November, 25, 2014 International Symposium, Keynote Speech
Sustainability Science 2.0: A Transformative Social Learning Process
Dr. Ariane Köenig University of Luxembourg
Thank you to the conference organizers for this opportunity to speak, and exchange with you here today.
Today, I will start by looking at sustainability challenges and the role of social learning, and ask the question, what does society need from universities?
So, let’s switch perspectives to answer Professor Ozasa’s questions. And not only what does society need from university, but if we’re looking for transformation and new ways to produce knowledge to transform how we interact with the environment, then what is the role of society and individual citizens in such new knowledge production processes.
My argument in this presentation is that we all have a role to play, otherwise we will not transform our relation to the environment. And this invites us to reconsider the institution of science and research and education and how it interacts with society. So this is why the concept of sustainability science is 2.0it’s the second section in this presentation.
In the 21st century, we’re facing complex problems from how human civilization interacts with the environment. And as Professor Ueta already highlighted some of our greatest challenges are common pool resources, which are shared amongst many and where we have no good mechanisms of governance to decide how we can share them such that we respect their capacity to renew examples of such. So common pool resources include ground water basins, the air, air pollution and fisheries, fish stocks.
And so I think if we face these challenges where we own common pool resources, it is helpful to think about three different mechanisms of social coordination of groups and individuals with diverse interest and stakes.
Two mechanisms of social coordination or governance that are most talked about and explicit in our society. Regulation by government, which is hierarchical and top down, it looks at fixed forms of knowing, predefined problems. And the other prevailing mechanism for social coordination is of course, market based competition, individualistic, often profit maximization. The actors are firms and consumers making their choices. But again it involved fixed forms of knowing applied to a defined problem.
Now, principles of neoclassical economics have shown to fail in common pool resource situations, and so Elinor Ostrom, an economist, has actually focused on communities getting organized, around common pool resources, such as fisheries, or also farming on fragile land such as in high mountain regions. She compared Japanese high altitude farmers to Swiss high altitude farmers.
She has identified and very well characterized a third mechanism for social coordination she calls social learning. So this is non-coercive egalitarian, all stakeholders in a resource are the acknowledged actors, who define the problem and decide upon solutions. And the form of knowing is an iterative learning process, iterative meaning repeated overtime, lifelong learning we have ahead of us. So solutions actually an emergent property of the social process that keeps on adopting to its environment and new knowledge. So we cannot predefine the problems, we have to continuingly learn on how we can adopt even better, and shared learning knowledge we have created together, serves as a basis for this process.
And so the research of Elinor Ostrom and her team, has characterized the following design attributes for social learning processes for local common resource management. First, high levels of face-to-face communication. Second, clear information and data collection on stocks, and flows, and usage of these scarce resources and how they change, so it’s again dynamic.
We have to be explicit about uncertainties in assessments, that’s often not talked about, as you probably know better than many other nations in the world. Changes in behavior have to be assessed and measured, as well as we need an understanding of values, individual groups, and stakes that are attached to these resources that maybe very different, depending on the interest of you or the organization, you represent.
So this is why we need for such processes platforms for dealing with value conflicts by analyzing, who has what value legitimately and multiple possibly contradicting perspectives become legitimate in these processes need an equal footing to have their say. And last, we also need physical, technological, and social infrastructures to support institutionalization of self-governance processes. Challenges to traditionally disciplinary science are many if we face complex problems. So disciplinary silos such as economics, sociology, anthropology, direction attention at specific time scales, build on assumption that usually reduce complexity, uncertainty and value pluralism rather than explaining to us how economy interacts with ecological niche interacts with society.
They drive towards abstract rather than situated knowledge, and science education conveys specific sets of beliefs and worldviews. Also the career reward systems in science often suppress specific kinds of questions, and there is a resulting fragmentation of knowledge that not only hinders us to understand complex systems, but also now starts to really undermine quality of the peer review system, quality control, because one expert hardly understand what the other expert is working on.
So sustainability science is a new concept for science that was developed around the year 2000.
So what I’m introducing here is sustainability science as a social learning process that is directed at the transformation of human environment interactions. And we look at five elements of this process as key, collective enquiry connected to practice, we will go through each to discuss what it means.
Diversity of theories and methods, diversity of participation of different interests in stakeholders and what really will be difficult for many scientists, is that we need the dialectical evaluation of set assumption and how well they apply to local situations for making joint judgements.
So this is no longer science as objective, the voice from outside of society. We need to get in there, create knowledge together, embrace diversity. Of course, this needs self-awareness, reflexivity, empathy, and there is certainly no room for the all-knowing scientific experts, who bows down to others and says they don’t understand.
We very much build on the philosophy of American pragmatism, by John Dewey, how we conceptualize knowledge and enquiry, as a planned systematic structured self-critical process to create new knowledge. Diversity of theories and methods, if we take the example of energy saving in the built environment, we certainly need quantitative research, monitoring data on energy use. but also, changes in technological systems and behavior. But we need to combine that somehow with qualitative research.
How we make meaning of energy? Why we need it? What values we attribute to it? What are our rituals, routines? We will ask the ethnographers to characterize and of course, we need practice based research, architecture, engineers and qualitative research can help us to question prevailing assumptions.
In engineering, you might know that comfort is a universal norm, 21 degree Celsius, and airflow of 0.07 cubic meters per second. Does that help us to save energy? Maybe, it’s better to open up the concept of comfort as a negotiated concept rather than a universal norm. And so we need in the middle integrative scholarship that allows us to cross question assumptions of the various disciplinary silos we want to bring together around practical problems and embrace contradictions between multiple perspectives.
We need diversity of participation not only of different experts but also of different stakeholders.
So, how can we get to a more directed process for humans to assume new responsibilities and collectively transform our relation to the environment? Basically, in this concept of sustainability science, progress builds on joint evaluation in an iterative process of and passing judgement on a direction of learning or the last year or two. And then we need spaces for critical dialectics, constrictive critique ending up in reflection. And in our societies, where value of pluralism is more and more acknowledge, of course, we have very few spaces for critique.
There are new tools around, so evolving tools of citizen science. Basically, this concept of citizen science, scientist practicing citizens, emerged from those scientific disciplines that have more data than individual researchers can cope with, or that have more needs of data collection than individual researchers can carry out. So bird watchers and all our knowledge about migratory species and even how they are affected by global warming, all this data, most of it, at least, is collected by volunteers recruited through nongovernmental organizations. So citizens, in some areas, are already engaged in data collection for science.
Also, at Oxford, they have a website with research projects that rely on cameras that produce millions of photos, where individuals are invited either to characterize species taken by undersea cameras to look at changes of species compositions in certain places with global warming. But now, there are also with our new mobile technologies completely new revolutionary ways of engaging all of us in participatory sensing and monitoring our environment.
So, this is a revolution for science as not only is knowledge democratized and access to knowledge to a certain extent, but also our ability to contribute to knowledge production. And so, there are multiplying numbers of apps, applications, for instance, in the Nature Locator area where we can contribute to monitoring the environment or certain indicator species such as funguses and trees that are indicative of certain air pollution, certain types of air pollution.
We see Sustainability Science 2.0, as one possible sort of way to implement community monitoring projects as a way of natural resource management and participatory monitoring here involves multiple participants, for instance, of citizens, municipal officials, non-governmental organizations, university scientists, psychologists, ecologists, engineers with diverse interests and forms of expertise, and they together as a team not only work together data, but they frame the questions.
Here’s just one example of a new project on air pollution monitoring which really makes the point of individuals involved in monitoring will get an enhanced sense of awareness to change individual behaviors. And in many instances through engaging many diverse perspectives in monitoring, you also create new windows of accountability to government and policymakers and new pressures to policymakers to work closer with us and citizens.
So, what one needs for these types of projects is sensing technologies. Now let’s look at sustainability science. So let’s keep these concepts in mind and the role of campus in society. And so, the number of universities engaging in sustainability science and thinking more closely about how they’re embedded in the municipality, what the needs are of the people they meet every day on the street.
The number of universities is increasing all over the world. And universities have a pivotal role in fostering social and technological change, because of our combined mission, as already Professor Ueta said in research and education and civic engagement. Universities come together in networks now sustainability-sustainable university networks, such as the International Sustainable Campus Network, which is the network where we met Professor Takao Ozasa and Professor Takashi Ueno and I.
So, the case I would like to highlight to you today, there are many I could have picked from, but I think particularly impressive is the University of British Columbia. You can already see in their definition of sustainability, they consider sustainability as an emergent property of a societal conversation. So, university is at the service of fueling this societal conversation both with new knowledge and expertise, but also by holding up a mirror to raise questions or mirror back what’s happening to reflect upon, whether that helps us to go into the right direction or not.
And so, they have spent the last 12 years to construct a building, the Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability that is to serve as a platform for this societal conversation and experiments, it’s the living lab. So, the research program really focuses on conservation efficiency and behavior, and how to get from regenerative buildings to regenerative communities.
And so, community engagement in social action is key and as our partnerships and implementation. So, by no means only theory is produced here. The building is regenerative in an environmental terms or it’s net positive on energy, operational and structural carbon and water quality. So, it receives 100% by rain fed, water. And it is also regenerative in human terms. Occupants, who by the engineers is conceived as some kind of passive recipient of a building system, and here engaged inhabitant with a sense of place, but who are concerned about, how he or she interact with the building in terms of whether now it is really necessary to boost the radiator and open the window at the same time, and how they use daylight versus lamp light, etcetera. So, we want an engaged inhabitant with a sense of place rather than someone who wrestles with the window and feels disempowered because it can’t be opened.
Another element of this building is the BC Hydro Theater, which is actually a space engineered and in which you have integrated the latest decision support tools for participatory planning, be it urban planning or building planning.
So, this building now is also the site for one of the most innovative research projects in my view of how a university engages with the city, it’s called the Greenest City Conversations Project. This is a series of workshops with Vancouver citizens, around the topics of community energy and greenhouse gas emissions. And these are tied to three goals the city had climate leadership, green buildings, and green mobility.
So, now the University of Luxembourg has over 6,000 students, we have kept our ceiling at 7,000. We’re research oriented but we want to keep a personal touch with our student community, hence, not to grow too big.
We’re getting a new campus designed for 7,000 students, 3,000 researchers with an investment of €1 billion. In the south of Luxembourg in an area that was dominated by steel production, but it is now in industrial decline. And here you see the conversion of this industrial wasteland to a future city of science. So, this is the campus that the government of Luxembourg wants to make available for the university. The whole city-and it’s a campus in the city-so the whole city district that is to be built from scratch is 105 hectares. And as you see, here is the city district and this part will be where the university campus is integrated in the city and classical master planning, principles for sustainability have been respected.
So, mixed use urban quarters for covering basic needs by walking and cycling, excellent public transport connection, the newest and biggest station, train station was built. 30% of the area is dedicated to green space for environmental health, reasons and promotion of sustainable construction in terms of building, materials, and design were used.
There were several measures taken to maximize permeability between the university and the city in public spaces in ground floors. Also a museum is integrated and shopping and sport and leisure and housing. And just for details, most buildings actually have overhangs, so you get within the space reserved for the building, a mixture between public area and university area as meeting places. And also the ground floors have public spaces for shops and cafes for the university, a community to mix with the citizens and also exhibition spaces for researchers to exhibit the work for enhanced permeability between city and university.
Unlike in Japan when we want to have regional cooperation, we need to transcend three different cultures, legal cultures, political cultures, different norming systems, so that’s a challenge. But the greater region has already several institutions. And this is particularly important because these regions communicate, and Luxembourg-just to let you know- receives over a 160,000 cross- border commuters who come to work in Luxembourg every day. So, that’s huge from the neighboring countries. So, in the capital, the population actually doubles from all these cross-border workers every day, and they go home every day again. So, imagine all roads, most of them come by car anyhow. So, challenges will be-so we have a goal of once we move there in 2016, we want to engage with citizens, in the participatory development of a new sustainability action plan.
However, how we will engage the prevailing blue collar community who’re mainly engaged in menial tasks, there it’s a big Portuguese minority who don’t even speak French or Luxembourgish. So there are huge multilingual and multicultural problems we face when we want to develop plans to engage with them in co-design and coproduction of knowledge. Of course, then how to design for the scalability of any project with other actors in the greater region, I think we will do it, but it will be like a step-by-step start small, build bigger process, get one actor on board after the other, when you reach beyond your first planning parameter.
We have a tool, now Professor Ueta mentioned the centrality of education. So, actually our sustainability office developed a new study program. It’s the certificate in sustainability and social innovation. It’s unique at our university, because we actually target not only students from all degree programs can enroll, no matter at what level of final bachelors or masters or PhD students, but we also target professionals. So, our goal is to have as mixed and diverse learning communities as possible in terms of participants in the certificate.
The goal is to equip citizens, professionals, and scientists for engagement in sustainability science as I just described it. And we conceive learning across several levels of social organization. So, we equip for individual reflective learning. Everybody who’s engaged keeps a reflective diary on presentations by experts and discussions, controversial discussions, what has bothered me most today? What question really disturbed me? Those are questions or what impressed me? What surprised me? Peer group projects transform ourselves and the environment. So, we have problem based learning in there. So, we have two core courses as well as a practical project.
We also open up many of our lectures to the general public. So, we create a societal platform to deliberate on key questions of social and technological change. One of our most popular lectures is on growth. Does it make sense? Economic growth. But we also have people from the European institutions who are really glad to be part. And we always want to keep transformative learning in the full front that we always question our own assumptions and prejudices that we try to listen as openly as possible, and that we always reflect upon, how do we know what are the relevant facts? Why should we accept their advice? What is relevant in terms of global technological choices for our situation, here? How can we mediate between global and local? How can we take account of divergent expertise and interests? And how to manage complexities emerging from global and local interdependencies and interconnection of material and social worlds conflicts intentions?
So, competences for sustainability are very classical. They are outlined everywhere. We have taken on collaborative systems thinking. So, complex systems, how do environment, society, and economy interact? Collaborative seeing the future and development of shared visions that can shift the system, as well as normative and strategic competencies to identify leverage points for change and then act upon them and get implementation.
We have different types of peer group projects. We’re interested in changing forms of ownership in society, such as renewable energy systems. So, we have one peer group this year working on energy cooperatives for Luxembourg and building models for business plans for citizens to jointly invest into making renewable energy. This is important as our monopolist energy providers somehow are dragging their feet. Luxembourg is only at 3% of renewable energies of all energy used.
Similarly in the housing sector, affordable housing is a huge problem. So, our peer group-another peer group works on developing business, models for social housing, socially sustainable housing cooperatives. Again, shared ownership, a transition to- an economy of more sharing and recycling and reuse. So, we’re also developing a business model for a furniture platform. And for campus, one of the last peer groups was charged with the task let us avoid bottled water, and plastic beakers, terrible logistics, and pollution. And so, they have identified a Dutch non-governmental organization that produces designer taps for tap water, and the proceeds of which go directly into projects to make more accessible drinking water in Africa and Bangladesh. So, this is one of my favorite projects of change here will allow change there.
In essence, there are many, many possibilities and many approaches all over the world to change the curriculum of higher education and think of integrating sustainability science. So you could embed them in an existing disciplinary study programs or you could develop causes that are as a separate unit, or you could design masters and specialization programs, we didn’t want that. We wanted something that can be done part time, because we believe it’s for competent citizens and reflective professionals. So, we don’t want this to be considered as specialization. We think it’s for everyone.
But there are huge challenges of change at universities. I think I could develop this program because our university is brand new. It’s 2003. It’s not old and stagnant. So, faculty openness to transformative learning through collective inquiry is a challenge, not everybody thinks the same as we do. Diversity of methods. So, we need capacity building for integrative scholarship and asking the difficult questions that might challenge the identity of an expert. The role of science for transformative social learning. So, science is on tap with collective framing wise together with citizens, it’s not on top. So, how many researchers are prepared not to be the only ones to decide what they will be working on, challenge, incentive and rewards and career structures at university at the moment going against us. So, this is another aspect that requires real change. And we’re not the only ones saying so. Otherwise we will not be in a good position to face the complex challenges of the 21st century with accelerating global change.
Overall conclusion, sustainability science has a key role to play. Processes and environments for transformative social learning benefit from co-design by the communities they are to serve, careful co-design of social systems and structures provides a starting point, but should accommodate changing boundaries and emergence of new knowledge and structures. And there are tradeoffs between openness, flexibility, scalability, and guarantees of commitments and time resources that need to be managed. And those are experienced by everyone who engages in these processes. And if you’re interested to learn more about these particular aspects, some of these are already mentioned in our book.
But just to leave you with a question, is all of this enough to get us to a change where we need to go with our industrial metabolism?
Thank you for your attention.