How to get to sustainable futures? A start of an interdisciplinary dialogue on collective behaviour change


Tanja Suni, Future Earth Finland, European Alliance of Global Change Research Committees

More than forty scientists came together to ask the question: how, why and when does collective behaviour change towards sustainability? KLASICA, the international alliance on Knowledge, Learning, and Societal Change, met after many years of preparatory work at IASS in Potsdam to discuss the best ways to approach this crucial question. The three days revealed a number of important links between KLASICA and Future Earth.

Prof Ilan Chabay, KLASICA chair, Stefan Schäfer, program lead of Emerging Technologies and Social Transformations (ETST), and Angela Borowski, project coordinator for KLASICA, organised a workshop for the diverse KLASICA community on 7-9 February at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, Germany. The foundations for KLASICA were laid already in 2007 as a response to a call for consideration of social learning in the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP). Since then, the growing KLASICA community has explored what is social about learning and what is the role of learning in the gap between knowledge and action.

KLASICA is the international knowledge, learning, and societal change research and action alliance. It is a mechanism for seeking to understand the processes that support collective decisions, behaviours and practices towards just, equitable, and sustainable futures in diverse, local contexts. Although an extensive and growing body of scientific information exists about the rapid global changes that impose critical challenges on societies, there are many open questions about how societies and communities can and do respond. It is not only a matter of the necessity of avoiding the crossing of biophysical boundaries, but also about developing positive visions of change and identifying new opportunities. KLASICA addresses these central issues in the contexts of local, culturally appropriate perspectives and conditions and at multiple levels, sectors, and scales of society.

Three energetic days

In this KLASICA workshop, participants from social and natural sciences, arts, and humanities engaged in thinking together to build a portfolio of concepts, definitions, methods, and illuminating examples of collective behaviours and practices toward sustainable futures. The three days were first framed with five very short presentations, then filled with energetic discussion. Participants agreed that the need was clear and the time was right for just this kind of an initiative. The walls filled with post-it notes as ideas and suggestions flourished in general discussion and in many small-group talks about the themes, analytical methods, organizational options, and desired outcomes and impacts of KLASICA. The output of the workshop becomes the basis for organising and analysing case studies on collective behaviour change for sustainability symposia, the first of which is being planned for Taiwan, November 2016.

Links to Future Earth

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KLASICA is Future Earth in action: a bottom-up, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary take on one of the key questions on the way towards sustainability: what makes people, institutions, and social systems - viewed as collectives, rather than as the incoherent sum of individual behaviours or practices - change their ways or resist the change? The way KLASICA approaches these questions resonates strongly with Future Earth: an emphasis on solutions, an interdisciplinary approach, and co-design of research questions with relevant stakeholders are all key elements of KLASICA work. In addition, the project aims to connect many, even surprising, communities to offer diverse viewpoints and knowledge: KLASICA includes and draws upon multiple knowledge systems, local, traditional, and formal - the latter including pedagogy, psychology, action research, political sciences, and art, to name just a few. Collective behaviour change is crucial for many other Future Earth activities such as for the cluster initiative Extreme events and environments – from climate to society (E3S), and KLASICA is ready to collaborate with them.

On the way to Taiwan

The meeting ended with a show of hands for potential members of a scientific team to plan a first case study symposium in November in Taiwan. There was no shortage of volunteers from different disciplines and networks, Future Earth included. The massive amount of material from this high-level workshop now becomes the basis for structuring and analysing case studies of collective change in the contexts of sustainability. During 2016, KLASICA will embrace the multitude of views and approaches presented in Potsdam and build on them in a dynamic process of refining research questions for case studies. The Taiwan symposium will then be a first milestone in what will clearly be a key initiative for the Future Earth community. Journal articles, books, media, and further workshops and symposia will ensue during its lifetime.

For more information, contact

Prof Ilan Chabay
Professor and Senior Advisor for Global Sustainability Research at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies, Potsdam, Germany


See also:

How Can We Encourage Collective Behaviour Change towards Sustainable Futures? Experts Develop New Approaches

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