This blog by Anjula Gurtoo summarizes issues raised during a break-out group on research/policy/action at the Transformations to Sustainability mid-term workshop, which took place virtually in June 2020. Find out more about the meeting and see all related content here.
The quest for better understanding of societal transformations and the search for ways to foster and accelerate transformations towards a sustainable future were central to the break-out discussion on practice, policy and action. Working towards transformation requires pushing boundaries and going beyond the obvious. Challenging current conceptions of transformations and generating new ones becomes a significant pursuit. The value of sustainability, techniques of system change and realignment of political perceptions are some of the core elements of the pursuit.
Transformative actions require ground-based approaches. Ground-based approaches facilitate context-specific adjustments to the research process, making the interventions more relevant and effective. Several projects of the T2S programme use ground-based approaches, demonstrating flexibility of design and reduced technical risk. The approach, however, has the possibility of uncovering other needs which may appear more critical, disrupting the planned interventions. Following international standards and protocols provides some support in framing the new needs. For example, the IPACST project takes the established model of SDGs to study the role of intellectual property in sustainability. Similarly, the H2O-T2S project establishes an academically driven framework to look at the complexity of water in urban and peri-urban areas. However, the challenge of relevance and validation of the planned effort becomes a critical dilemma.
The role of stakeholder engagement, therefore, cannot be overemphasized. Stakeholder dialogues, direct consultations, stakeholder-led data generation processes, and co-production of knowledge are some of the main forms of engagement used by the T2S programme projects. Engagement with the community leads to realignment of information and overall perceptions, in turn facilitating adjustments and supporting effective transitions. The pathways to transition therefore actively include the voices of the ignored and excluded. Stakeholder involvement enables the projects to identify and address project concerns as well, thereby reducing deadlocks.
Policy dialogues form another type of practice and action that can lead to sustainable societal transformations. Some of the guiding questions followed by the projects include: how do local policies address the issues of governance and sustainability; what kinds of policies facilitate basic security of food, water and sanitation; and what kind of policy dialogues can accelerate pathways to transformation? However, policy dialogues don’t have a clear definition and may be considered as privileging dominant voices and perspectives. They are deliberative processes focused on a policy issue and contribute to structuring discussions. The active participation of ordinary citizens, vulnerable populations and unheard communities makes these dialogues worthwhile. However, political sensitivities and political challenges hinder this effort. The other challenges raised by the participants in the break-out group include: lack of evidence-based policy discussions, possible entry points for policy dialogue processes, integration into policy-making process and stewardship of the policy process.
What other ways and methods will make the transformation towards sustainability more effective and inclusive? Some other techniques and practices of systematic change discussed in the group include assessment and scalability, interlinking and realignment, and data-driven research. Assessments are used to measure patterns and the degree to which the patterns can be used for transformational scalability. Scalability analysis explores, judiciously, the interventions needed for larger patterns of transformations to emerge. The interventions could be stakeholder engagement, policy dialogues or ground-level actions. Interlinking and realignment does a holistic analysis of all the actors and chains within an ecosystem to align the structural elements towards sustainable social transformations. With these handles and techniques of change, the group discussed the importance of alignments within and among the structural elements. The discussions concluded with pointing out the need to challenge existing perspectives and conceptions.