Starting the Transformation

On the 12th and 13th of December the inauguration of the Robert Bosch Graduate School was held at the Faculty of Sustainability. Curated by research coordinator Lydia Kater-Wettstädt and spokesperson Matthias Barth, the event was an opportunity for professors, PhD students, funders and partners to get together for a joint kick-start of this inspiring project. The day-and-a-half event was a packed yet balanced programme, with opportunities for the PhDs to present their work, some riveting talks from transformation pioneers and lots of networking. Here´s an overview of what happened.

The talks

The first guest was Matthias Bergmann, from the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE), who walked us through the ISOE´s framework for conducting integrative transdisciplinary research; a useful guideline for the balancing act between scientific rigor and societal relevance – a conundrum that every transdisciplinary researcher must grapple with. Bergmann urged the young team to develop a common research question before diving into individual study cases. And please, be bold and daring, “make the research group a project of your generation”.

Katrin Rehak-Nitsche, director of the Science department of the Robert Bosch Foundation, gave us an insight as to how and why the project is being financed. Her talk had such an effect on me I found myself secretly promising only to buy Bosch appliances from now on – and I don’t think I was the only one. What a privilege it is to be funded by an organisation aligned with our personal and most idealistic values.

Per Olsson, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, had been asked to share some thoughts as a “critical friend”. Per generously shared valuable lessons-learnt from the Resilience Centre. For instance; scaling up versus scaling deep. How do we “scale-up” without losing the core values and original meaning of a study case? Rather than answers, we were given questions to enrich the quality of our research.

Maja Göpel closed the event with a dive into transformation. Amongst a wealth of images and terms to start articulating this slippery term, were “heroic humbleness”, and “types of literacy” (ecological, institutional, human and future literacies). But what most resonated with me was the golden nugget of purpose as a reference point for sustainability transformations – not competitiveness, not problem-framing, but purpose. And it turns out purpose is also the recipe for keeping the passion burning throughout a PhD.

Such and more where the pearls of wisdom that were dished out throughout event, with valuable contributions from the Leuphana team (Daniel Lang, who I have neglected to mention, made multiple appearances).

The mingling

In between the talks, the PhD group also got to share their incipient work — two months into the project — in the form of an interactive Poster session (check them out here!) organised by the students themselves. The posters conveyed the wide range of approaches within the group, from governance to chemistry, communication to entrepreneurship – exploring the two keystone topics of the project: food and textiles — under the umbrella of transformation. To sum up; two topics, six research institutes, ten study cases, and two meta-studies to integrate the whole process. The poster session also included contributions from other PhD students from the faculty of sustainability. And there were more opportunities to mingle. During a fast-paced, close-knit, speed-dating session, we engaged in candid conversations with partner universities and research institutions from Tokio, Barcleona, Maastricht, and closer to home, conversations that would be carried into the animated conference dinner.

And more

The event also took advantage of Leuphana´s buzzing transdisciplinary research landscape. A panel discussion with representatives from Lüneburg 2030, where students, citizens and city council are designing a sustainable future for the town. Presentations from entrepreneurial ventures WirGarten Lüneburg and Melawear; the former a bottom-up market gardening project aimed at providing learning experiences for the local community; the latter a fair-trade clothing shop aimed at introducing cradle-to-cradle sustainability to the global textile market. Two contrasting business models which proved that there is no one-way to go about sustainability transformations. And while funders and project leaders discussed next steps behind closed doors, students got some insider-tips from researchers at the Faculty´s model-projects. From Leverage Points the importance of casting a “me-we” balance when it comes to collaborative publishing, and from Educating Future Change Agents, an invitation to look into our future career and discuss the challenges of post-doc life.

It was a rich programme of new input, faces and relationships. I suspect the experience will continue to feed our thoughts in the months to come as we move forward with our PhDs. Thank you to those of you who were present and have made the event possible, and a warm welcome to those of you who are tuning in now. We are excited about the partnerships posed to flourish into exciting research stays and study cases, and look forward to sharing our journey with all of you over the next three years.

To start this journey, have a look at my colleagues’ thoughts and Let’s Make the Connections!, because one of the main reasons we are working in this field is that It’s All About the People.

Sadhbh Juárez Bourke

Sadhbh studied Environmental Governance at the University of Freiburg and is co-founder of the Freiburg Scientific Theatre e.V.. Within Processes for Sustainability Transformations, she is adapting methods from Paulo Freire´s critical pedagogy and Augusto Boal´s “Theatre of the Oppressed” to transdisciplinary research from an action-research perspective. With the research group as her study case, she is one of the two PhDs conducting Formative Accompanying Research to promote integration of different types of knowledge. Learn more about Sadhbh's PhD project!

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