The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set broad aims for transforming towards sustainability, but putting these aims into practice will require constructing concrete pathways of change. This means combining social, technological and institutional change in ways that bridge global demands and local realities and challenge dominant knowledge, practices and power relations, at the same time as respecting planetary boundaries and promoting social justice.
The ‘Transformative Pathways to Sustainability’ project carried out comparative research on social transformations in the context of environmental change in six sites around the world – Argentina, Mexico, Kenya, China, the UK and India – and in three domains:
- Sustainable agricultural and food systems for healthy livelihoods
- Low carbon energy transitions that serve the needs of the poor
- Waste and water for sustainable cities
The project aimed to contribute not just to understanding, but also directly to the co-construction of transformative pathways to sustainability. Through co-learning between and across low-, middle- and high-income settings, PATHWAYS examined and compared the processes of co-constructing transformative pathways to sustainability in diverse historical, political and cultural contexts.
In each site the project convened ‘Transformation Labs’ (T-Labs) to develop innovative responses to specific socio-ecological problems. T-labs are processes which include research, interviews and workshops. The T-Labs employed creative methods to explore people’s visions, values and ideas for transformation.
Find out more on the PATHWAYS website.
Highlights of PATHWAYS outputs
Pathways Network (forthcoming). Transformative Pathways to Sustainability: Learning Across Disciplines, Cultures and Contexts, Taylor and Francis, to be published in 2021.
This book draws together theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions from the last five years of the TKN’s work. It is edited by Adrian Ely and involves collaborators from across the network – a total of 33 researchers from twelve institutions across nine countries.
Peer-reviewed journal articles
- Ely, A.; Marin, A.; Charli-Joseph, L.; Abrol, D.; Apgar, M.; Atela, J.; Ayre, B.; Byrne, R.; Choudhary, B.K.; Chengo, V.; Cremaschi, A.; Davis, R.; Desai, P.; Eakin, H.; Kushwaha, P.; Marshall, F.; Mbeva, K.; Ndege, N.; Ochieng, C.; Ockwell, D.; Olsson, P.; Oxley, N.; Pereira, L.; Priya, R.; Tigabu, A.; Van Zwanenberg, P.; Yang, L. (2020). Structured Collaboration Across a Transformative Knowledge Network—Learning Across Disciplines, Cultures and Contexts? Sustainability, 12(6), 2499. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12062499
This article brought together the experience from across the TKN, specifically regarding the process of co-production, cross-learning and transdisciplinarity in different contexts. It drew on text produced over the course of the project by each of the country teams.
- Scoones, I., Stirling, A., Abrol, D., Atela, J., Charli-Joseph, L. Eakin, H., Ely, A., Olsson, P., Pereira, L., Priya, R., van Zwanenberg, P. & Yang, L. (2020). ‘Transformations to sustainability: combining structural, systemic and enabling approaches.’ Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 42: 65-75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2019.12.004
This output distilled some of the most novel theoretical contributions that the project generated. It drew on empirical evidence and ideas produced over the course of the project by each of the country teams, also tying into the long history of transformations research upon which some of the project ideas were based.
- Pereira, L., Frantzeskaki, N., Hebinck, A. Charli-Joseph, L., Drimie, S., Dyer, M., Eakin, H., Galafassi, D., Karpouzoglou, T., Marshall, F., Moore, M. L., Olsson, P., Siqueiros-García, J. M., van Zwanenberg, P. & Vervoort, J. M. (2020) Transformative spaces in the making: key lessons from nine cases in the Global South. Sustainability Science 15, 161–178 https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-019-00749-x
This output drew upon the ‘Pathways’ TKN work in Mexico and Argentina – as well as a number of other experiences from the Global South – to explore the notion of ‘transformative spaces’.
- Pathways Network, T-Labs: A Practical Guide, Using Transformation Labs (T-Labs) for innovation in social-ecological systems. September 2018
- Ruizpalacios B, Charli-Joseph L, Eakin H, Siqueiros-García JM, Manuel-Navarrete D, Shelton R. 2019 . El Laboratorio de Transformación en el Sistema Socio-Ecológico de Xochimilco, Ciudad de México: Narrativa del proceso y guía metodológica. Ciudad de México, México: LANCIS-IE, UNAM. [English translation: The Transformation Laboratory of the social-ecological system of Xochimilco, Mexico City: Description of the process and methodological guide]
Bioleft research-action project (Latin America Hub)
- Bioleft open-source seed licences, first proposed in 2018, made it possible to register and transfer 21 open seed varieties to 300 hundred agricultural producers. The Bioleft digital platform is a prototype designed to allow and promote the register and transfer of open seeds. The platform is being tested and improved since the idea was proposed in 2018. It will soon facilitate collaborative breeding process and scale collaborative seed evaluation.
- As a research–action project, Bioleft gathers a network of 4 breeders, 16 producers-breeders, 300 agricultural producers, 8 organizations of producers, 5 experimental stations and three organizations, together with two new types of actors: a company and 4 seed banks.
- Bioleft twice won a grant from The Conservation, Food and Health Foundation (2019-2020 and 2020-2021). This funding supports an ambitious pilot of the collaborative seed breeding initiative, in order to test Bioleft’s set of technical and legal tools and associated social practices, learn from them and improve them, by beginning the process of collaborative improvement of maize, festuca and tomato varieties in three breeder/farmer networks in Argentina. These three networks were selected because of the diversity in their agricultural practices: one of them is dedicated to organic production, the second to agroecological production, and the third, to biodynamic agriculture.
- In 2019, The Global Consortium for Sustainability Outcomes (GCSO) selected a joint proposal from Bioleft and the National Laboratory of Sustainability Sciences (LANCIS) of the Institute of Ecology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). GCSO supports the project “Sharing learning to implement an open and collaborative seed innovation system”, designed to share the lessons learned by Bioleft and facilitate the implementation of an open seeds network in Mexico. This Mexican network is working and growing, and collaborating with Bioleft in the development of technological, legal and communicational tools.
More information is available on the Bioleft website.
Gurgaon Water Forum as an action-research project (South Asia Hub)
- The Gurgaon Water Forum (GWF) is now recognized, and at various levels local actors are willing to collaborate with the project on issues and concerns of common interest. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) under the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, is recognizing and promoting GWF. They have funded a major project for the perusal of socio-technical solutions to redefine the activities of technology implementation for a water management system in Gurugram.
- Gurgaon Metropolitan development Authority (GMDA) and the Municipal corporation of Gurugram (MCG) have recognized the GWF, and today DST-funded projects are being implemented in collaboration with both the GMDA and the MCG.
- Civil Society organiszations of Gurugram have started collaborating with the GWF, and a . Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funding for a Rain-Water Harvesting (RWH) structure was mobilised to deal with the street level flooding and mosquito breeding in a low income residential area called Surat Nagar.
- A leading detergent manufacturing company has come forward to provide funding for street rain-water harvesting (SRWH) in a low-income residents’ locality. After the successful demonstration of this project, they have requested support to build RWH structures at some of their company sites outside the national capital region.
Outputs from other hubs
- UK: work in the UK has led to ‘spin-off’ publications with ecologists (Nicholls et al, 2020; Balfour et al, 2021) at the University of Sussex, as well as contributing to an ongoing policy process that is shaping the Brighton and Hove Downland Estate for the next 100 years.
- China: the innovative transdisciplinary approach adopted in the Hebei work has led to an enhanced appreciation of social science inputs to policy-making, contributed to training in this area, and also contributed to spin-off projects, including research on urban air pollution and just transitions.
- Kenya: the project contributed to academic and policy debates around low carbon energy access in Africa. It also contributed to the establishment of ARIN – the Africa Research and Impact Network under the coordination of Kenya hub leader Dr Joanes Atela, taking forward some of the knowledge and interactions that were supported as part of the TKN.
- Mexico: the hub’s work produced a number of academic outputs (for example Charli-Joseph et al 2018, Eakin et al 2019, Manuel-Navarrete et al 2021), produced the methodological guide described above, and has contributed to the establishment of a new organization – UMBELA: Transformaciones Sostenibles – which focuses on fostering disruptive innovation, transgressive learning, transdisciplinarity and decolonizing.
Dr Anabel Marin
Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas (CONICET), Argentina
This network received seed funding under phase 1 of the Transformations to Sustainability programme.