An edited collection of 16 papers on co-design in sustainability science, authored by members of the Transformations to Sustainability programme community, has been published as a special issue of the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (COSUST).
The papers examine co-design in the context of social-science-led, integrated research on transformations to sustainability, including a practical ‘hands-on’ look at doing co-design, and what can be learned from the experience.
The concept of ‘co-design’ is gaining importance in research on global change and sustainability, and lies at the heart of the research funded under the Transformations to Sustainability programme. Though interpretations of ‘co-design’ differ, it is broadly used to refer to the design of research projects in a joint endeavour by scientists and non-scientists. Involving wider society in the process of knowledge production is now seen as essential to identifying solutions to the challenges of environmental change and sustainability. However, the empirical literature on co-design is still relatively limited, making this collection of papers particularly valuable.
In this special issue of COSUST, co-design is understood as the first phase of the knowledge co-production process, in which researchers and non-academic partners jointly develop a research project and define research questions that correspond to their collective needs and interests. Papers are grouped into five sections on the following themes:
- Transforming agriculture and food systems
- Transforming management of sensitive regions and natural resources
- Transforming cities
- Transforming social systems
- Transforming research and practice
The articles reflect on the work conducted during the 6-month seed grant period of the Transformations to Sustainability programme, between October 2014 and March 2015. They offer new perspectives on approaches to co-design, the challenges of co-developing research with different partners, and the benefits of co-designed knowledge as an instrument of transformation. The cases cover a wide range of sustainability challenges around the world.
The special issue is edited by Susi Moser, Senior Adviser to the Transformations to Sustainability programme. It concludes with an open access synthesis article by Moser, entitled ‘Can science on transformation transform science? Lessons from co-design’. As Moser points out, the papers collectively show that co-design can itself be a cause of transformative change – of researchers, of knowledge systems, and of relationships.