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Research in T2S is structured along the following dimensions of sustainability science - the “T2S cube”:
- theories and methods (disciplinary, inter- and transdisciplinary methods for co-creating systems knowledge, target and transformation knowledge);
- application fields (land use; organisations; technology);
- process organisation and management (problem framing, in-depth analysis, design, monitoring, and evaluation of intervention and transition pathways)
Theories and Methods of Sustainability Science:
Complex sustainability issues require innovative problem solving approaches. As these problems come with high levels of uncertainty and high decision stakes, new forms of knowledge production are needed. These new forms of collaborative knowledge production have been referred to as ‘Mode 2 Science’, ‘Post-Normal Science’ and operationalised as ‘transdisciplinary research’
They focus on place based problems that are of immediate relevance to society, take into account the international or global dimension of those problems, and facilitate interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge integration between scientists and society.
Sustainability Science relies on three methodological and theoretical pillars that link to three types of knowledge:
- Theories and methods for integrated modelling, future scenarios, and assessments (particularly for system and anticipatory knowledge on the genesis, development and interpretation of a problem in the real world);
- Theories and methods for transdisciplinary knowledge production (particularly for target knowledge on norms and values for a sustainable future);
- Theories and methods for governance and institutional analysis (particularly for transformation knowledge on possible means of changing existing practices and introducing desired ones).
Numerous ways exist to categorise relevant issues in sustainability science. The EU Sustainable Development Strategy defines seven key priority challenges: climate change and clean energy, sustainable transport, sustainable consumption and production, conservation and management of natural resources, public health, social inclusion, demography and migration, global poverty and sustainable development challenges. Keeping in mind their interrelationship, the critical interface between natural and social sciences and the importance of problem framing for Sustainability Science, T2S focuses on three different initial perspectives, each of which represented by one specific arena of discourse:
(1) land use systems/natural resources;
Process organisation and management of Sustainability Science:
The research process of Sustainability Science is fundamentally different to classical scientific research: Here research is linked with action and analytic processes with normative specification in the stages of creating scientific understanding; formulating and negotiating sustainability goals; developing pathways and strategies; and finally implementation. In line with this, we start with the phase of problem-framing and problem understanding that involves perspectives of different disciplines as well as stakeholders from society, business or governmental organizations; followed by an in-depth analysis encompassing the development and assessment of different scenarios; and finalized by a third phase of knowledge integration and reflection, as well as the design, monitoring, and evaluation of intervention and transition pathways. The whole process aims to initiate and support transitions towards sustainable development, and to foster sustainability learning processes.