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In the face of persistent sustainability problems challenging economic development, ecological integrity as well as social justice, transformational changes are crucial. Proposed changes shall include, for instance, large-scale transitions of practices, infrastructures as well as values and priorities. In Germany, real-world laboratories are proposed for research in and with society, aiming to understand and contribute to transformations. This article presents a frontrunning research program on real-world laboratories and their accompanying research projects taking part in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany.
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very research. This merger is not without
challenges: while stated laboratory settings
operate within societal settings and neces -
sarily adapt their proceedings to the given
contexts, actors and problems, the very no -
tion of the laboratory comes with the prom-
ise of generating transferable and general -
izable knowledge. Thus, there are numer-
ous open questions including terminolo-
gies and concepts, concrete methodologies
as well as epistemological foundations.
©2015 N. Schäpke et al.;licensee oekom verlag. This is an article
distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
License (,which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium,
provided the original work is properly cited.
Contact authors: Dipl.-Ökon.,Dipl.-Umwelt wissen -
schaftler Niko Schäpke |Leuphana University of
Lüneburg |Institut für Ethik und Transdisziplinäre
Nachhaltigkeitsforschung |Lüneburg |Germany |
Contact NaWis: Prof. Dr.Uwe Schneidewind |
Wuppertal Institut for Climate, Environment and
Energy |Döppersberg 19 |42103 Wuppertal |
Germany |Tel.: +49 2022492100 |
E-Mail: |
n recent years, numerous science-society
collaborations have been developed that
are experimenting with solutions to sus-
tainability problems in real-world settings
(Trencher et al.2014).These initiatives usu -
ally aim at radical changes from the status
quo, in process and outputs (Evans and Kar-
vonen 2014). Fields of application as well
as labels of initiatives are varying, with ex-
amples including food production (e.g.,Vic-
torian Eco Innovation Lab, Australia), ener -
gy consumption (e.g., Campus as a Living
Laboratory, Canada), urban living (e.g., Low
Carbon Labs, Sweden) and mobility (e.g.,
Delft Design Labs, The Netherlands)(Lued -
eritz et al. submitted).
The sketched developments are part of
broader trends in sustainability research
towards a solution-oriented research agen-
da (Miller et al.2014), a pragmatist turn(Po -
pa et al. 2015) and a re-orientation towards
experimental approaches (Schneidewind
2014). As part of this development, a new
generation of experimental settings, such
as living laboratories (e.g., Voytenko et al.
2015),urban (sustainability)transition labs
(e. g., Loorbach and Rotmans 2010,Wiek
and Kay 2015,Wittmayer et al. 2014) as well
as real-world laboratories (e.g.,Wagner and
Grunwald 2015) is proposed for research in
and with society. Despite their differences,
the settings share a focus on interventions
in real-world contexts undertaken by stake-
holders in transdisciplinary collaboration
with scientists. Furthermore, they share a
double aim of understanding and at the
same time contributing to societal change
towards sustainability (see Schneidewind
2013). Accordingly, they are research en-
deavors, meaning they produce evidence
regarding possible solutions to given sus-
tainability problems (Wiek and Kay 2015)
and at thesame time pursue a transforma -
tional mission and therefore apply solu-
tions in an exemplary way (Voytenko et al.
Methodologically stated settings can
be understood as an attempt to merge the
strength of experimental laboratory situa -
tions with the integration of research into
real-world contexts, offering the possibil-
ity to learn about changes induced by the
Creating Space for Change:
Real-world Laboratories for
Sustainability Transformations
The Case of Baden-Württemberg
In the face of persistent
sustain ability problems
challenging economic development,
ecological integrity as well as
social justice, transformational
changes are crucial.
Proposed changes shall include,
for instance, large-scale transitions of practices, infrastructures
as well as values and priorities. In Germany, real-world laboratories
are proposed for research in and with society,aiming to
understand and contribute to transformations.
Niko Schäpke, Mandy Singer-Brodowski,
Franziska Stelzer, Matthias Bergmann,
Daniel J. Lang
Creating Space for Change: Real-world Laboratories for Sustainability Transformations. The Case of Baden-Württemberg
GAIA 24/4(2015): 281–283 |Keywords: real-world laboratories, research policy, sustainability transformations, sustainability transitions, transdisciplinarity
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GAIA 24/4(2015): 281–283
282 NaWis – Verbund für Nachhaltige WissenschaftCOMMUNICATIONS |MITTEILUNGEN
With thisinitiative,Baden-Württemberg
creates a fruitful environment for new re-
search collaborations betweenuniversities
and non-academic actors.While the fund-
ing program has a regional scope, the actu -
al projects are of much wider interest, as
they represent a first systematic attempt
to explore the notion and concept of Ger-
man real-world laboratories. Baden-Würt-
temberg follows an experimental strategy
oriented towards the very idea of a (real-
world) laboratory. Providing the labs with
considerable space for realizing their re-
search is both appreciated by the partici-
pating universities and their partners as
well as foundational for realizing the ex-
perimental setting of the labs itself.
The table gives an overview of the labo-
ratories of the first funding line which are
situated in diverse contexts of application,
sharing a focus on transformational pro -
cess es towards sustainability. This diversi -
ty corresponds to the aim of exploring the
new research setting and promises learn-
ing from multiple application contexts.
As the program is pioneering within
Germany, the funded projects are confront-
ed with a twofold challenge: first, to create
transformational knowledge and there-
with to support societal change in the dif-
ferent areas of investigation. And second,
the labs need to fill the very concept of real-
world laboratories with life.
Accompanying Research and Outlook
The labs are supported by an accompany-
ing research consisting of two projects: one
at the University of Basel, Research Group
Inter-/Transdisciplinarity2, a second formed
by Leuphana University of Lüneburg, the
ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Re-
search and the Wuppertal Institute for Cli -
mate, Envi ronment and Energy3. Jointly
and in close co-opera tion with the labora-
tories, these projects pursue two aims:
Systematic explorations and comparisons
of different and more in-depth studies of
single laboratory settings are a demand.
Developments in Germany: “Reallabore”
and Real-world Laboratories
In the German-speaking discourse on
sustainability research the concept of real-
world laboratories (“Reallabore” in Ger-
man) has gained popularity. A shared un-
derstanding of real-world laboratories does
not yet exist, rather there are a number of
partially overlapping understandings (cp.
MWK 2013, WBGU 2014, Schneidewind
2014, De Flander et al. 2014, Wagner and
Grunwald 2015). In addition, the concrete
relation of real-world laboratories to re-
search settings and approaches, such as
other stated labs and (natural science) lab-
oratory research, action research or trans-
disciplinary research, is not yet sufficient-
ly understood.
In face of multiple expectations and giv-
en conceptual openness, numerous ques-
tions arise: what constitutes a real-world
laboratory? How to cope with the “contra-
diction in terms” of a laboratory in the real
world? What is theadded value incompar-
ison to established settings?
An Experimental Research Policy
The federal state of Baden-Württemberg in-
stitutionalized research in real-world lab-
oratories with a substantial funding pro-
gram running from 2015 until 2017. In do -
ing so, the state government followed the
advice of an expert commission on how to
further strengthen research for sustain -
abil ity. In a broad participatory process the
commission assessed existing research ini-
tiatives in the field of sustainability on be-
half of the Minister for Science, Research
and Culture, Theresia Bauer. An indepen -
dent expert panel selected seven out of 32
applications that started in spring 20151.
1. To support and interconnect the real-
world laboratories with regard to facili -
tating the implementation process, mu-
tual learning, developing transferable
insights and embedding the labs into
national and international networks.
2. Gaining insights on real-world labora-
tory processes, in particular with regard
to applied methods, quality features
and transdisciplinary knowledge inte-
Developing the setting of the laboratories
further requires mutual learning from em-
pirical experiences as well as conceptual
discussions. Therefore a number of activ-
ities will be undertaken by the ministry,
the labs and the accompanying research
projects, such as a colloquium with (inter -
national) experts and practitioners in spring
2016. One major public event will be the In -
ternational Sustainability Transitions Confer -
ence 2016.4
We thank the MWK Baden-Württemberg for
funding the research leading to this article.
We thank the researchers and practitioners from
the real-world laboratories of the first funding line
for providing information on the very laboratories
(see table)and Antonietta Di Giulio and Rico Defila
from the Basel-based accompanying research
team for their comments on an earlier version of
this article.
De Flander, K. et al. 2014. Resilience and real-life
laboratories as key concepts for urban
transition research. GAIA 23/3: 284 286.
Evans, J., A. Karvonen. 2014. “Give me a laboratory
and I will lower your carbon footprint!” –
Urban laboratories and the governance of
lowcarbon futures. International Journal of
Urban and Regional Research 38/2: 413– 430.
Liedtke, C., C. Baedeker, M. Hasselkuß, H. Rohn,
V. Grinewitschus. 2015. User-integrated innova-
tion in sustainable LivingLabs: An experimental
Developing the setting of the laboratories
further requires mutual learning from empirical
experiences and conceptualdiscussions.
1 A second funding line focusing real-world
laboratories in urban contexts was issued in
Baden-Württemberg,and proposals selected in
October 2015 are currently starting:
281_283_NaWis 10.12.15 20:22 Seite 282
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283COMMUNICATIONS |MITTEILUNGENNaWis – Verbund für Nachhaltige Wissenschaft
infrastructure for researching and developing
sustainable product service systems.
Journal of Cleaner Production 97: 106–116.
Loorbach, D., J. Rotmans. 2010. The practice of
transition management: Examples and lessons
from four distinct cases. Futures 42: 237–246.
Luederitz, C. et al. Submitted. Joint learning through
evaluation: A tentative evaluative scheme
for sustainability transition experiments.
Environmental Innovation and Societal Change.
Miller, T., A. Wiek, D. Sarewitz, L. Olsson, D. Kriebel,
D. Loorbach. 2014. The future of sustainability
science: A solutions-oriented agenda.
Sustainability Science 9/2: 239–246.
MWK (Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung
und Kunst Baden-Württemberg). 2013. Wissen -
schaft für Nachhaltigkeit. Herausforderung und
Chance für das baden-württembergische Wissen -
schaftssystem. Stuttgart: MWK.
Popa, F., M. Guillermin, T. Dedeurwaerdere. 2015.
A pragmatist approach to transdisciplinarity in
sustainability research: From complex systems
theory to reflexive science. Futures 65: 45– 56.
Schneidewind, U. 2013. Transformative Literacy.
Gesellschaftliche Veränderungsprozesse
verstehen und gestalten. GAIA 22/2: 82– 86.
Schneidewind, U. 2014. Urbane Reallabore –
ein Blick in die aktuelle Forschungswerkstatt.
pnd online 3: 1–7.
schneidewind.pdf (abgerufen 03.11.2015).
Trencher, G., X. Bai, J. Evans, K. McCormick,
M. Yarime. 2014. University partnerships
for co-designing and co-producing urban
sustainability. Global Environmental Change 28:
Voytenko, Y., K. McCormick, J. Evans, G. Schliwa.
2015. Urban living labs for sustainability and
low carbon cities in Europe: Towards a research
agenda. Journal of Cleaner Production: 1–10.
Wagner, F., A. Grunwald. 2015. Reallabore als
Forschungs-und Transformationsinstrument.
Die Quadratur des hermeneutischen Zirkels.
GAIA 24/1: 26 – 31.
WBGU (Wissenschaftlicher Beirat der Bundes -
regie rung Globale Umweltveränderungen).
2014. Klimaschutz als Weltbürgerbewegung.
Sondergutachten. Berlin: WBGU.
Wiek, A., B. Kay.2015. Learning while transforming:
Solution-oriented learning for urban sustain-
ability in Phoenix, Arizona. Current Opinion in
Environmental Sustainability 16: 29– 36.
Wittmayer, J.M., N. Schäpke, F. van Steenbergen,
I. Omann. 2014. Making sense of sustainability
transitions locally: How action research
contributes to addressing societal challenges.
Critical Policy Studies 8/4: 465– 485.
The laboratory analyzes and evaluates the ecological, social and economic interrelations be-
tween the newly founded Black Forest National Park and the surrounding region with regard to
a regional transformation towards sustainability. Stakeholders from business, politics and civil
society are actively involved in the research. Building on analysis and evaluation, researchers
and stakeholders will develop and implement options for concrete actions.
The current transformation of Heidelberg can be experienced in many neighborhoods of the
city. The city administration and the international Bauaustellung are aware of the challenges
posed by these developments. The laboratory contributes to questions of demographic change,
participatory city planning, actor constellations for concrete projects as well as new forms of
communicating and understanding ongoing changes.
The Urban Transition Lab131fosters sustainable development of one district of Karlsruhe, ad-
dressing a broad spectrum of sustainability issues. By way of an extended citizen forum, topics
and projects have been selected and are now being realized in transdisciplinary co-operations.
For these projects, the lab offers a transdisciplinary infrastructure of a local “sustainability
science shop”, an overarching knowledge base, as well as integrated teaching and networking
University, city and the region of Stuttgart are used as field of action, concrete laboratory space
and experimental platform for the exploration and development of visions and practices of a
sustainable mobility culture. Civil society actors are involved as co-researchers in this knowl-
edge generation process, the generation of research data and the development of scenarios
and pilot projects.
The project links two perspectives in one real-world laboratory: the sustainable urban revitaliza-
tion of Dietenheim, once home to a strong textile industry, with the transformation of the textile
supply chain towards sustainability. Currently vacant areas in the inner city of Dietenheim will
be used by enterprises and further actors of the Dietenheim textile industry to create a trans-
parent supply chain that can be experienced locally. Thereby impulses for changed textile con-
sumption patterns shall be created.
Climate neutrality of the inner city campus of the HFT Stuttgart shall be achieved via develop-
ing a comprehensive implementation strategy, debated amongst actors from the campus,
the neighborhood and the metropolitan region of Stuttgart and realized in exemplary manner
financed by a public administration body (Landesbetrieb Vermögen Bau)and private capital.
Developments of recent decades have shown that in regions of urban growth like Stuttgart
building spaces and usable floor spaces are increasing, while the actual density of usage is de-
clining. Against this background the project aims to (spatially)combine various forms of using
the current building stock to increase the efficiency of usage of buildings in urban centers.
TABLE: Real-world laboratories in Baden-Württemberg. Source:
2014/084_PM_Anlage_Gefoerderte_Reallabore.pdf (own translation, modified).
University of Freiburg/
University of Applied
Forest Sciences
University of
Karlsruhe Institute of
Technology (KIT)
University of Stuttgart
Ulm University/
Reutlingen University
University of Applied
Sciences Stuttgart
(HFT Stuttgart)
Public Academy of
Fine Arts Stuttgart
Knowledge Dialogue Northern
Black Forest: The National
Park as a Catalyst for a
Regional Sustainability
“Urban Office”: Sustainable
Development of Cities in the
Knowledge Society
Urban Transition Lab131:
KIT Meets the City
Future City Lab_Stuttgart:
Real-world Laboratory for a
Sustainable Mobility Culture
Sustainable Transformation
of the Textile Industry at
Location Dietenheim
EnSign Real-world Laboratory:
The Climate Neutral Uni -
versity as a Partner for the
Space Sharing: Use-intensifi-
cation of the Building Stock
via Combining Usage Forms
281_283_NaWis 10.12.15 20:22 Seite 283
... Reallabore dienen dabei nicht nur der Entwicklung neuer Technologien oder Produkte, sondern ihr Ziel ist es, transformativ in die Gesellschaft hineinzuwirken und Impulse für Veränderungen auch im Sinne sozialer Innovationen zu setzen (zu Reallaboren gibt es inzwischen vielfältige Literatur, z. B. Marquardt & West, 2016;Parodi et al., 2016;Schäpke et al., 2015;Bergmann et al., 2021). ...
... At this level, there is no obvious relation between cause and effect. The approach is to Act-Sense-Respond, which is typical for "real-world labs" (Schäpke et al. 2015;Schneidewind, 2014), sometimes also specialised towards "urban living labs" (ull) (Wolfram, Ravetz & Scholl, 2020). The goal is to manage the immediate crisis and to discover novel practices at the same time. ...
... Reallabore dienen dabei nicht nur der Entwicklung neuer Technologien oder Produkte, sondern ihr Ziel ist es, transformativ in die Gesellschaft hineinzuwirken und Impulse für Veränderungen auch im Sinne sozialer Innovationen zu setzen (zu Reallaboren gibt es inzwischen vielfältige Literatur, z. B. Marquardt & West, 2016;Parodi et al., 2016;Schäpke et al., 2015;Bergmann et al., 2021). ...
... Reallabore dienen dabei nicht nur der Entwicklung neuer Technologien oder Produkte, sondern ihr Ziel ist es, transformativ in die Gesellschaft hineinzuwirken und Impulse für Veränderungen auch im Sinne sozialer Innovationen zu setzen (zu Reallaboren gibt es inzwischen vielfältige Literatur, z. B. Marquardt & West, 2016;Parodi et al., 2016;Schäpke et al., 2015;Bergmann et al., 2021). ...
Die öffentliche Verwaltung steht aktuell vor großen Herausforderungen, die nach neuen Antworten verlangen. Innovationen sind in der oft als unflexibel wahrgenommenen öffentlichen Verwaltung also dringend geboten, um angemessen auf diese teils „wicked problems“ reagieren zu können. Verwaltungsinnovation richtet sich zugleich nach innen, indem Service-Orientierung und eine Kultur der Offenheit verstärkt in den Vordergrund rücken, und nach außen, um Leistungen für Externe zu verbessern. Wissenstransfer aus Wissenschaftseinrichtungen sowie gemeinsames Arbeiten im Sinne von Co-Design und Co-Produktion spielen hierbei eine wichtige Rolle. Diesen Transfergedanken greift die Deutsche Universität für Verwaltungswissenschaften Speyer auf. Der Beitrag leitet zunächst verwaltungsspezifische Bedürfnisse ab und entwickelt hierfür ein erweitertes Transferverständnis. Anschließend werden neue Wege des Transfers, wie sie im Projekt „Wissens- und Ideentransfer für Innovation in der öffentlichen Verwaltung“ in Speyer erprobt werden, vorgestellt. Gelingensbedingungen und Herausforderungen werden diskutiert.
... The value systems, design principles, and behavior patterns will be aligned with criteria of a resource-saving, socially beneficial, sustainable development (Schäpke et al., 2018;Schneidewind et al., 2018;Parodi et al., 2020). In this relation, terms such as "real-world laboratory" (Schäpke et al., 2015) or in German "Reallabor" (Schneidewind & Scheck, 2013), "urban transition lab" (Nevens et al., 2013), "urban living labs" (Evans & Karvonen, 2010) or Eco Innovation Lab (Ryan, 2013) are used. ...
Urban agriculture remains a significant livelihood stratagem for most urbanites across Sub-Saharan African countries, yet the benefits of urban agriculture are usually modest. Urban food security scholars argue that the organisation of urban farmers is crucial in enhancing urban food production. However, the literature on urban farmer organisation in Sub-Saharan Africa is generally fragmented. This chapter adds to the literature by presenting an overview of the organisation of urban farmers and the implications on food resilience based on the experiences of Cape Town and Dar es Salaam. The overview shows the contrasting experiences of urban farmer organisation in the two cities and presents opportunities for learning from the best practices. Specifically, the experience of Dar es Salaam proves that urban farmer organisations can flourish despite a lack of an accommodative policy environment. Conversely, urban farmers in Cape Town engage in collective action despite the lack of formalised structures. Notably, the boundary between formality and informality of urban farmer organisation is not pronounced. As a result, it is essential to appreciate how urban farmers have organised themselves as a first step towards assisting them rather than expecting them to conform to typologies which may not be applicable.
... The contributions of these 'real-world labs' to transformation include experimental methods, a transdisciplinary mode of research, scalability and transferability of results, as well as scientific and societal learning and reflexivity (Schäpke et al. 2018). Other similar examples include living labs (Bergvall-Kåreborn and Stahlbrost 2009;Bergvall-Kåreborn et al. 2009;von Wirth et al. 2019), real-world labs (Schäpke et al. 2015;, urban living labs (Bulkeley et al. 2016;Voytenko et al. 2016;Naumann et al. 2018) and urban transition labs (Nevens et al. 2013). The growing interest in 'labs' responds to a demand for places which allow creative, cross-sector and cross-disciplinary decision-making and innovation. ...
... Die Einrichtung von Reallaboren als Forschungsinfrastrukturen für die Transformationsforschung, in welche die Zivilgesellschaft stärker mit einbezogen werden soll, wurde erstmals im Ausschuss des Bundestages "Bildung, Forschung und Technikfolgenabschätzung" im Jahr 2012 von Uwe Schneidewind gefordert (Wagner 2017: 81). Anschließend entstanden erste Artikel zum Konzept der Reallabore (De Flander et al. 2014;Schäpke et al. 2015;Schneidewind/Scheck 2013;Schneidewind/Singer-Brodowski 2013;Schneidewind 2014;Wagner 2014;Wagner/Grunwald 2015) bis schließlich mit den "BaWü-Labs" die Baden-Württembergische Landesregierung 2015 voranging und erste Verbundprojekte aus Wissenschaft und Praxis mit dem Forschungsansatz der Reallabore förderte. Anschließend initiierte das Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) ab 2016 weitere Projekte in den Forschungsprogrammen "Zukunftsstadt" und "Nachhaltige Transformation Urbaner Räume". ...
Der Beitrag gibt einen kurzen Einblick in die Reallaborforschung generell, um sich dann konkret mit dem Reallabor-Ansatz aus dem Forschungsprojekt UrbaneProduktion.Ruhr auseinanderzusetzen. Nach einer Beschreibung des Ablaufs folgt die Frage "und was dann?". Welchen Beitrag liefert ein Reallabor und was geschieht, wenn die Förderphase ausläuft? Im diesem Kapitel werden Wirkungen, Verstetigungstendenzen und Übertragbarkeitsfaktoren erörtert. Abschließend wird die Rolle der Wissenschaft im Reallabor beleuchtet.
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Climate change enforces societies all over the world to reduce their CO2 emissions to help mitigate global warming. As a large greenhouse gas emitter, the energy sector is an important part of the transition to a more sustainable economy. Urban areas pose a lot of potential when it comes to a more sustainable energy generation and consumption. In this chapter, the aim is to answer how a local energy market can be organized by the stakeholders in an urban living lab reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, promoting transformation of urban structures, and hence building more resilient neighborhoods. The main focus lies on the inclusion of stakeholders, e.g., local citizens, research groups, and investors. The research process we describe takes place within a living lab. Here we share the lessons learned and how the solutions developed could be transferred to other regions.
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Urban living labs (ULLs) are emerging as a form of collective urban governance and experimentation to address sustainability challenges and opportunities created by urbanisation. ULLs have different goals, they are initiated by various actors, and they form different types of partnerships. There is no uniform ULL definition. However, many projects studying and testing living lab methodologies are focussing on urban sustainability and low carbon challenges, as demonstrated by the current projects funded by the Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) Urban Europe. At the same time, there is no clear understanding of what the ultimate role of ULLs is in urban governance, and whether they represent a completely new phenomenon that is replacing other forms of participation, collaboration, experimentation, learning and governing in cities. There is a need to clarify what makes the ULL approach attractive and novel. The aim of this article is to develop current understandings through an examination of how the ULL concept is being operationalised in contemporary urban governance for sustainability and low carbon cities. This is undertaken through the analysis of academic literature complemented with five snapshot case studies of major ongoing ULL projects funded by JPI Urban Europe. Five key ULL characteristics are identified and elaborated: geographical embeddedness, experimentation and learning, participation and user involvement, leadership and ownership, and evaluation and refinement. The paper concludes by outlining a research agenda that highlights four key topics: ways in which the ULL approach is operationalised, the nature of ULL partnerships and the role of research institutions, the types of challenges addressed by different ULLs, and the role of sustainability and low carbon issues in framing ULLs.
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Over the last decade, sustainability science has been at the leading edge of widespread efforts from the social and natural sciences to produce use-inspired research. Yet, how knowledge generated by sustainability science and allied fields will contribute to transitions toward sustainability remains a critical theoretical and empirical question for basic and applied research. This article explores the limitations of sustainability science research to move the field beyond the analysis of problems in coupled systems to interrogate the social, political and technological dimensions of linking knowledge and action. Over the next decade, sustainability science can strengthen its empirical, theoretical and practical contributions by developing along four research pathways focused on the role of values in science and decision-making for sustainability: how communities at various scales envision and pursue sustainable futures; how socio-technical change can be fostered at multiple scales; the promotion of social and institutional learning for sustainable development.
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In zwölf Thesen präzisiert der NaWis Verbund die Forschung zu urbaner Resilienz und Reallaboren.
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Today’s society is facing a broad array of societal challenges, such as an unstable economic system, climate change and lasting poverty. There are no straightforward solutions, rather these challenges ask for fundamental societal changes, that is, sustainability transitions. Faced with the question of how these challenges can be understood and dealt with, we argue for action research as a promising approach. Focusing on their localized manifestations, we ask whether and how action research can support understanding and addressing societal challenges and making sustainability meaningful locally. We tackle this question on the basis of two case studies in local communities based on principles of transition management. Our main finding is that societal challenges, sustainability and sustainability transitions acquire meaning through practice and interactions in the local context. Action research can offer a space in which alternative ideas (e.g., knowledge, future visions), practices (e.g., practical experiments, transformative action) and social relations (e.g., new actors) can emerge to further a sustainability transition.
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The importance of questioning the values, background assumptions, and normative orientations shaping sustainability research has been increasingly acknowledged, particularly in the context of transdisciplinary research, which aims to integrate knowledge from various scientific and societal bodies of knowledge. Nonetheless, the concept of reflexivity underlying transdisciplinary research is not sufficiently clarified and, as a result, is hardly able to support the development of social learning and social experimentation processes needed to support sustainability transitions. In particular, the concept of reflexivity is often restricted to building social legitimacy for the results of a new kind of ‘complex systems science, with little consideration of the role of non-scientific expertise and social innovators in the design of the research practice itself. The key hypothesis of the paper is that transdisciplinary research would benefit from adopting a pragmatist approach to reflexivity. Such an approach relates reflexivity to collective processes of problem framing and problem solving through joint experimentation and social learning that directly involve the scientific and extra-scientific expertise. To test this hypothesis, the paper proposes a framework for analysing the different types of reflexive processes that play role in transdisciplinary research. The main conclusion of the analysis is the need to combine conventional consensus-oriented deliberative approaches to reflexivity with more open-ended, action-oriented transformative approaches.
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The increasing threat of climate change has created a pressing need for cities to lower their carbon footprints. Urban laboratories are emerging in numerous cities around the world as a strategy for local governments to partner with public and private property owners to reduce carbon emissions, while simultaneously stimulating economic growth. In this article, we use insights from laboratory studies to analyse the notion of urban laboratories as they relate to experimental governance, the carbonization agenda and the transition to low-carbon economies. We present a case study of the Oxford Road corridor in Manchester in the UK that is emerging as a low-carbon urban laboratory, with important policy implications for the city's future. The corridor is a bounded space where a public-private partnership comprised of the City Council, two universities and other large property owners is redeveloping the physical infrastructure and installing monitoring equipment to create a recursive feedback loop intended to facilitate adaptive learning. This low-carbon urban laboratory represents a classic sustainable development formula for coupling environmental protection with economic growth, using innovation and partnership as principal drivers. However, it also has significant implications in reworking the interplay of knowledge production and local governance, while reinforcing spatial differentiation and uneven participation in urban development.
Reallabore gelten derzeit als das Forschungsinstrument, mit dem transformative Prozesse hin zu einer Kultur der Nachhaltigkeit abgebildet werden können. Doch der Spagat zwischen guter wissenschaftlicher Praxis und praxistauglichem Erkenntnisgewinn ist schwer, denn das reale und damit vor allem auch soziale Leben kann meist nur ausschnitthaft erfasst werden. Es müssen noch grundlegende Fragen geklärt werden.