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.

“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

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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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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

 

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.

 

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Your journey to inner transformation

By Zuzana Harmackova

When it comes to transformations towards sustainability, focusing on policies, strategies and actions is not enough. What we need equally importantly are the deep, individual leverage points of transformation– those related to Inner Transformation.

Remember reading all the cool conference blogs? Now imagine you get the chance to write one… and what is more, at a conference on a really exciting topic – the Leverage Points of transformation towards sustainability. There is one problem, though. You are a terrible writer.

The session on Inner Transformation is your number one choice (you feel that this is exactly what you need). You are waiting for the start, in a room packed with people just as curious as you are. While the session chair Stella Veciana does a great job demonstrating that a raised hand means a signal for silence (a skill mastered by all of us later during the plenary), this is actually never needed since the room is totally focused from the first moment…

…for a good reason. Since this session gives you a great opportunity to rethink deeper whatever you (foolishly) believed you have thought through deep enough before. And it lively illustrates that leveraging transformative change can emerge from perspectives you might have disregarded in the hustle of figuring out quick practical solutions.

First, you dive into a short meditation with Jessica Böhme, guiding you directly to the question what you see as your life contribution. However daring, this question links directly to the key point of her presentation that when we talk about political, societal and ecological transformations, we often forget that they grow from a personal dimension – personal knowledge, beliefs and assumptions – which drive our actions and their far-reaching consequences.
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According to: Jessica Böhme

Later on, Chris Ives shares lessons learned from interviews with worlds’ faith leaders, illustrating which leverage points to a systems transformation can be accessed through religion, including changing worldviews, forming institutions and initiating practical actions in the society.
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By: Christopher Ives

Finally, a series of three linked presentations by Stella Veciana, Oliver Parodi and Kaidi Tamm shows that while we tend to distinguish between our inner and outer world, they are both inter-related and have an equal influence on the sustainability of the world around us. Therefore, the (commonly overlooked) inner dimensions of transformation needs to receive much more of our attention, since that is where our thoughts, values, needs, wishes, emotions and habits are formed, which then shape the visions, plans and actions we take.

Most importantly, they emphasise that if we want to reach a transformation, we first need to take time to talk to each other, ask the right questions, and try to earn each other’s understanding, respect and trust, which is the only path leading to a long-lasting change in our perspectives, attitudes and actions. For that, what we vitally need is the freedom to experiment and co-create new knowledge through shared experience.
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By: Stella Veciana

By that time, the concentration in the room is so intensive that the only thing distracting the collective focus is your frantic typing, trying to catch everyone’s insights. (Remember people taking photos of all the slides? That’s you.)

The discussion afterwards takes uninterrupted forty minutes and lasts well into the coffee break (a trustworthy measure of a session success). Among many interesting points, the need to stop understanding own inner vulnerability as a weakness is raised – what we need instead is to find the courage to put aside pretending, perfection and certainty, and find a way to connect with others and the world we live in.

Later that evening at your blog-draft, it becomes clear that you have not reached an inner transformation to a brilliant writer this time. But still. You have experimented. Experienced new ways of thinking. Exposed own vulnerability (and writer’s block). And most importantly – you know you still have two more days of the Leverage Points 2019 conference to ask more about Inner Transformation.

 

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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.

Feeling naked

By Maraja Riechers

It was a more random line that Elena Bennett said in her plenary session this morning: “I feel naked without a pointer and presentation, but I will just go with it”. Feeling naked and exposed, in unusual, uncomfortable, honest and authentic situations. Embracing this feeling struck me as important, because today at the Leverage Points 2019 conferences it was all about exploring the notion of deep and neglected leverage points. By deep leverage points, we mean primarily those that tackle the systems design – such as re-defining the goal of the system, its information flow or self-organisation – and those that tackle the intent of the system – changing mind-sets and transcending paradigms.

But what does that mean for us? Digging deep. Transcending paradigms.

For me, it means we have to strip us barren from paradigms that we hold on to, which comfort us, and keep us in a system that is in need of urgent transformation. It means we have to question ourselves, our goals, our dreams and daily routines. It means questionning others. And for us scientists it means questioning our research.

What looking for deep and neglected leverage points definitively does not mean is using the same old paradigms, the same old research methods (that have long been proven valid and reliable), and putting another label on it. It is the end of the world as we know it, as Ioan Fazey repeatedly stated. We need to sit down a moment, take a breath, open your eyes and mind – and acknowledge, with great humility, the changes happening all around us.

This is what we are facing. This is what is currently happening.

And now we need to act.

 

What I took with me from the sessions and the plenaries, was a need for a passionate, urgent and transformative research, research which focusses on care, justice, trust and real-world impact (not measureable by an Impact Factor). To also ask and answer the questions: From whom can we learn? Whose voice is missing?

There is no magic bullet, no quick fix – and looking for deep leverage points is not offering that. A leverage points perspectives invites you to look deeper, to ask difficult questions: What are we trying to achieve here? What are the right things to do? How do we govern? What economic paradigm do we want (and how can we replace our old one)? But just having a good lens to be able to concentrate on those changes does not mean that assessing them, or even finding a leverage point for transformation, will be easy. The leverage points perspective can be an analytical tool, a metaphor or a methodological boundary object to capture the complexity of a system and its wicked problems. It will not provide an easy answer, this complexity defies an easy answer (even though it is tempting when faced with all the complexity). Feeling naked is not easy. It can be uncomfortable, exposing, hurtful, shameful – and maybe we have to actively look for exactly those situations that make us feel naked, to gain more reflexivity, new perspectives, and new knowledge.

Those difficult questions cannot be answered by pure fact-based knowledge alone; we also need to strive for wisdom; To discover a different, deeper kind of truth. And this process may already has great power and great humility. Yet, this process needs extra effort from us because we are working against the current system, and we will experience backlash. We as researcher need to openly confront an academic system (especially in sustainability science) that is hindering us to do impactful transformative research, we need to openly confront an economic paradigm on which our income depends, and we need to openly confront our knowledge system on which our self-identification depends.

Breath in.

Open your mind.

And embrace the feeling.

 

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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.