Governance of Transformations towards Sustainable Water, Food and Energy Supply Systems - Facilitating Sustainability Innovations through Multi-Level Learning Processes

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Title: Governance of Transformations towards Sustainable Water, Food and Energy Supply Systems - Facilitating Sustainability Innovations through Multi-Level Learning Processes
Authors: Halbe, Johannes
Thesis advisor: Prof. Dr. Claudia Pahl-Wostl
Thesis referee: Prof. Dr. Uwe Schneidewind
Abstract: A fundamental change in societal values and economic structures is required to address increasing pressures on ecosystems and natural resources. Transition research has developed in the last decades to analyze the co-dynamics of technological, institutional, social and economic elements in the provision of key functions such as energy, water and food supply. This doctoral dissertation provides conceptual and methodological contributions to the pro-active governance of sustainability transitions. Three research gaps are identified that are addressed in this dissertation. First, a comprehensive conceptualization of learning in sustainability transitions is currently missing that comprises learning at multiple societal levels (ranging from individuals to policy-actors). Learning concepts are often not explicitly discussed in transition research even though learning is considered as fundamental for innovation processes, niche formation and development as well as breakthrough and diffusion of innovations. Second, methods for the analysis and design of transition governance processes are lacking that specify case-specific intervention points and roles of actors in the implementation of innovations. Third, participatory modeling approaches are only applied to a limited extent in transition research despite a high potential for supporting communication and learning. The conceptualization of multi-level learning developed in this doctoral research conceptualizes learning at different societal levels as specific learning contexts ranging from individual and group contexts to organizational and policy contexts. The conceptual framework further differentiates between learning processes, intensity, objects, outcomes, subjects and factors, allowing for a more detailed analysis of learning within and across learning contexts. Thus, learning contexts can be linked by processes that involve actors from different learning contexts (e.g., community groups and policy-makers), as well as exchanges of physical aspects, institutions and knowledge (in the form of ‘learning factors’). This research has also provided a classification of model uses in transition research that supports a purposeful discussion of the opportunities of modeling and promising future research directions. The methodology developed in this doctoral research aims at the analysis and design of transition governance processes by specifying the various opportunities to contribute to sustainability transitions through purposeful action at different societal levels, as well as related roles of stakeholders in implementing such processes of change. The methodology combines different streams of previous research: 1) a participatory modeling approach to identify problem perceptions, case-specific sustainability innovations as well as related implementation barriers, drivers and responsibilities; 2) a systematic review to identify supportive and impeding learning factors from the general literature that can complement case-specific factors; and 3) a method for the analysis and design of case-specific transition governance processes. Three case studies in Canada (topic: sustainable food systems), Cyprus (water-energy-food nexus) and Germany (sustainable heating supply) have been selected to test and iteratively develop the methodology described above. The results for each case study reveal that there are learning objects (i.e., learning requirements) in all learning contexts, which underscores the importance of multi-level learning in sustainability transitions, ranging from the individual to the group, organizational and policy levels. Actors have various opportunities to actively facilitate societal transformations towards sustainable development either directly through actions at their particular societal levels (i.e., context-internal learning) or indirectly through actions that influence learning at other societal levels. In fact, most of the learning factors require cooperation across learning contexts during the implementation process. The comparing of learning factors across case studies underline the importance of several factor categories, such as ‘physical a ‘disturbance or crisis’, ‘information and knowledge’. Of the 206 factors identified by stakeholders, 40 factors are case-specific and not contained in the general, review-based factor list. This underscores the value of participatory research, as general, top-down analyses might have overlooked these case-specific factors. The methodology presented in this dissertation allows for the identification and analysis of case-specific intervention points for sustainability transitions at multiple societal levels. The methodology furthermore permits the analysis of interplay between individual, group, organizational and policy actions, which is a first step towards their coordination. The focus on sustainability innovations links the broad topic of sustainability transitions to a set of opportunities for practical interventions and overcoming their implementation barriers. The methodology presented allows for the analysis and design of these interlinkages between learning contexts. While the methodology cannot provide any ‘silver bullets’ for inducing sustainability transitions, it is flexible enough to identify an appropriate abstraction level for analyzing and designing transition governance processes. The methodology developed in this doctoral research also provides several contributions for the development of participatory modeling methods in transition research. Thus, the participatory method supports an integrated analysis of barriers and drivers of sustainability innovations, and allows application in practice and education. The concepts and methods developed in this research project allow for reflection on transition governance processes from a systemic viewpoint. Experiences in the case studies underline the applicability of the concepts and methods developed for the analysis of case-specific transition governance processes. Despite substantial differences in the geographic location, culture and topics addressed, all case studies include promising sustainability innovations and the engagement of multiple actors in their implementation. The diversity and multitude of initiatives in the case study regions provides an optimistic outlook on future opportunities for large-scale sustainability transitions.
Subject Keywords: Sustainability Transitions; Learning; Governance; Innovation; Transition Governance; Participatory Modeling; Multi-level learning; Process design; Systematic Review; Canada; Cyprus; Germany; Water Supply; Energy Supply; Food Supply; Nexus; Transformative research; Causal loop diagram; Education for Sustaiable Development; WEF Nexus; FEW Nexus
Issue Date: 27-Feb-2017
License name: Namensnennung-NichtKommerziell-KeineBearbeitung 3.0 Unported
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Type of publication: Dissertation oder Habilitation [doctoralThesis]
Appears in Collections:FB06 - E-Dissertationen

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