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.

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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.

Special Feature in Sustainability Science

After an unfortunate delay (due to our desire to select the journal most appropriate for this work) we are pleased to announce that the special feature on “Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformations” has been accepted in the Journal Sustainability Science and we are now accepting extended abstracts for the feature.

This special issue is a result of the Leverage Points Conference 2019 in Lüneburg, Germany. It is inspired by the seminal essay by Donnella Meadows “Leverage Points Places to intervene in a system”. In this work, Meadows highlighted a series of leverage points—places in complex systems where a small shift may lead to fundamental changes in the system as a whole. In particular, she noted the tendency to focus on highly tangible, but essentially weak leverage points. Instead, she urged a focus on perhaps less obvious, but potentially far more powerful areas of intervention. Following Meadows’ work we seek to explore (in theory, empiricism and praxis) the metaphor of leverage points in order to foster sustainability transformations.

This special issue will ask: how do we transform ourselves, our science, our institutions, our interventions and our societies for a better future? We thus invite papers that were presented during Leverage Points 2019 on:

  • Re-structuring institutions for transformative change
  • Re-connecting people and nature as a deep leverage point
  • Re-thinking how we know and act in relation to sustainability transformations
  • Systems thinking and complexity as tools for transformation
  • Transformative research practices in sustainability science

Extended abstracts of 700-800 words should be submitted to leventon@leuphana.de before 30thJune, 2019. To ensure quality editing this special issue will be restricted to 15 articles in total.

More details on the special feature can be found here

https://www.springer.com/environment/environmental+management/journal/11625/PSE?detailsPage=press (see “Call for Papers” at the bottom of the page).

 

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 experience 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

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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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.

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.