Archived project

Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation

Goal: Understanding how changes in interconnected social-ecological systems facilitate the transformation to sustainability represents one of the key challenges of sustainability science. Drawing on insights from systems thinking and solution-oriented transdisciplinary research, this project will focus on hitherto under-recognized leverage points—system properties where a small shift can lead to fundamental changes in the system as a whole.

Leverage Points will focus on changes in relatively intractable, but potentially highly influential, system properties that could help to realign complex social-ecological systems to the normative goals of sustainability. Specifically, we will analyze three sustainability-relevant leverage points: (1) institutional dynamics (RESTRUCTURE); (2) human-environment interactions (RECONNECT); and (3) sustainability-related knowledge creation (RETHINK). The three leverage points will be studied individually and with regard to their interdependencies. Following in-depth conceptual work on the three leverage points, the project will conduct empirical research on two contrasting case study regions (Transylvania in Romania and Lower Saxony in Germany), focusing on two key themes of particular relevance to sustainability (food and energy). We will link the conceptual and empirical insights via two integrative and transdisciplinary place-based case studies (one in each study region) involving local stakeholders and decision-makers. Our genuinely inter- and transdisciplinary approach will contribute fundamental understanding to the field of sustainability science, and will identify new, concrete measures to improve sustainability outcomes.

The project is funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung, via the “Science for sustainable development” call, and is hosted by Leuphana University Lüneburg.

https://leveragepoints.org/

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Maraja Riechers
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Ecological degradation stemming from the paradigmatic pursuit of economic growth is well known. Transforming the current dominant economic discourse will be a great challenge of our time and one that can foster a transformation to a more sustainable state. Little research exists concerning perceptions of growth by individuals in rural areas. In this empirical study, we analysed 33 interviews from two rural communities in Northwest Germany through qualitative content analysis. Our results highlight four archetypical perceptions of economic growth: (1) growth as inherently positive, (2) growth as being self-evident and without alternatives, (3) growth as a systemic constraint, and (4) growth as critical and with negative consequences. Differing perceptions about five key themes within broader societal discourses shape the four archetypical perceptions. All four archetypes are characterized by a common perception of systemic constraints, a lack of concrete alternatives to the current economic system and a lack of individual and societal agency, showing a system that is locked into its current trajectory. The understanding of the consequences of growth, stemming from the knowledge of rural inhabitants, can lay the groundwork for future research on discourses of growth. We envision a strengthening of tangible alternatives to the dominant economic growth paradigm within and with the local communities as necessary for a sustainability transformation.
Daniela Peukert
added 2 research items
This paper elaborates on the question of how to design an epistemological foundation for problem-oriented, collaborative forms of research, such as transdisciplinary sustainability research. It picks up approaches of twentieth-century European philosophy to the concept of the problematic and design research. The problematic is explained as a historical epistemological effort. Design research shows parallels to the epistemological thinking of the problematic by contributing to a differentiation and historicity of knowledge and knowledge production itself. Designing is constituted by a nexus of conceptual thinking and creative making, and so designs are drafts themselves. We interweave the thinking of the problematic with the practice of designing in order to open an epistemological perspective in and for transdisciplinary sustainability research. We call this a ‘thinking practice of problematic designing,’ which describes an epistemological tool as well as a transformative process. Problematic designing is characterized by always being in the making – its designs can grow beyond their conditions of production. By opening up manifold dimensions of transformation, this epistemological approach is oriented towards complexity, enabling the generation of sound and future-relevant knowledge.
This paper provides insights into the practice of design-based interventions in transdisciplinary research and demonstrates how design prototyping can be made fruitful in processes of transformation and collaborative knowledge production. It shows how heterogeneous perspectives and stocks of knowledge can be related to each other and moments of integration generated by working with conceptual designs. Due to their open character, design methods are discussed as particularly promising when dealing with a high degree of complexity, uncertainties, and unknowns. After a characterization of design research and prototyping, common strategies of design research and transdisciplinary research for addressing heterogeneity and unknowns will be explored. This serves to frame the transfer of design practices to support integration processes in transdisciplinary teams. Using an example from a transdisciplinary case study in Transylvania, the implementation of design prototyping will be demonstrated and initial findings presented. Different integration dimensions from transdisciplinary sustainability research serve as a basis for investigating the epistemic, social-organizational, and communicative integration performance of design prototyping. For transdisciplinary research, design practice expands the methodical canon for working in heterogeneous teams and tackling uncertainty and unknowns in openness.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
The promise of co-production to address complex sustainability challenges is compelling. Yet, co-production, the collaborative weaving of research and practice, encompasses diverse aims, terminologies and practices, with poor clarity over their implications. To explore this diversity, we systematically mapped differences in how 32 initiatives from 6 continents co-produce diverse outcomes for the sustainable development of ecosystems at local to global scales. We found variation in their purpose for utilizing co-production, understanding of power, approach to politics and pathways to impact. A cluster analysis identified six modes of co-production: (1) researching solutions; (2) empowering voices; (3) brokering power; (4) reframing power; (5) navigating differences and (6) reframing agency. No mode is ideal; each holds unique potential to achieve particular outcomes, but also poses unique challenges and risks. Our analysis provides a heuristic tool for researchers and societal actors to critically explore this diversity and effectively navigate trade-offs when co-producing sustainability.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
1. Relational values recently emerged as a concept to comprehensively understand and communicate the many values of nature. Relational values can be defined as preferences and principles about human–nature relationships and focus both on human–nature connections and well as human–human connections. 2. Here, drawing on 819 face-to-face questionnaires, we analysed relational, intrinsic and instrumental values across a total of six agricultural landscapes in Transylvania (Romania) and Lower Saxony (Germany). The landscapes described a gradient of land use intensity, within and across the countries. 3. Our results suggest a bundling of values into four groups: those concerned with individual cognition (including intrinsic values), those that focus on nature as a place for social interaction and relaxation, those that capture cultural identity and spiritual values and one bundle that only includes instrumental values. 4. These different values, in turn, were strongly related to (a) respondents’ attitudes towards environmental conservation and the (b) frequency with which respondents used nature as a resource. 5. Instrumental values have the tendency to be inversely related to relational values and were found to increase with the land use intensity of the focal landscapes.
David P. M. Lam
added 2 research items
ABSTRACT Indigenous peoples are key actors for environmental management because they hold valuable indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) for the sustainable stewardship of nature. However, the consideration of ILK in environmental management is still limited. We explore how environmen- tal government institutions in Colombia have involved indigenous communities in 2212 environ- mental management projects between 2004 and 2015. Only 1% of these projects involved indigenous peoples as main actors. We applied the Leverage Points (LP) perspective in a content analysis to identify ‘where’ and ‘how’ these projects promote transformative changes within indigenous territories. Moreover, we investigated the interactions between projects targeting shallow and deep LP using cluster analysis. Our results show that these projects mainly seek to improve the well-being of indigenous peoples and consider ILK in their interventions, which suggests changes in deep LP. Additionally, these projects usually combined interventions targeting both shallow and deep LP while using ILK to improve environmental management practices (e.g., Life Plans) and developing participatory land-use planning in the indigenous territories. We argue that the involvement of ILK in environmental management can lead to stronger human–nature connectedness and thus to more successful conservation policies. However, this involvement is still at an early stage in Colombia.
Sustainability transformations research increasingly recognizes the importance of local actors and their networks to foster fundamental societal change. Local actors have different types of relations between each other (e.g., sharing material resources, giving advice) through which they jointly intervene in different system characteristics. We conducted social network analyses of 32 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who drive initiatives to foster sustainability in Southern Transylvania, Romania. In so doing, we applied a leverage points perspective by differentiating between relations according to the system characteristic they address, such as the parameters, feedbacks, design and intent of the system. Additionally, we tested for differences of centrality metrics (i.e., weighted degree, betweenness, eigenvector) from NGOs that conduct different actions (i.e., amplification processes) to increase the impact of their sustainability initiatives. Our results reveal several NGOs that have central positions in their networks for intervening in both shallower (i.e., parameters and feedbacks) and deeper (i.e., design and intent of a system) system characteristics. We also identified NGOs that are only central for intervening in specific system characteristics. In addition, we found that specific groups of amplification processes (i.e., amplifying within and out) are associated with the NGOs’ positions in the parameters, feedbacks, and design networks. We conclude that the leverage points perspective in social network analysis has the potential to identify key actors and shed light on the attributes of local actors for intervening in shallower and deeper system characteristics to foster sustainability transformations.
Julia Leventon
added 2 research items
In this paper, we argue that leveraging plural values into action for biodiversity requires a focus on transforming the biodiversity governance system. We draw on Donella Meadows’ concept of Leverage Points, which outlines the “depth” of intervention in order to shift a system toward sustainability. Engaging with deep leverage points (system intent and goals) is argued to lead to greater transformation than engaging with shallow leverage points (system design and materials). We outline how embracing plural values of biodiversity requires changes at deeper systems properties within governance systems to create space to reflect diversity in values and knowledge systems, and move away from a focus on commodification of nature’s contributions to people. We point toward political and policy sciences to highlight frameworks and concepts for understanding governance system transformation. We conclude with a call for meaningful engagement with such sciences in ongoing research.
The concept of leverage points offers great potential to consider how we can intervene in systems to create transformations for sustainability. In this special issue, we draw together a diverse collection of research that engages with this central idea. The papers cover three broad topics: (1) the use of a ‘leverage points lens’ for systems framings and understandings; (2) how individual interventions can be understood and critiqued from a leverage points perspective; and (3) the implications of a leverage points approach for research practice and action. Across these topics, we present the papers, and embed them within current critical debate in sustainability science. In doing so, we produce nine guiding questions to shape the research and practice of leverage points for sustainability transformation. These nine questions introduce conceptual clarity to untangle some of the deeper questions around which system we are engaging with, whose system counts, and whose sustainability we are seeking to create. They further shape how we deliver a leverage points research practice. We intend, therefore, that our guiding questions open up exploration across systems and worldviews, and help us to dance with systems.
Christian Dorninger
added a research item
Land-use activities are increasingly globalized and industrialized. While this contributes to a reduction of pressure on domestic ecosystems in some regions, spillover effects from these processes represent potential obstacles for global sustainable land-use. This contribution scrutinizes the complex global resource nexus of national land-use intensity, international trade of biomass goods, and resource footprints in land-use systems. Via a systematic account of the global human appropriation of net primary production (HANPP) and input–output modelling, we demonstrate that with growing income countries reduce their reliance on local renewable resources, while simultaneously consuming more biomass goods produced in other countries requiring higher energy and material inputs. The characteristic 'outsourcing' country appropriates 43% of its domestic net primary production, but net-imports a similar amount (64 gigajoules per capita and year) from other countries and requires energy (11 GJ/cap/yr) and material (~400 kg/cap/yr) inputs four to five times higher as the majority of the global population to sustain domestic land-use intensification. This growing societal disconnect from domestic ecological productivity enables a domestic conservation of ecosystems while satisfying growing demand. However, it does not imply a global decoupling of biomass consumption from resource and land requirements.
Jens Newig
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en Most efforts at explaining major policy transformation apply a single lens to study specific cases. Recent contributions have called for a more plural use of theories to facilitate the production of valuable new perspectives and research agendas. The German energy transition is a good example of such a transformative change. This article takes up the call for cross-fertilization of theories, using two complementary lenses to explain the German energy transition: (i) applying the multiple streams framework (MSF) demonstrates how political factors and public opinion have opened a “policy window” for reform from a political dimension. (ii) The multilevel perspective on sustainability transitions (MLP) sheds more light on the importance technological innovation for transformation processes. Exemplified through the German energy transition, we highlight limitations of both lenses, as well as the value of using multiple lenses to analyze specific cases of major policy change. The MSF highlights the role of agency and power relations. The MLP demonstrates how niche-technologies uproot the incumbent regime. Employing both lenses together offers insights as to how major policy change goes beyond single instances of decision-making but is the product of a larger trajectory of path-dependence that emerges from the interplay of socio-technical and political dynamics. 摘要 zh 大多数解释重大政策转型的研究都采用单一视角研究特定案例。近期研究呼吁更多元的使用理论,以促进产生有价值的新视角和研究议程。德国能源转型则是这类转型变革的优秀例证。本文响应关于结合不同理论的呼吁,透过两个补充视角解释了德国能源转型:(i)应用多源流框架(MSF)证明政治因素和舆论如何为政治改革打开了“政策之窗”。(ii)可持续发展转型多层视角(MLP)聚焦于科技创新对转型过程的重要性。通过德国能源转型的证明,我们强调了这两个补充视角的局限性,以及使用多种视角分析重大政策变革案例的价值。MSF强调了能力和权力关系的作用。MLP证明了利基技术(nichetechnologies)如何颠覆现存制度。结合这两种视角并加以应用,解释了重大政策变革如何不仅仅是单个决策,而是更大的路径依赖轨迹的产物,它源于社会技术动态和政治动态之间的相互作用。 Resumen es La mayoría de los esfuerzos para explicar las grandes transformaciones de las políticas aplican una sola lente para estudiar casos específicos. Contribuciones recientes han pedido un uso más plural de las teorías para facilitar la producción de nuevas perspectivas y agendas de investigación valiosas. La transición energética alemana es un buen ejemplo de un cambio tan transformador. Este artículo retoma el llamado a la fertilización cruzada de teorías, utilizando dos lentes complementarios para explicar la transición energética alemana: (i) La aplicación del Marco de Flujos Múltiples (MSF) demuestra cómo los factores políticos y la opinión pública han abierto una 'ventana política' para r desde una dimensión política. (ii) La perspectiva multinivel sobre transiciones de sostenibilidad (MLP) arroja más luz sobre la importancia de la innovación tecnológica para los procesos de transformación. Ejemplificado a través de la transición energética alemana, destacamos las limitaciones de ambos lentes, así como el valor de usar múltiples lentes para analizar casos específicos de cambios políticos importantes. MSF destaca el papel de la agencia y las relaciones de poder. El MLP demuestra cómo las tecnologías de nicho desarraigan el régimen actual. El empleo de ambos lentes juntos ofrece una idea de cómo el cambio de política importante va más allá de instancias únicas de toma de decisiones, pero es el producto de una trayectoria más amplia de dependencia de la trayectoria que surge de la interacción de las dinámicas sociotécnicas y políticas.
Ioana Alexandra Duse
added a research item
This study explores the relationship between place attachment and energy conservation attitudes and behavioural intentions in the Pogány-havas microregion of Romania. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was used to examine three dimensions of place attachment: place identity, place dependence and nature bonding. While place attachment in the region is high, structural equation modelling (SEM) revealed negative links between place dependence and energy conservation attitudes and between place identity and behavioural intention. However, insignificant regression weights between the constructs suggest there are many unexplained factors that mediate the relationship between place attachment and energy attitudes and behavioural intentions in this region. These results suggest that future research on rural energy transitions should take a systemic perspective that includes additional constraints (e.g., material and structural) that may better explain how individuals develop energy attitudes and behaviours.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
This perspective paper synthesises the special issue ‘Human-nature connectedness as a leverage point for sustainability transformation’. Based on the articles in this special issue, we aim to foster the operationalisation of the leverage points perspective to shape human-nature relations to enable sustainability transformations. Specifically, we draw on four key advantages of the leverage points perspective: (i) the explicit recognition of deep leverage points; (ii) the ability to examine the interactions between shallow and deep system changes; (iii) the combination of causal and teleological modes of research; and (iv) the ability to function as a methodological boundary object. The contributions to this special issue revealed three deep leverage points addressing paradigm shifts in research and beyond: relational thinking and values, stewardship philosophy and shifting the economic growth paradigm to focus on human well-being. We highlight interlinkages between leverage points to further strengthen the transformative potential of interventions that aim at triggering shifts in our understanding about human-nature relations. Further, we show a way to bridge causal and teleological approaches by envisioning desired futures. Lastly, we emphasise the potential of arts-based methodologies, including participatory, transdisciplinary research to foster sustainability transformation and how this can be combined within the leverage points perspective.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
Landscape simplification is a worldwide phenomenon that impacts biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. Humans benefit greatly from nature's contributions to people in both material and immaterial ways, yet landscape simplification can undermine these contributions. Landscape simplification can have negative consequences, for example, for human-nature connectedness and other relational values. Major and rapid land-use change, together with a declining appreciation of nature by individuals and societies, in turn, could cause a downward spiral of disconnections. Our empirical research combined a comprehensive assessment of five dimensions of human-nature connectedness with the lens of relational values to assess how these are influenced by landscape simplification. Focusing on two rural landscapes with differing agricultural development in Lower Saxony (Germany), we conducted 34 problem-centred interviews. We found that landscape simplification, especially if rapid, negatively influenced human-nature connectedness and particular relational values such as social relations , social cohesion or cultural identity. We postulate that human-nature connectedness might have a balancing influence on preserving relational values, buffering negative impacts of landscape simplification. Losing connections to nature could potentially foster conflicts among actors with different values. We conclude that combining the notions of human-nature connectedness and relational values can generate valuable insights and may help to uncover new ways to foster sustainability.
Cristina I. Apetrei
added a research item
Knowledge is a vital resource for both understanding and addressing pressing social–ecological challenges of our time. Sustainability scientists have thus increasingly turned their attention to the role and relevance of knowledge for societal change. However, as identified in this study, the research landscape is very broad and fragmented, with little convergence on definitions between scholarly communities. We comprehensively map knowledge-related concepts and their uses in sustainability science, while eliciting points of agreement and controversy across bodies of literature. Clarifying terminology is a first step towards better empirical science and theory building, and ultimately enhances our ability to leverage knowledge for action and decision–making. Our analysis also suggests five entry points to thinking about knowledge in sustainability science: (1) knowledge as system; (2) as entity, or (3) as process; (4) knowledge for and through learning; and (5) knowledge at interfaces. We discuss how, taken together, these perspectives can contribute to a better understanding of the multiple ways in which knowledge can serve sustainability.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
Despite an increasing understanding of the issue of marine pollution, humanity continues on a largely unsus-tainable trajectory. This study aimed to identify and classify the range of scientific studies and interventions to address coastal and marine pollution. We reviewed 2417 scientific papers published between 2000 and 2018, 741 of which we analysed in depth. To classify pollution interventions, we applied the systems-oriented concept of leverage points, which focuses on places to intervene in complex systems to bring about systemic change. We found that pollution is largely studied as a technical problem and fewer studies engage with pollution as a systemic social-ecological issue. While recognising the importance of technical solutions, we highlight the need to focus on under-researched areas pertaining to the deeper drivers of pollution (e.g. institutions, values) which are needed to fundamentally alter system trajectories.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
Despite concerted efforts, achieving the goal of universal food security remains challenging. Food security interventions occur at different levels of systemic depth. Some interventions target visible supply-side gaps, while others focus on deeper systemic problems in the food system. Here, we used a leverage points perspective to ask how multiple types of more superficial (shallow) and more fundamental (deep) interventions in the food system interact. Focusing on a case study in southwestern Ethiopia, we examined (1) recent changes in formal and informal institutions related to food security; (2) the effects of formal and informal institutions on the food system at different levels of systemic depth (i.e., on parameters, feedbacks, design, and intent); and (3) issues of institutional interplay between formal and informal institutions. We surveyed 150 rural households and analyzed key policy documents. Both formal and informal institutions were perceived to improve food security. However, at the intent level, formal institutions primarily aimed to enhance food supply, while informal institutions additionally sought to build trust among farmers. At the design level, formal interventions targeted information flow through a newly created agricultural extension system, while informal institutions facilitated labor sharing and communication. In terms of institutional interplay, new formal institutions had partly undermined pre-existing informal institutions. We conclude that both visible supply-side gaps and deeper drivers of food insecurity should be targeted through food security interventions. Interventions need to be cognizant of potentially unexpected ways of institutional interplay, especially between formal and informal institutions.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
Calls for a reconnection to nature and the biosphere have been growing louder over the last decades. Cultural landscapes are rapidly changing, posing a threat to ecosystems and biodiversity, but also to human–nature connections. Human–nature connectedness may be a potential lever to shift the unsustainable trajectory that we are currently proceeding, but is also negatively influenced by it. To concretize the call for a reconnection to nature, we used the leverage points perspective on five empirical case studies with focus on human–nature connectedness. Based on the synthesis of our yearlong work, in this perspective paper, we propose four leverage points to foster a sustainability transformation: (1) maintain and enhance the structural diversity of landscapes, (2) maintain and enhance economically and ecologically sustainable small-scale agriculture, (3) strengthen sense of place and (4) strengthen sense of agency in actors. Intervening in these leverage points could be effective to foster human–nature connectedness and ultimately contribute towards a sustainable trajectory. We further argue that the interconnection between leverage points is equally important as their systemic depth.
Rebecca Freeth
added a research item
Collaborative interdisciplinary research is on the rise but can be difficult and daunting. There is much to learn by studying the inner workings of collaboration, to the potential benefit of both science and technology studies (STS) and those who collaborate. We have been studying the inner workings of a collaborative interdisciplinary team using formative accompanying research (FAR). Assuming multiple insider-outsider vantage points implied adopting dynamic positionality in relation to the team. In this article, we outline an approach to navigating positionality based on these research experiences. Navigation is aided by identifying learning orientations to a collaborative team, to learn about, with or for the team; and by adopting practices and principles to balance i) observation and participation; ii) curiosity and care; and iii) impartiality and investment. We illustrate what we have learned so far, demonstrating how to apply these navigating instruments so that the skilful use of FAR positionality can advance the understanding and practice of collaborative interdisciplinary research.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
The United Nations (UN) recently declared 2021 to 2030 the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Against this background, we review recent social-ecological systems research and summarize key themes that could help to improve ecosystem restoration in dynamic social contexts. The themes relate to resilience and adaptability, ecosystem stewardship and navigation of change, relational values, the coevolution of human and ecological systems, long-range social-ecological connections, and leverage points for transformation. We recommend two cross-cutting new research foci; namely: (i) post hoc cross-sectional assessments of social-ecological restoration projects; and (ii) transdisciplinary social-ecological 'living labs' that accompany new restoration projects as they unfold. With global agendas increasingly taking a social-ecological perspective, the recasting of ecosystem restoration as a social-ecological endeavor offers exciting new opportunities for both research and practice.
Christian Dorninger
added a research item
Ecologically unequal exchange theory posits asymmetric net flows of biophysical resources from poorer to richer countries. To date, empirical evidence to support this theoretical notion as a systemic aspect of the global economy is largely lacking. Through environmentally-extended multi-regional input-output modelling, we provide empirical evidence for ecologically unequal exchange as a persistent feature of the global economy from 1990 to 2015. We identify the regions of origin and final consumption for four resource groups: materials, energy, land, and labor. By comparing the monetary exchange value of resources embodied in trade, we find significant international disparities in how resource provision is compensated. Value added per ton of raw material embodied in exports is 11 times higher in high-income countries than in those with the lowest income, and 28 times higher per unit of embodied labor. With the exception of embodied land for China and India, all other world regions serve as net exporters of all types of embodied resources to high-income countries across the 1990-2015 time period. On aggregate, ecologically unequal exchange allows high-income countries to simultaneously appropriate resources and to generate a monetary surplus through international trade. This has far-reaching implications for global sustainability and for the economic growth prospects of nations.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
Human–nature connectedness is hailed as a potential remedy for the current sustainability crisis, yet it is also deeply affected by it. Here, we perform a comprehensive assessment of human–nature connectedness that includes material, experiential, cognitive, emotional, and philosophical dimensions. We show that these dimensions of human–nature connectedness are strongly interlinked, especially via emotional and experiential connectedness. Our findings showcase a cross-country comparison of four focal landscapes in Transylvania, Romania and Lower Saxony, Germany, which represent gradients from minor and gradual to relatively major and rapid landscape change. Based on content analysis of 73 in-depth interviews, we show that landscape change was seen by the interviewees to have a strong, and often negative, influence on multiple dimensions of human–nature connectedness. Focusing only on isolated dimensions of human–nature connectedness could inadvertently exacerbate the sustainability crisis because unawareness about relationships between dimensions of connectedness may lead to false predictions regarding policy implications. © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by the Resilience Alliance.
David P. M. Lam
added 2 research items
Scholars, politicians, practitioners, and civil society increasingly call for sustainability transformations to cope with urgent social and environmental challenges. In sustainability transformations research, understandings of transformations are often dominated by Western scientific knowledge. Through a systematic literature review, we investigated how indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) is represented in peer-reviewed empirical scientific papers that apply ILK in contexts of transformation, transition, and change. Our results show, first, that all papers applied ILK to confirm and complement scientific knowledge in contexts of environmental, climate, social-ecological, and species change. Only four papers (5%) applied ILK to conduct research on transformations. Second, we identified four research clusters that apply ILK in contexts of transformation, transition, or change in (1) Arctic, (2) terrestrial, (3) coastal, and (4) grass and rangelands environments. These clusters are located along two axes: tropic to Arctic and marine to terrestrial. Finally, our results indicate that indigenous and local understandings of transformations are currently neglected in the scholarly transformations discourse. The reviewed papers do not focus on how indigenous peoples and local communities understand transformations, instead they focus on what changes indigenous peoples and local communities observe and describe, resulting from their daily experiences and activities. We argue that because of its in-depth local, place-based character, ILK can substantially contribute to a more plural understanding of transformations and the assessment of transformative change. We conclude that future research needs to investigate how to gain a more plural understanding of transformations that leads potentially to more inclusive actions toward more just, equitable, and sustainable futures on a local and global level.
Abstract Amplifying the impact of sustainability initiatives to foster transformations in urban and rural contexts, has received increasing attention in resilience, social innovation, and sustainability transitions research. We review the literature on amplification frameworks and propose an integrative typology of eight processes, which aim to increase the impact of such initiatives. The eight amplification processes are: stabilizing, speeding up, growing, replicating, transferring, spreading, scaling up, and scaling deep. We aggregated these processes into three categories: amplifying within, amplifying out, and amplifying beyond. This integrative typology aims to stimulate the debate on impact amplification from urban and rural sustainability initiatives across research areas to support sustainability transformations. We propose going beyond an understanding of amplification, which focuses only on the increase of numbers of sustainability initiatives, by considering how these initiatives create transformative change.
Maraja Riechers
added an update
A great paper combining red and green loops, missing feedbacks and the leverage points perspective lead by Jan-Claas Dajka :
 
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
ContextThe global trend of landscape simplification for industrial agriculture is known to cause losses in biodiversity and ecosystem service diversity. Despite these problems being widely known, status quo trajectories driven by global economic growth and changing diets continue to lead to further landscape simplification.Objectives In this perspective article, we argue that landscape simplification has negative consequences for a range of relational values, affecting the social-ecological relationships between people and nature, as well as the social relationships among people. A focus on relational values has been proposed to overcome the divide between intrinsic and instrumental values that people gain from nature.ResultsWe use a landscape sustainability science framing to examine the interconnections between ecological and social changes taking place in rural landscapes. We propose that increasingly rapid and extreme landscape simplification erodes human-nature connectedness, social relations, and the sense of agency of inhabitants—potentially to the point of severe erosion of relational values in extreme cases. We illustrate these hypothesized changes through four case studies from across the globe. Leaving the links between ecological, social-ecological and social dimensions of landscape change unattended could exacerbate disconnection from nature.ConclusionA relational values perspective can shed new light on managing and restoring landscapes. Landscape sustainability science is ideally placed as an integrative space that can connect relevant insights from landscape ecology and work on relational values. We see local agency as a likely key ingredient to landscape sustainability that should be actively fostered in conservation and restoration projects.
Ioana Andra Horcea-Milcu
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Although sustainability science and social-ecological systems research pursue very similar goals, i.e., generate problem- and solution-oriented knowledge to foster sustainability transformation, they partly apply different research approaches and use different key concepts. Our aim is to identify archetypes of sustainability transformation research derived for sustainability science and social-ecological systems research that make knowledge from the two research pathways more accessible to each other in order to foster transformation. To reach this goal, we applied a mixed method approach toward an archetype analysis, based on semantic networks and clusters. Our findings point out that the fields of sustainability science and social-ecological systems research are rather coherent and not so distinct as may be expected, especially in terms of normative goals and addressed topics. Our analysis inductively reveals four archetypes of sustainability transformation research, with thematic structures clustered around (1) environmental change and ecosystem services; (2) resilience and vulnerability; (3) knowledge production for sustainability; and (4) governance for sustainability. We describe how these archetypes interact and facilitate dialogue between the fields. When considering the two transformation research pathways from the perspective of the research mode of transdisciplinary research, their discourses appear more disconnected. To fill this gap, we uncover key concepts that can strengthen the connection of the two fields to inform and foster sustainability transformations. These concepts involve engaging with nonacademic actors and seeking impact in policy.
Christian Dorninger
added a research item
There is increasing recognition that sustainability science should be solutions orientated and that such solutions will often require transformative change. However, the concrete sustainability interventions are often not clearly communicated, especially when it comes to the transformative change being created. Using food and energy systems as illustrative examples we performed a quantitative systematic review of empirical research addressing sustainability interventions. We use a modified version of Donella Meadows' notion of ‘leverage points’ – places in complex systems where relatively small changes can lead to potentially transformative systemic changes – to classify different interventions according to their potential for system wide change and sustainability transformation. Our results indicate that the type of interventions studied in the literature are partially driven by research methods and problem framings and that ‘deep leverage points’ related to changing the system's rules, values and paradigms are rarely addressed. We propose that for initiating system wide transformative change, deep leverage points – the goals of a system, its intent, and rules – need to be addressed more directly. This, in turn, requires an explicit consideration of how scientific approaches shape and constrain our understanding of where we can intervene in complex systems.
David P. M. Lam
added a research item
Transformational research frameworks provide understanding and guidance for fostering change towards sustainability. They comprise stages of system understanding, visioning and co-designing intervention strategies to foster change. Guidance and empirical examples for how to facilitate the process of co-designing intervention strategies in real-world contexts remain scarce, especially with regard to integrating local initiatives. We suggest three principles to facilitate the process of co-designing intervention strategies that integrate local initiatives: (1) Explore existing and envisioned initiatives fostering change towards the desired future; (2) Frame the intervention strategy to bridge the gap between the present state and desired future state(s), building on, strengthening and complementing existing initiatives; (3) Identify drivers, barriers and potential leverage points for how to accelerate progress towards sustainability. We illustrate our approach via a case study on sustainable development in Southern Transylvania. We conclude that our principles were useful in the case study, especially with regards to integrating initiatives, and could also be applied in other real-world contexts.
Rebecca Freeth
added 2 research items
Academics are increasingly required to balance the expectations of the 'old' academy with a future model of universities as interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary 'problem solvers'. This paper highlights changing expectations of academics in producing alternative research outcomes in collaborative, practice-based research. Through a series of workshops with 20 researchers, preferred research outcomes and tensions in achieving these outcomes were identified. The tensions identified are presented as three dichotomies comprising the tension between: (a) 'I versus We'-individual versus team expectations & outcomes. (b) Disciplinary outcomes versus inter-/transdisciplinary outcomes. (c) Learning versus research objectives for the students and academics involved. These tensions reflect the authors' experiences of working in three international sustainability projects, drawing on lessons learned from these projects, with recommendations for universities seeking to implement interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary doctoral and postdoctoral programmes. Recommendations include the need for formal and informal leadership models, 2 | FAM et Al. strong communication skills, empathy and willingness to learn from each other. A need for more systemic changes within university administration to better reward and value the breadth and depth of collaborative work, while facilitating open learning cultures and practice-oriented learning opportunities and curricula across faculties was also identified.
In the context of continuing ecosystem degradation and deepening socio-economic inequality, sustainability scientists must question the adequacy of current scholarship and practice. We argue that pre-occupation with external phenomena and collective social structures has led to the neglect of people’s ‘inner worlds’—their emotions, thoughts, identities and beliefs. These lie at the heart of actions for sustainability, and have powerful transformative capacity for system change. The condition of people’s inner worlds ought to also be considered a dimension of sustainability itself. Compassion, empathy and generosity, for example, are personal characteristics that mark individual expressions of sustainability. Sustainability science must take inner life more seriously by considering how language shapes and is shaped by paradigms about the world, prioritising enquiry into how spirituality, contemplation and sustainability transformation relate, and encouraging scholars and practitioners to intentionally cultivate their inner worlds to strengthen inner resources necessary for addressing sustainability challenges.
Rebecca Freeth
added a research item
Collaborative interdisciplinary research is on the rise but can be difficult and daunting. There is much to learn by studying the inner workings of collaboration, to the potential benefit of both science and technology studies (STS) and those who collaborate. We have been studying the inner workings of a collaborative interdisciplinary team using formative accompanying research (FAR). Assuming multiple insider-outsider vantage points implied adopting dynamic positionality in relation to the team. In this article, we outline an approach to navigating positionality based on these research experiences. Navigation is aided by identifying learning orientations to a collaborative team, to learn about, with or for the team; and by adopting practices and principles to balance i) observation and participation; ii) curiosity and care; and iii) impartiality and investment. We illustrate what we have learned so far, demonstrating how to apply these navigating instruments so that the skilful use of FAR positionality can advance the understanding and practice of collaborative interdisciplinary research.
Maraja Riechers
added an update
We are happy to share our resently published paper based on the transdisciplinary case study in Oldenburg, Germany with you. This paper is just a small snap-shot of all the work Moritz Engbers and Insa Winkler (artecology network) have done and it captures the emotional responses of landscape changes through our Social Land Art collaboration. Even though it is a small and explorative paper - I hold it very dear as the process of this art project was very intense, honest and very engaging, especially when looking at a deep emotional human-nature connectedness.
 
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
Understanding emotions is necessary to analyse underlying motivations, values and drivers for behaviours. In landscapes that are rapidly changing, for example, due to land conversion for intensive agriculture, a sense of powerlessness of the inhabitants can be common, which may negatively influence their emotional bond to the landscape they are living in. To uncover varied emotional responses towards landscape change we used an innovative approach that combined transdisciplinary and artistic research in an intensively farmed landscape in Germany. In this project, we focused on the topic of favourite places in public spaces, and how change in such places was experienced. Drawing on workshops and interviews, we identified themes of externally driven societal and internal personal influences on the public favourite places. "Resilient" emotional responses towards landscape change showed a will to integrate the modifications, while "non-resilient" responses were characterised by frustration and despair. We argue that identifying emotions towards change can be valuable to strengthen adaptive capacity and to foster sustainability.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
This special issue is based on the great success of the Leverage Points 2019 conference at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, particular on its theme of human-nature connectedness. Leverage points are places in a system where relatively minor interventions can lead to relatively major changes. Inspired by the seminal paper by Donella Meadows (Places to intervene in a system, 1999) the proposed issue will focus on the relationship between humans and nature and how it can be used as a leverage point to foster sustainability. We invite contributions which present innovative and new ideas, concepts and methods, empirical case studies such as, but not limited to, the use of relational values, local indigenous knowledge, biocultural diversity, gender aspects, transdisciplinary and alternative science communication/arts-based approaches that increase human-nature connectedness. The relevance of findings for decision making and management is a crucial aspect as the leverage points perspective addresses intervention within a system. In line with the journal's scope, papers should discuss the implication of their research and highlight recommendations that are relevant for decision making and/or management. The guest editors welcome contributions from anyone involved or concerned with the connectedness between humans and nature. We particularly invite participants of the Leverage Points 2019 conference, young scholars and non-academic authors, as we aim at including a diverse group of authors from different backgrounds, disciplines and geographic origins. The special issue will be published open access, is targeted to a broad audience and is open to include different formats: research papers, review papers synthesizing current knowledge, perspectives, short communications and 'notes from the field', as well as letters to the editors. To ensure a high quality standard, this special issue will be limited to 12 papers.
Maraja Riechers
added an update
The notion of human-nature connectedness and specifically the idea of reconnecting people to nature are rapidly gaining prominence in sustainability science, conservation biology, environmental psychology and education. Scholars argue, for example, that an emotional and experiential connection with nature has many positive outcomes for human well-being, especially health or the cognitive development of children and pro-environmental behavior and may promote conservation initiatives of natural and cultural heritage.
Ignoring these effects could lead to a downward spiral of ever increasing disconnection of people and societies from nature, which may further exacerbate the global environmental crisis by enhancing un-sustainable behavior patterns. Based on this, scholars state a need for strengthening human connections with nature. Yet, many calls for such ‘reconnection’ lack concrete insights about what human-nature connection means and how it might be fostered.
In our special issue (https://think.taylorandfrancis.com/human-nature/#?utm_source=CPB&utm_medium=cms&utm_campaign=JOF10223%20) we would like to address the multi-dimensional complexity of human-nature connectedness and emphasize its implications for sustainable landscape management. We propose that human-nature connectedness (and related concepts such as nature relatedness, natures’ contribution to people, connectivity with nature etc.) have great potential to be a leverage point for sustainability transformation. Leverage points are places in a system where relatively minor interventions can lead to relatively major changes.
Inspired by the seminal paper by Donella Meadows (Places to intervene in a system, 1999) our proposed issue will focus on the relationship between humans and nature and how it can be used as a leverage point to foster sustainability. The relevance of findings for decision making and management is a crucial aspect as the leverage points perspective addresses intervention within a system.
This special issue is based on the great success of the Leverage Points 2019 conference at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, particular on its theme of human-nature connectedness. Hence, we welcome contributions from anyone involved or concerned with the connectedness between humans and nature. We particularly invite participants of the Leverage Points 2019 conference, young scholars and non-academic authors, as we aim at including a diverse group of authors from different backgrounds, disciplines and geographic origins.
We invite contributions which present innovative and new ideas, concepts and methods, empirical case studies such as, but not limited to:
· relational values
· local indigenous knowledge
· biocultural diversity
· gender aspects
· transdisciplinary, and
· alternative science communication/arts-based approaches
We are looking forward to receiving your contributions!
Ágnes Balázsi, Marina García Llorente, Jacqueline Loos, and Maraja Riechers
 
Maraja Riechers
added an update
Pim Derwort
added a research item
Although current literature on sustainability governance and institutions is preoccupied with innovation, novelty, success, and "best practice," there is an emergent tendency to consider decline and failure as opportunities and leverage points to work toward and to achieve sustainability. However, although failure, crisis, and decay have been treated extensively, the link toward their productive potential has remained underdeveloped in the literature. Using a systems perspective, we described five archetypical pathways through which crisis, failure, deliberate destabilization, and active management of decline may facilitate sustainability transformation through adaptation, learning, providing windows of opportunity, and informed choices regarding stability versus change. We sought to provide a basis for further conceptual and empirical inquiry by formulating archetypical pathways that link aspects of failure to productive functions in the sense of sustainability. We started out by describing five archetypical pathways and their conceptual underpinnings from a number of different literatures, including evolutionary economics, ecology, and institutional change. The pathways related to (1) crises triggering institutional adaptations toward sustainability, (2) systematic learning from failure and breakdown, (3) the purposeful destabilization of unsustainable institutions, (4) making a virtue of inevitable decline, and (5) active and reflective decision making in the face of decline instead of leaving it to chance. These archetypical pathways were illustrated by a number of sustainability-related empirical case studies. In developing these archetypes, we have sought to move forward the debate on sustainability transformation and harness the potential of hitherto overlooked institutional dynamics.
Daniela Peukert
added a research item
Der vorliegende Beitrag gewährt einen Einblick in die Praxis entwurfsbasierter Interventionen im Kontext transdisziplinärer Forschung und zeigt, wie Entwurfspraktiken, die in Designprozessen zur Anwendung kommen, in Prozessen kooperativer und partizipativer Wissens- und Erkenntnisgenerierung fruchtbar gemacht werden können. Es wird dargelegt, wie durch die Arbeit mit Entwürfen heterogene Perspektiven und Wissensbestände aufeinander bezogen und Momente der Integration erzeugt werden können. Nach einer Charakterisierung des Designs und der Designforschung sowie deren gängigen Methoden, werden Gemeinsamkeiten zwischen Designforschung und transdisziplinärer Forschung ausgelotet, um den Transfer von Entwurfspraktiken zur Unterstützung von Integrationsprozessen in transdisziplinären Teams zu rahmen. Anhand eines Beispiels aus einer Fallstudie in Transsylvanien wird der Einsatz von Entwurfsmethoden in transdisziplinären Prozessen exemplarisch gezeigt und werden erste Erkenntnisse aus der empirischen Arbeit vorgestellt. Ein Konzept verschiedener Integrationsdimensionen aus den transdisziplinären Nachhaltigkeitswissenschaften dient als Grundlage für die Untersuchung der epistemischen, sozial-organisatorischen und kommunikativen Integrationsleistung von Entwurfsmethoden. Für die Praxis transdisziplinärer Forschung, aber auch für die Erforschung transdisziplinärer Integrations- und Interventionsprozesse eröffnet sich mit der Entwurfspraxis ein Feld, das den methodischen Kanon des Arbeitens in heterogenen Teams erweitert.
Maraja Riechers
added an update
There will be blogs about the conference coming in daily now (by Zuzana V. Harmáčková, Josie Chambers, Vicky Temperton and me . You can subscribe to our blog and follow us on Twitter @LevPoints4Sust and #Leverage2019.
 
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
Despite the normative nature of sustainability, values and their role in sustainability transformations are often discussed in vague terms, and when concrete conceptualizations exist, they widely differ across fields of application. To provide guidance for navigating the complexity arising from the various conceptualizations and operationalization of values, here, we differentiate four general perspectives of how and where values are important for transformation related sustainability science. The first perspective, surfacing implicit values, revolves around critical reflection on normative assumptions in scientific practices. Sustainability transformations concern fundamental ethical questions and are unavoidably influenced by assumptions sustainability scientists hold in their interactions with society. The second perspective, negotiating values, is related to the values held by different actors in group decision processes. Developing and implementing solution options to sustainability problems requires multiple values to be accounted for in order to increase civic participation and social legitimacy. The third perspective, eliciting values, focuses on the ascription of values to particular objects or choices related to specific sustainability challenges, for example, valuations of nature. The fourth perspective, transforming through values, highlights the dynamic nature and transformational potential of values. Value change is complex but possible, and may generate systemic shifts in patterns of human behaviours. Explicit recognition of these four interconnected values perspectives can help sustainability scientists to: (1) move beyond general discussions implying that values matter; (2) gain an awareness of the positionality of one’s own values perspective when undertaking values related sustainability research; and (3) reflect on the operationalizations of values in different contexts.
Maraja Riechers
added a research item
1. Drawing on seminal work by the late Donella Meadows, we propose a leverage points perspective as a hitherto under‐recognized heuristic and practical tool for sustainability science. A leverage points perspective focuses on places to intervene in complex systems to bring about transformative change. 2. A leverage points perspective recognizes increasingly influential leverage points relating to changes in parameters, feedbacks, system design and the intent encapsulated by a given system. We discuss four key advantages of a leverage points perspective. 3. First advantage: A leverage points perspective can bridge causal and teleological explanations of system change – that is, change is seen to arise from variables influencing one another, but also from how human intent shapes the trajectory of a system. 4. Second advantage: A leverage points perspective explicitly recognizes influential, ‘deep’ leverage points – places at which interventions are difficult but likely to yield truly transformative change. 5. Third advantage: A leverage points perspective enables the examination of interactions between shallow and deep system changes – sometimes, relatively superficial interventions may pave the way for deeper changes, while at other times, deeper changes may be required for superficial interventions to work. 6. Fourth advantage: A leverage points perspective can function as a methodological boundary object – that is, providing a common entry point for academics from different disciplines and other societal stakeholders to work together. 7. Drawing on these strengths could initiate a new stream of sustainability studies, and may yield both practical and theoretical advances.
Pim Derwort
added a research item
Recognised as an integral part of the political process, the topic of institutional failure has recently received increased attention in the literature, particularly with respect to policy failure. Nevertheless, the difference between various types and aspects of failure is unclear conceptually, hampering the development of cumulative theory building into its causes and consequences. Furthermore, while ample attention has been paid to negative consequences, insights into the possibly ‘productive functions’ of failure are scattered and largely remain on the fringes of existing research. The present paper offers a systematic review of the failure literature, particularly its definitions, causes and consequences, setting existing research in the different scholarly fields in relation to each other. Special emphasis is placed on the ways failure may serve to advance the effectiveness and efficacy of public policy and the wider political system, opening ‘windows of opportunity’ as leverage points for institutional change. In doing so, we identify a number of factors which may facilitate or hinder the activation of this productive potential on an individual, institutional, and societal level.
Elizabeth Clarke
added 2 research items
A complex systems approach to innovation provides rich insights into the drivers, barriers, and key elements for innovation in rural systems. Through a case study of dry direct seeding (DDS) in smallholder systems in Laos, this article reveals a "perfect storm" of challenges and opportunities resulting in rapid adoption. Labour shortage, climate variability, and machinery availability are key factors. The lessons for the research and development community are that; every local system and situation is unique; focusing on one set of factors is never sufficient; and that timelines for change may be long and require persistence and longer term commitment from donors. ARTICLE HISTORY
The growing practice of transdisciplinary research and teaching is shifting its focus from disciplines to problems, driving the need for new paradigms. To achieve this requires a re-examination of, and an opening up of, ontological, epistemological and methodological framing of knowledge and understanding, as well as an adaptive approach to teaching place and space.
Maraja Riechers
added an update
Jens Newig
added a research item
Despite substantial focus on sustainability issues in both science and politics, humanity remains on largely unsustainable development trajectories. Partly, this is due to the failure of sustainability science to engage with the root causes of unsustainability. Drawing on ideas by Donella Meadows, we argue that many sustainability interventions target highly tangible, but essentially weak, leverage points (i.e. using interventions that are easy, but have limited potential for transformational change). Thus, there is an urgent need to focus on less obvious but potentially far more powerful areas of intervention. We propose a research agenda inspired by systems thinking that focuses on transformational ‘sustainability interventions’, centred on three realms of leverage: reconnecting people to nature, restructuring institutions and rethinking how knowledge is created and used in pursuit of sustainability. The notion of leverage points has the potential to act as a boundary object for genuinely transformational sustainability science.
Kathleen Klaniecki
added a research item
The degree to which an individual feels connected to the natural world can be a positive predictor of pro-environmental behavior (PEB). This has led to calls to ‘reconnect to nature’ as a ‘treatment’ for PEB. What is not clear is the relationship between where one feels connected to nature and where one acts pro-environmentally. We propose that integrating spatial scale into the conceptualization of these constructs will provide insights into how different degrees of connectedness influence pro-environmental behavior. We discuss trends towards a spatial understanding of human–nature connectedness (HNC) and introduce three archetypes that highlight scalar relationships between scale of connectedness and scale of pro-environmental behavior: (1) equal interactions, (2) embedded interactions, and (3) extended interactions. We discuss potential policy and practice implications of taking a spatially explicit approach to HNC–PEB research, and propose a research agenda for investigating these scalar relationships that can inform nature as a ‘treatment’ intervention.
Christian Dorninger
added a research item
Calls for humanity to ‘reconnect to nature’ have grown increasingly louder from both scholars and civil society. Yet, there is relatively little coherence about what reconnecting to nature means, why it should happen and how it can be achieved. We present a conceptual framework to organise existing literature and direct future research on human–nature connections. Five types of connections to nature are identified: material, experiential, cognitive, emotional, and philosophical. These various types have been presented as causes, consequences, or treatments of social and environmental problems. From this conceptual base, we discuss how reconnecting people with nature can function as a treatment for the global environmental crisis. Adopting a social–ecological systems perspective, we draw upon the emerging concept of ‘leverage points’—places in complex systems to intervene to generate change—and explore examples of how actions to reconnect people with nature can help transform society towards sustainability.
Maraja Riechers
added an update
Some reflection on the PECS ii conference in Oaxaca, Mexico last week (3 links to the PECS webside): https://leveragepoints.org/2017/11/16/ii-conference-of-the-programme-on-ecosystem-change-and-society-pecs/
 
Maraja Riechers
added an update
Every week there are new Blogs on our webside: https://leveragepoints.org/updates/
Feel free to check in or register for update mails.
 
Julia Leventon
added a research item
Despite substantial focus on sustainability issues in both science and politics, humanity remains on largely unsustainable development trajectories. Partly, this is due to the failure of sustainability science to engage with the root causes of unsustainability. Drawing on ideas by Donella Meadows, we argue that many sustainability interventions target highly tangible, but essentially weak, leverage points (i.e. using interventions that are easy, but have limited potential for transformational change). Thus, there is an urgent need to focus on less obvious but potentially far more powerful areas of intervention. We propose a research agenda inspired by systems thinking that focuses on transformational ‘sustainability interventions’, centred on three realms of leverage: reconnecting people to nature, restructuring institutions and rethinking how knowledge is created and used in pursuit of sustainability. The notion of leverage points has the potential to act as a boundary object for genuinely transformational sustainability science.
David J Abson
added a research item
In sustainability science calls are increasing for humanity to (re-)connect with nature, yet no systematic synthesis of the empirical literature on human–nature connection (HNC) exists. We reviewed 475 publications on HNC and found that most research has concentrated on individuals at local scales, often leaving ‘nature’ undefined. Cluster analysis identified three subgroups of publications: first, HNC as mind, dominated by the use of psychometric scales, second, HNC as experience, characterised by observation and qualitative analysis; and third, HNC as place, emphasising place attachment and reserve visitation. To address the challenge of connecting humanity with nature, future HNC scholarship must pursue cross-fertilization of methods and approaches, extend research beyond individuals, local scales, and Western societies, and increase guidance for sustainability transformations.
Christian Dorninger
added a research item
Humans are biophysically connected to the biosphere through the flows of materials and energy appropriated from ecosystems. While this connection is fundamental for human well-being, many modern societies have – for better or worse – disconnected themselves from the natural productivity of their immediate regional environment. In this paper, we conceptualize the biophysical human-nature connectedness of land use systems at regional scales. We distinguish two mechanisms by which primordial connectedness of people to regional ecosystems has been circumvented via the use of external inputs. First, 'biospheric disconnection' refers to people drawing on non-renewable minerals from outside the biosphere (e.g. fossils, metals and other minerals). Second, 'spatial disconnection' arises from the imports and exports of biomass products and imported mineral resources used to extract and process ecological goods. Both mechanisms allow for greater regional resource use than would be possible otherwise, but both pose challenges for sustainability, for example, through waste generation, depletion of non-renewable resources and environmental burden shifting to distant regions. In contrast, biophysically reconnected land use systems may provide renewed opportunities for inhabitants to develop an awareness of their impacts and fundamental reliance on ecosystems. To better understand the causes, consequences, and possible remedies related to biophysical disconnectedness, new quantitative methods to assess the extent of regional biophysical human-nature connectedness are needed. To this end, we propose a new methodological framework that can be applied to assess biophysical human-nature connectedness in any region of the world.
Maraja Riechers
added an update
Another paper affiliated with the Leverage Points project and an interesting read:
 
Maraja Riechers
added an update
For those interested in our project, here is a first paper from our group:
 
Maraja Riechers
added a project goal
Understanding how changes in interconnected social-ecological systems facilitate the transformation to sustainability represents one of the key challenges of sustainability science. Drawing on insights from systems thinking and solution-oriented transdisciplinary research, this project will focus on hitherto under-recognized leverage points—system properties where a small shift can lead to fundamental changes in the system as a whole.
Leverage Points will focus on changes in relatively intractable, but potentially highly influential, system properties that could help to realign complex social-ecological systems to the normative goals of sustainability. Specifically, we will analyze three sustainability-relevant leverage points: (1) institutional dynamics (RESTRUCTURE); (2) human-environment interactions (RECONNECT); and (3) sustainability-related knowledge creation (RETHINK). The three leverage points will be studied individually and with regard to their interdependencies. Following in-depth conceptual work on the three leverage points, the project will conduct empirical research on two contrasting case study regions (Transylvania in Romania and Lower Saxony in Germany), focusing on two key themes of particular relevance to sustainability (food and energy). We will link the conceptual and empirical insights via two integrative and transdisciplinary place-based case studies (one in each study region) involving local stakeholders and decision-makers. Our genuinely inter- and transdisciplinary approach will contribute fundamental understanding to the field of sustainability science, and will identify new, concrete measures to improve sustainability outcomes.
The project is funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung, via the “Science for sustainable development” call, and is hosted by Leuphana University Lüneburg.