From research to sustainability transitions - Identifying pathways to societal effects

Problem statement. The rise of sustainability as a guiding norm for societal development also affects knowledge production in science. Particularly in the context of sustainability science, researchers are increasingly confronted with claims for creating societally relevant knowledge that helps to solve existing problems and facilitates sustainable development. This re-orientation of the science-society contract raises questions about the role of research in sustainability transition processes. There is need for further conceptual and empirical insights on how research can create societal effects and how these effects relate to ongoing dynamics shaping sustainability transition processes. Research goal. This dissertation aims at clarifying the ways in which research can contribute to sustainability transitions. Methodology. The dissertation consists of a theoretical conceptual and an empirical part. The theoretical conceptual part is (primarily) literature-based. Via a critically reflection on existing concepts from the resilience and (sustainability) transitions literature, we integrate ideas through a re-entry approach into a common conceptual perspective. The empirical part of the dissertation includes a meta-analytical study of ongoing sustainability research projects with a qualitative research design that primarily builds on semi-structured and problem-centered interviews. Throughout three rounds of interviews with researchers and practitioners involved in the projects, we created and discussed (mental) models of the interviewees’ perceived pathways to societal effects and particularly shed light on the link between participatory processes and societal effects. In addition, two already finished transdisciplinary projects were analyzed via a framework-based self-reflection by the two co-leaders of the projects from research and practice. Results. On the theoretical level, we introduce a new conceptual perspective to frame sustainability transitions from a resilience perspective. Thereby, we elaborate, how transition progress, stability, and adaptability constitute three dimensions that determine the resilience of sustainability transition processes. The empirical results highlight the broad variety of pathways to societal effects that can be identified across different sustainability research projects and the importance of boundary conditions in the related practice contexts of the projects as critical influence factors for achieving societal effects. Furthermore, we show the diversity and complexity of ways in which participatory processes are embedded in pathways to societal effects. Conclusion. The results of this dissertation contribute to clarifying the role of research projects in sustainability transition processes. Understanding societal effects of sustainability research requires a broad conceptual perspective that allows to consider the diverse and complex ways in which research projects and existing structures and dynamics in the related practice contexts of the projects reciprocally shape each other.


Advisor(s):
Binder Signer, Claudia Rebeca
Wyss, Romano Tobias
Year:
2019
Publisher:
Lausanne, EPFL
Keywords:
Laboratories:
HERUS


Note: The status of this file is: EPFL only


 Record created 2019-06-13, last modified 2019-10-04

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