted in different interwoven intents, designs, processes and outcomes. During my journey home from #leverage2019, I had the chance to reflect on some key insights from a fascinating session on where and when to intervene:

1. System structures and designs facilitate material flows and feedbacks that lead to particular outcomes over others. These processes both emerge from and actively reinforce certain deeply held paradigms.

2. For example, Per Olsson showed how rapid transformations occur both in the name of sustainability (e.g. expansion of linked protectionist conservation paradigm and natural park system) and in the name of development (e.g. expansion of neoliberal economic paradigm of growth and deregulation/privatization efforts).

3. Given these system-reinforcing dynamics, where and when is the most powerful place to intervene to transform systems? Donella Meadow’s original work distinguished between “shallower” (i.e. less powerful) leverage points (e.g. shifting material flows or feedbacks) and “deeper” leverage points (e.g. shifting underlying paradigms or designs).

4. Interventions engage with paradigms in different ways; they can exploit, accommodate or transform them – regardless of whether actors are blind to this occurring or not. For example, an attempt to intervene through the shallow leverage point of adjusting parameters (e.g. paying a farmer to conserve) may overlook how this reinforces the neoliberal paradigm of seeing farmers as simply self-interested “rational” actors.

5. Building capacity for systemic transformation requires understanding how interactions among diverse leverage points can drive overall changes. For example, in the context of addressing gender inequalities and well-being in Ethopia, Aisa Manlosa shows how rules related to the rights of women led to changes in their presence in public life, which helped change men’s attitude towards women. She argues that “changes in deep leverage points can drive overall changes, but changes in shallow leverage points can create sparks for enabling conditions”.

 

Aisa Manlosa

Aisa Manlosa at #leverage2019: describing interactions between leverage points for gender-transformative change in southwestern Ethiopia (see Manlosa et al 2018)

6. As Lorrae van Kerkhoff argued in the opening day plenary panel discussion, coordinating multiple leverage points requires people to think beyond their narrow bubbles of intentional transformation to identify broader windows of opportunity. This can allow them to build on existing interactions among constructive efforts towards transformation, as well as to position these collective efforts against broader problematic systems.

7. An ongoing challenge is that many interventions rely on relatively shallow leverage points in practice, yet this is often obscured through a discourse of transformation. As Per Olsson argued, if interventions fail to engage major problematic paradigms and transform resource flows and power relations, it is unlikely that those changes will become stabilized over time.

8. Eureta Rosenberg’s work showed how relatively “shallow” leverage points can play a critical role in transforming systems, as long as they also engage deeper leverage points. For example, she seeks to shift the practice and paradigm of measurement from “objective” to “transformative”. Rather than demonizing measurement, she works with organizations in South Africa to practice measurement mindfully by “bringing monitoring practices alive for the people involved in interventions instead of excluding them”. This involves fundamentally changing how monitoring works by rooting how goals are assessed in people’s own criteria and values, shifting the relative power of actors, and enhancing reflection and learning as a way to leverage change.

 

Eureta Rosenberg

Eureta Rosenberg at #leverage2019: describing how to prioritize learning by measuring mindfully; see her related Evaluation Design Toolkit (2012)

9. Mark Edwards returned our attention to the critical importance of scale. Linking leverage points together necessitates understanding who holds the power and capacity for particular types of transformations. For example, influencing the paradigms of a single individual farmer in a remote village may have limited implications compared to influencing the paradigms of a global organization funding conservation work. In addition, a focus on shifting paradigms can be highly limiting without jointly exploring broader structural pressures and constraints that continue to reinforce those paradigms.

10. Per Olsson highlighted the complex non-linear temporal dimension of transformation. Much focus has been on how interventions may interact to de-stabilize dominant systems; yet, he asks, what happens when “the ball is rolling”? Different capacities are needed to navigate the violent attempts to co-opt transformation processes for selfish motives, just as different capacities are needed to then stabilize new paradigms and structures.

 

Per Olsson

Per Olsson at #leverage2019: Three identified phases of a social-ecological transformation (see Olsson et al. 2010)

11. Yet, there is an inherent risk in stabilizing new paradigms and structures. It is therefore important to recognize what has actually been transformed, what has not, and the broader implications. As Per Olsson notes, in some cases, a violent transformation can result in one group simply co-opting the same rhetoric and power of another group.

12. A central challenge is therefore to strike a balance between intentionally stabilizing new interlinked paradigms-structures that pursue particular solutions and prevent co-opting of the agenda, while intentionally de-stabilizing these new structures enough through mechanisms that build room for learning and reframing over time.

13. Mark Edwards showed how social, ecological and economic components can be integrated in many different ways; thus, the mere integration of components does not imply “systemic transformation”. Indeed, many sustainability approaches simply subsume environmental and social objectives into economic ones. As Ray Ison argued, being radical may require adopting a new framing of “economy” that recognizes that “economic is just one of the many ways of being social”.

14. Improved transparency is therefore needed over what is meant when something is called “systemic” or “transformative”, so that these paradigms are not co-opted to allow people to simply surf the green wave to legitimize their power and dominant framing. Perhaps the focus should be on transformation efforts that really question interlinked dominant paradigms, power relations, structures/designs, and material flows that work actively against a more sustainable and socially equitable future. Vicky Temperton argues here that we need a better balance between taking a systemic and systematic approach.

What then can be leveraged from all of these diverse ideas about where and when to intervene? This is clearly an important ongoing dialogue to foster. An important aspect may be to move away from a simplified notion of leverage points that seeks to shift paradigm A to another predefined paradigm, or change rule C to another predefined rule, or facilitate more material flows from actor E to another predefined actor. Rather, deeper transformative capacity may lie in identifying those transformative practices and processes that are capable of joining actors together to co-disrupt/destabilize dominant interlinked paradigms, structures, designs, flows and outcomes and at the same time co-create/stabilize new formations. This necessitates clear attention to how people with different types of transformative capacities can be connected across both scalar and temporal dimensions.

 

Josie_photo

Josie Chambers

Josie Chambers is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. She is broadly interested in the implications of different approaches to environmental governance, and recently investigated the role of diverse collaborative approaches as a postdoctoral researcher with the Luc Hoffmann Institute. She holds a PhD in Geography and MPhil in Conservation Leadership from the University of Cambridge, an MSc in Integrated Resource Management from the University of Edinburgh and a BSc in Integrative Biology from the University of Illinois.

How to master a learning process in five (almost) easy steps

By Zuzana Harmackova

Summary: The golden mine of any conference is a session where you learn something relevant for your own work. Can it get any better? Absolutely. Imagine THE session where five presentations provide you with an complete set of Methods for Facilitating Collaborative Processes and Learning for sustainability transformations.

An urban legend says that some of the most popular videos by lifestyle YouTubers are those providing you with a specific number of steps to reach… anything. Good night’s sleep. Perfect make-up. Productive life. Now imagine encountering a professional parallel – a single conference session where you learn about five exciting methodological steps to facilitate your next collaborative learning process.

First, you will need a framing which allows you to identify people’s underpinning values and principles. For that, a useful tool (introduced by Johan Larsson) is the lighthouse parallel, allowing you as well as the participants in your research to focus on four dimensions of what makes a good life:
1) Human needs and well-being,
2) Their social and economic pillars, allowing us to ask how do we want to live together and how can we manage our capital for the future?
3) And the ecological underpinning of the above – how can society’s activities fit within nature’s carrying capacity?

ZH1

By: Johan Larsson and John Holmberg

Second, it is necessary to ask the right questions. In order to reach that, you will need to learn more about the values and opinions of your potential future participants in advance. For that purpose, Lorenz Hilty introduces an extremely helpful tool currently developed with his team – an interactive interface surfacing people’s values and preferences, comparing them with a “value average” in the group and clustering them in a “landscapes of opinions”, which can help you identify participants for your workshop to cover a wide range of opinions, as well as to formulate questions to build on.

ZH2

By: Lorenz Hilty and Clemens Mader

Third, you will need to create a safe learning space. Caroline Lumosi clarifies that you will need to focus on multiple details: to get a suitable physical space for learning (a nice, comfortable and friendly environment, not becoming a fog sauna after a whole-day workshop), to create a set of rules guiding the interaction between participants (e.g. to resolve miscommunications) and to ensure the freedom for people to self-organise (to allow initiatives to emerge in response to current needs). Such a learning space improves not only knowledge but also relationships, and allows to create a shared vision for sustainable futures.

Fourth, you might need to move beyond a workshop set-up and dive in learning processes involving the general public. Daniele Brombal reflects on the role of Citizen Science in transformation processes and shows how it can complement science-based, ultra-specialized, mechanistic knowledge of the natural world, and what is more: to strengthen awareness, connect the sphere of knowledge and emotions, reconnect people with their environment and even empower them to challenge and develop existing institutions.

Last but not least, you will need to make the involvement of participants in a learning process easier, help them to gain familiarity with a topic and at the same time allow them to move towards fuller forms of participation. This can be reached through structuring knowledge resources in an accessible and visible way, enabling asking and answering questions and mutual interaction. For that purpose, Stefan Hilser reflects on the design of four existing learning aids – interactive “toolboxes” incorporating overviews of methods, experience reports, tools, approaches, literature, an much more (don’t forget to check the details on his gripping blog!).

When leaving the session, you feel as satisfied as after FINALLY finding the perfect video with eleven easy steps to cook a hard-boiled egg. Your next collaborative learning process is going to be a success.

Zuzana

Zuzana Harmackova

Zuzana is a postdoctoral researcher at Stockholm Resilience Centre. Her research focuses on a comparative analysis of resilience indicators across case studies, future participatory scenarios and social-ecological aspects of ecosystem services provision. She has been involved in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), currently working on an assessment of values in future scenarios within the IPBES Assessment on Diverse Conceptualization of Values.

Systemic and Systematic Research

By Vicky Temperton

So much of what we do is incremental, especially in academia. We start systematically studying a system, getting to know its component units, their daily rhythms and their cycles. Then we try to manipulate the system, tweak it here and there, to understand what is driving change in this system. Whilst acknowledging the complexity of the system, we strive for an understanding of slow and fast drivers of change. Gradually, over time, we gain knowledge about how our system works, whilst also having a considerable amount of background variability we cannot explain. An example is a species-rich natural habitat, such as grasslands in California or Europe, that is losing (bio)diversity at many levels. The species in the grassland are disappearing in abundance and in numbers, and the biome itself is disappearing in the landscape, but so is knowledge about the species and about the ecosystem and how to manage it to foster biodiversity and multiple uses. Often this knowledge has been around for centuries, embodied in local people, such that the intensification of land use leads to many losses at the same time. Some go unnoticed. To understand such a situation we need to approach the problem as a system, to be systemic in our approach, since many interacting components are at play here, including social, political, governance, biophysical and ecological factors. At the same time we need to be systematic, to do rigorous research in striving to understand the system, so that we can gain knowledge of the transferability of our outcome to other sites, other systems. Roy Ison, from the Open University stressed this point very eloquently in his keynote speech this morning.

Despite this perhaps rather obvious need to be both systemic and systematic, these two are rarely happy bedfellows in academia. Too often we have worked in isolated silos to understand complex systems, with single groups producing their own form of knowledge, but no-one integrating over the whole to see what emergent properties the system might have or how to best intervene.  We are however now faced with unprecedented challenges to our earth, including climate change, biodiversity loss, eutrophication and mass migration, that are forcing us to think in a more systemic way if we are to have a chance to continue in any kind of sustainable way. At the same time we still also need the incremental, iterative and often deep knowledge that one can derive from studying a system systematically, as one often does in the natural sciences.

The Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformations conference taking place at Leuphana University this week is a fascinating distillation of this dilemma. With humanity sitting at the crossroads between „tragedy and transformation, with little idea of where we wish to go, or how we intend to get there“, this conference seeks to identify deep leverage points, those interventions in a system that bring about big change, rather than incremental change. Topics such a co-creation and co-production of knowledge are central to this undertaking, as well as doing transdisciplinary research that includes many different stakeholders. Issues of power, inclusion and diversity, narratives and mindsets play key roles in the discourse and exchange at the conference.

A recurring theme over the first two days has been the topic of co-creation of knowledge and how to transforms systems. There is a growing realisation that projects themselves often do not change systems; in fact we are facing „a tyranny of projects“ as someone in the Belmont Forum Scoping Workshop on Pathways to the SDGS said today. Or maybe some projects can change a system – if we find the right leverage points?  The jury is out on this, but a key crystallisation that has occurred in my mind at this conference, is the realisation that there are two different ways of trying to find leverage. One approach is to co-create knowledge about transformation– from a more academic perspective, in terms of understanding systems and interventions (in a deductive manner). Another approach is to more directly intervene in a system and see how it changes, and then learn from this (in an inductive manner). What strikes me is that both approaches have validity, and are valuable in terms of sustainability outcomes. In the knowledge-gaining approach the systemic perspective tends to outweigh the systematic, and in the direct transformation/intervention approach the systematic perspective probably outweighs the systemic. My hunch is that if we start to consider both methods at a meta-level and compare outcomes and experiences, we may find some gold nuggets of leverage on the pathway to mainstreaming sustainability.

Vicky

Vicky Temperton


Vicky Temperton is professor of ecosystem functioning and services in the Leuphana sustainability faculty. She is a field ecologist who is interested in positive interactions between plants and how these interactions scale up to the ecosystem. She tests ecological knowledge for its potential use in restoring biodiversity to degraded systems.

The ‘how to’ of collaborative transformation

By Josie Chambers

“Ok, that’s interesting, but HOW can that help me actually facilitate transformation in practice?”

I’ve asked this question. I’ve been asked it many times. The past two days have shown the possibilities are endless – an exciting yet daunting prospect. Here are some insights I’ve gathered so far from some of the many inspiring researchers at leverage points.

  1. “Phase 0 (i.e. the “setting up of the setting up”) was four years” – Andra-Iona Horcea-Milcu. The initial phase often requires long-term relations and trust to frame the work and allow safe spaces to mature.
  2. “Iterative development of collaborative methods based on feedback” – Ariane König. If the proposed methods are never critically examined, we limit how people can express themselves and risk reproducing the same visions for change.
  3. “Sustainability is not an answer but a question – what should be sustained or let go?” – Elizabeth Barron. Our role as researchers is not to make everyone think like we do but to embrace our own humility and learning.
  4. “There is no single solution; we must focus on multiple seeds and pathways for transformation” – Elena Bennett. An attempt to establish a hierarchy of solutions too soon can greatly narrow the scope for action.
  5. “Dia-Logos are the space in between more than one logic who think together” – Ariane König. Interweaving both diverse internal knowledges and external knowledges (and accepting, not simply trying to resolve emerging tensions) is important to promote critical examination of perspectives and assumptions.
  6. Transformational power exists in the emotional experience of being listened to and feeling valued. For example, Angela Morrigi’s carefully adapted photo-voice and walking interviews enabled participants with mental disabilities to express their voice. Her co-created photo album and memory box gifts fostered reciprocity and care.
  7. The politics of language matters. For example, by seeing “place” as “reactionary” (e.g. isolated with boundaries) versus “progressive” (e.g. relational to all outside places). – Elizabeth Barron.
  8. Power lies in “making the familiar seem unfamiliar”? – Kevin Collins. This social learning can emerge from experiencing situations in new ways that reveal interdependencies.
  9. “How do you find a new color?” – Claire Deschner. Radical and creative methods are needed to create alternative realities that can diverge farther from current realities.
  10. “The response by a participant that we did something serious here [in a game-playing context] was already an outcome” – Leo Reutter. The power of creative methods can require participants to first overcome barriers of lacking confidence in the method.
  11. “Finding relations of shared understanding from contradictions can help transcend individual perspectives and result in new frames of reference.” – Ariane König. This is an important part of establishing concrete action fields that join people together in new ways.
  1. Andra-Iona Horcea-Milcu’s leverage points work in Transylvania shows the power of valuing existing efforts and strengthening relationships to amplify and scale sustainability efforts for broader societal transformations.
  2. “Managing expectations is crucial. There is a struggle between the time it takes researchers to do what they want to do, and what other people want to do.” – Angela Morrigi
  3. “It is important to overcome the fear of failure early on” – Andra-Iona Horcea-Milcu. Martina Schäfer showed that this requires being reflexive and upfront about the interests and risks of all partners.
  4. Franziska Ehnert showed the importance of connecting bottom-up work to supportive top-down processes through institutionalized intermediaries and funding.

After this long list, you are probably still wondering – but really, HOW can I put some of these ideas into practice? Elena Bennett showed us in her keynote how even simple methods like “radical listening” can be a powerful initial step. A diverse and exciting range of options exist, with a few shared here:

  1. Ariane König introduced us to Collaborative Conceptual Modeling (CCM) – a tool to engage in relational thinking, establish influence diagrams, co-produce norms and values, and transform dialogue. This process always starts with participants sharing practical experiences.

CCM

By Newell and Proust 2017 (shared by Ariane König); methods details on pg. 17 of above link.

  1. Angela Morrigi showed us the power of Theory U in practice, and harvested this knowledge into an amazing toolkit of arts-based methods.

Theory U

By Pearson et al 2018 (co-produced and shared by Angela Morrigi)

  1. Jaco Quist introduced us to the complex world of participatory visioning to define problems and possibilities and mobilize actor-networks and narratives. He describes Community Arena Methodology, which involves transitions management, backcasting (i.e. working backwards to reach the desired vision or state), social learning, and operationalizing the inner context (i.e. everything that goes on inside individuals).

Transition management cycle

Wittmayer 2011; Adapted from Loorbach 2007, 2010

  1. Claire Deschner shared ethnographic theatre methods. She used mirroring exercises to build trust and put concepts into action to reveal their complex nature. For example, “care” was portrayed in a patronizing way (a pat on the head), which sparked discussion on how the transformative potential of care lies in understanding as an ethical and relational responsiveness and learning. Claire’s methods build on Augusto Boal’s The Theatre of the Oppressed and associated methods. Also based on these methods, the Forum Theatre performed a problem situation, where audience members could freeze the performance to intervene and change the series of events. This opened up dialogue over possibilities for transforming systems.

Putting these (and sother) collaborative methods into practice requires much more than the theories and manuals. Here the art of facilitation becomes especially critical – whether taken on by a researcher or professional. At leverage points, I’ve been introduced to a number of wonderful training opportunities – both online or in person – to advance these skills. For example, 1) Art of hosting – http://www.artofhosting.org/, 2) Presencing Institute – https://www.presencing.org/aboutus, 3) Theatre of the Oppressed – https://www.tonyc.nyc/workshops, 4) Changemakers – https://www.changemakers.com/. I hope to take advantage of some of these trainings to develop a sense of methodological bricolage myself to draw upon diverse methods and ideas to adaptively navigate complex and emergent processes of transformation.

The final question which has come up so often in discussions is – But do these methods REALLY lead to transformation, and what kinds of transformations?

The general sense is that we are far behind in our efforts to assess transformation outcomes. This is perhaps in part due to the legitimate concern of how a focus on solutions and outcomes could compromise the process quality. However, many expressed a desire to better understand both process and impacts to evaluate how we see and do our work.

We need better ways of following learning journeys, such as through Jennifer Rao-William’s creative use of metaphors. Do people see themselves as drivers or passengers throughout the process? As Jess Cockburn asked, “should we be navigating towards a destination or just trying to avoid all of the icebergs?” To better understand impacts, we need methods for tracking how understandings are reframed, and that reframing becomes linked to changes in actions over time.

Hopefully this whistle-stop tour through the “how to” of collaborative transformation in some spaces of the leverage points conference will spark some new ideas for how we each think about and do our work. I look forward to seeing how conversations and insights continue to evolve beyond the conference space!

Josie_photo

Josie Chambers

Josie Chambers is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. She is broadly interested in the implications of different approaches to environmental governance, and recently investigated the role of diverse collaborative approaches as a postdoctoral researcher with the Luc Hoffmann Institute. She holds a PhD in Geography and MPhil in Conservation Leadership from the University of Cambridge, an MSc in Integrated Resource Management from the University of Edinburgh and a BSc in Integrative Biology from the University of Illinois.

 

Dancing with the system

By Maraja Riechers

I am exceptionally bad at navigating. When I come out of a restaurant after dinner I occasionally do not remember where I came from and I even can get lost in my home town (which at one point had more cows than people). What is more, complexity often overwhelms me. Not, that complexity is something negative, and complexity does not need to be complicated. But sometimes it is just a bit, well, a bit too much for me.

Being exposed to all the information, warnings, pitfalls, details, conceptual and theoretical nuances, disciplinary expert knowledge and jargon, I feel immensely incapable of coping with its totality. Rather, I am acutely aware of my own knowledge gaps, shortcomings and limitations. In this chaos I am looking for perspectives that show me patterns, structures, something that helps me acknowledge the messiness, yet giving me tools to handle it (be it just for a while, until the patterns fade and I need to shift to a new perspective).

So, what I am saying is, I would be completely incapable of navigating our metaphorical ship through a sea of complexity. I would not even know where to start. And while navigating complexity was our main topic at the Leverage Conference 2019 today, I felt, that I was not the only one being reluctant.

Petra Kuenkel said that navigating complexity for her is more a collective stewardship that includes a self-organisation of diversity. Collective in a sense that there are shared responsibilities, maybe even shared values or ideas, based on a notion of care, kindness and openness (i.e. a feminist perspective, shout-out to the great talk by Elisa Oteros-Rozas). Enabling self-organisation in the design of a system may give room for diverse voice to be heard, new ideas being brought in, innovation being fostered and new methods co-created. There is power in difference and conflict; contrasting opinions are healthy and valuable, and compassionate critique should be encouraged. I would rather embrace the differences we have, agree to disagree, but also agree to understand and acknowledge and accept.

Donella Meadows spoke about dancing with the systems – we all collectively push and pull the system in our desirable direction, but none of us can see or control where we are actually going. But by fostering diversity, with time, trust and a lot of translation we might be able to avoid false consensus but embrace a fair and mutual dialogue that can guide us into a sustainable future.

When it comes to complexity, it is not about understanding it. I, personally, do not need an ever more complicated model that tries to capture all variables to predict outcomes. Models are useful, but never a depiction of reality. And I, personally, do not need to understand complexity. I will never be able to do that – but the process of trying to understand it, by shifting perspectives to see patterns and structure in the chaos helps me to learn from it. And to overcome my feeling of being overwhelmed so that I regain my ability to act.

For a while now the leverage points perspective gives me lenses to look through, to see and understand patterns. I may focus on deeper, underlying, domains for intervention – those that are often overlooked but somehow drive the chaos in the system. Or I can zoom out a bit and focus on the interactions between shallow, that is material or process based system components and the intention and design of the system. If I need to understand causality, I can use the leverage points perspective to help me acknowledge how we got here (the flows, feedback loops that reinforce our system) – but I can also use it to envision a future in which the intent and design of the system might be based around goals of environmental justice and equity.

In my eyes, transformation and contradiction is at the core of complexity. Let’s navigate the complexity together, self-organised, in a collective stewardship. 1000 eyes and hands and feet all pushing and pulling and dancing with a system. All with a vision of a good life. And while we do not know where we will end up, we value the process along the way.

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The great interconnections wall by our amazing graphic facilitation team!

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Maraja Riechers

Maraja Riechers is a PostDocs in the leverage points project here at the Leuphana University. My research focusses on human-nature connectedness, relational values, human-wildlife conflicts and landscape change – all with a leverage points perspective.