Rapidly changing global realities, including climate change, call for deep and lasting transformations towards more sustainable futures. Meeting these challenges requires new ways of producing knowledge and making sure it gets used.
The need for transformative change across all dimensions on sustainable development is echoed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which commits to ‘bold and transformative steps’ on sustainable economic, environmental and social development.
The International Science Council has long advocated that the social sciences are essential to addressing global change. We need more social science, and a more transformative social science, one that is open to working across fields of science (interdisciplinarity) and co-creating knowledge with society (trans-disciplinarity), and that reflects multiple socio-geographic perspectives and approaches.
T2S was launched as an Internationational Social Science Council (ISSC) initiative on global environmental change. It builds on a long history of ISSC-led social science research on the topic of global environmental change.
The ISSC established the Human Dimensions Programme (HDP) first as a Standing Committee (1988) then as a research programme (1990). It became the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) in 1996, when the International Council for Science (ICSU) became a co-sponsor. IHDP joined a larger family of international global environmental change (GEC) programmes, including Diversitas, on biodiversity science, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).
By 2015 IHDP, Diversitas, and IGBP had transitioned to Future Earth, the new, global research platform on sustainability. The ISSC was closely involved with the design and launch of Future Earth, later sitting on the programme’s Governing Council. The T2S programme contributes to Future Earth.
The T2S programme was designed over several years. It was informed and inspired by a three-year project to design a research funding and coordination initiative for the social sciences on climate change and global environmental change. The Global Change Design Project (previously known as the Climate Change Design Project) was undertaken by the ISSC on the invitation of – and with support from – the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Significant outputs of this design phase include the ‘Transformative Cornerstones of Social Science Research for Global Change’ (ISSC Report: Hackmann and Lera St. Clair, 2012) – a knowledge framework to conceptualise and articulate what the social sciences can uniquely contribute to environmental change research; and the 2013 World Social Science Report “Changing Global Environments”, which brought together over 150 authors from all over the world, and was co-published with UNESCO and the OECD.
The Transformations to Sustainability Programme is supported by Sida for an initial period of four years. The programme was launched in 2014 with the selection of 38 international seed grants, followed in 2015 by a call for proposals for funding which closed at the end of March 2015. Eighty-eight eligible proposals were received for a possible three grants, testifying to the appetite of the research community worldwide for integrated research on social transformation in the context of global environmental change. The call for proposals is available for reference.
The selection panel (Programme Steering Committee) narrowed the field to eight finalists, before finally selecting three proposals for funding. Three Transformative Knowledge Networks were launched in 2016. They came to a close in April 2019. Collaborative outputs from the projects are still emerging, with unforeseen delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In July 2018 the ISSC merged with ICSU to form the International Science Council (ISC). The ISC, with the support of Sida, is participating in a second phase of the programme in partnership with the Belmont Forum and NORFACE. Twelve new projects were launched in late 2018 with a combined research budget of 11.5m EUR. The ISC funds the participation of social scientists in low- and lower-middle-income countries in the projects. More information on the second set of projects can be found at the dedicated website.