Background and research question
Severe environmental problems seem to require a substantial and near-term shift towards greater sustainability in our production and consumption patterns. While many individual initiatives already exist in practice, comprehensive governance approaches targeted towards substantial transformations of whole socio-technical systems are lacking. In this respect, there is a great public need for systemically oriented and field-proven recommendations for forms of (more) successful governance of transformation processes.
Amongst other conclusions, the following research questions can be derived from this need:
What, in practical terms, does the interplay of politics and civil society mean with regard to the initiation and governance of transformations? How can a participatory development of ambitious visions and measures be shaped concretely? How can political and public opposition and the interests relating to the status quo be handled?
The overall objective of the project is the development and testing of a heuristic, and the drafting of a manual planned as an E-Book to support practitioners in contributing to the initiation and in actively shaping socio-ecological transfor¬mation processes.
Project stages and areas of application
The project consists of two phases. In the first, the already existing outline of the governance model is further developed. On the one hand, the heuristic presents relevant elements of existing socio-technical systems in order to properly analyze them, like prevailing values and guiding principles, policy instruments, institutions and material infrastructures. On the other hand, it shall describe elements of a governance strategy such as participation and conflict management. It is based on a comprehensive literature review, as well as on the evaluation of historical transformations. Furthermore, first findings from the second phase of the project are incorporated.
This second phase involves the testing of the model in the three fields of application:
- Paperless publishing and reading of E-books and E-newspapers, as well as paperless office: The societal objectives on this technology-related and market-driven transfor¬mation which started more than a decade ago tend to be rather vague (less consumption of paper, less electronic waste thanks to durable readers designed for the future). Moreover, to some extent, the stance taken towards e-books and e-news¬papers has been a very conservative and skeptical one.
- Wide use of e-bikes in urban and regional transportation: Overall, a clear shift in mobility patterns from car use to e-bikes could make a major contribution to attaining the societal goals that can be clearly defined in this case. Resulting from obstacles on various levels, however, the technical development alone is not expected to lead to a transformation in the foreseeable future.
- Sustainable production and consumption of meat: In this area, public objectives are related to health and climate policy; with a view to paving the way to transformation, however, no comprehensive sufficiency strategy could be identified. While individual initiatives have been taken, there are also significant conflicts and opposition (see debate on Veggie Day).
The implementation of the project is conducted in a transdisciplinary approach, in collaboration with various practice actors. These stakeholders and action groups play an important role in the testing carried out in the three fields of application, and will be involved in the develop¬ment of the governance model. In addition to the independent work on individual work packages, practice actors will take part in various workshops, in which the objectives and the design of initiatives to be put into practice will be discussed. In addition, a project conference will be convened once a year, where the status attained in the three specific application fields will be reported on. The findings gained there will then be reflected at an overarching level.
The testing in three areas of application ensures that lessons learned in the scope of the project can be directly translated into practice. Practical implementation is enhanced by informing the relevant stakeholders directly of the results obtained.
Carl-Otto Gensch, Öko-Institut e.V.