The SCNAT Sustainability Research Initiative organised an online session at the Sustainability Research + Innovation Congress 2023 (SRI 2023) on 27 June, 15:30 - 17:30 CEST. The central objective of this dialogue session was to learn from experiences on how large integrated research programmes designed to support societal transformation can be shaped.
- Peter Messerli (Wyss Academy for Nature)
- Katsia Paulavets (International Science Council)
- Albert van Jaarsveld (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis)
- Daniela Jacob (Future Earth Germany)
- Matthias Noellenburg (Volkswagen Stiftung)
The research community has a major role to play in providing the ideas and expert knowledge needed to meet the challenges of climate change and sustainable development. However, most universities and research institutes are not well positioned to undertake the kind of research that is needed. The reasons are manifold and include predominantly disciplinary structures, absence of relevant bridging disciplines, limited experience with transdisciplinary approaches, research that is dominated by the three-year doctoral cycle and incentive systems that place greater value upon academic publication than on societal relevance.
An urgent question, therefore, is how the academic system can be transformed to make it more responsive to the needs of society and decision makers. One promising mechanism is to establish large, integrated research programmes designed to support societal change towards greater sustainability. Such ‘lighthouse programmes’ would be highly interdisciplinary and, to ensure adequate disciplinary coverage, would usually involve scientists from several universities and research institutions. In addition to providing actionable knowledge for decision makers, an important objective of lighthouse programmes would be to strengthen the research base for sustainability science and encourage change in the research system itself.
The central objective of this dialogue session was to learn from experiences on how large integrated research programmes designed to support societal transformation can be shaped. Its purpose was to share insights from an ongoing project on lighthouse programmes and to encourage session participants to stimulate development of similar programmes at their own institutions.
After a short introduction by the session organisers Peter Edwards and Gabriela Wülser, five guest speakers held brief 3–5-minute presentations on existing large, overarching research programmes that they have experience with. In the following moderated discussion, the speakers/panellists were asked to reply to the following questions:
- What should be the essential components of lighthouse programmes?
- How can programmes be designed to ensure societal relevance and legitimacy?
- What must be done to create an enabling environment for such research in universities?
In the last 20 minutes, the discussion was opened to the audience, enabling participants from around the world to consider these questions and describe their own experiences in designing research aimed at supporting societal transformation.
Gabriela Wülser and Peter Edwards (Sustainability Research Initiative, Swiss Academy of Sciences SCNAT)
Dr. Gabriela Wülser
Steering Committee Sustainability Research
House of Academies