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Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EPISUS (What Epistemology for Sustainability Science? Experiments and Theories for Social Transformation)


• What is the problem/issue being addressed?Sustainability science is an innovative research field dealing with complex socio-ecological problems of our time, from climate change and rapid urbanization to pandemics and loss of biodiversity. A major goal for sustainability...


• What is the problem/issue being addressed?
Sustainability science is an innovative research field dealing with complex socio-ecological problems of our time, from climate change and rapid urbanization to pandemics and loss of biodiversity. A major goal for sustainability science is to support societal transformations towards sustainability by generating, testing, and integrating action-oriented knowledge about effective interventions that can lead from the problems detected to more desirable futures. Thus far, we do not have a good understanding of how to generate or use action-oriented knowledge for sustainability through research. Because of the central role they play in sustainability science, in EPISUS, I have taken sustainability experiments that are solution- and action- oriented as entrance point to develop an epistemology of transformational sustainability science. I ask: What kind of sustainability science do we need to generate and test action-oriented knowledge and what role can action- and solution oriented experiments play in this science?

• Why is it important for society?
Numerous debates at the science-policy interface have increasingly claimed for the need of more action-oriented knowledge as well as for evidence that this kind of knowledge can be effectively used in supporting actions and interventions (such as policy decisions). Global reports, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (2015) or the last Intergovernamental Panel on Climate Change (2018) have increasingly reasserted the need for a sustainability science which can generate action- and solution-oriented knowledge. And yet, the sustainability literature is characterized by unclarity and ambiguity when it comes to defining and understanding knowledge in the service of action as well as what it means that this knowledge is evidence-based. The need to find better ways to deal with action-oriented knowledge comes from the world of policy and from these global reports. The conceptual work I did in EPISUS is meant to provide sustainability scientists with the right conceptual tools and instruments to generate knowledge that is actually useful to support decision-making and actions in the policy world.

• What are the overall objectives?
Departing from the main driving questions of my project, I had three main objectives:
1. Objective 1: Developing a conceptual framework that can help clearly understand what we mean when we talk about action-oriented knowledge for sustainability in sustainability science.
2. Objective 2: Developing a notion of evidence that fits this action-oriented knowledge for sustainability by rely both on philosophical literature and on sustainability science literature.
3. Objective 3: Providing broad theoretical and philosophical approaches that can help understand the kind of scientific attitudes that the sustainability research community can take so as to be able to contribute to action-oriented knowledge through research.

Work performed

• Conceptual framework for Action-oriented knowledge for sustainability
• Conceptual framework for an expanded notion of evidence for action-oriented sustainability research on the basis of literature from sustainability science, philosophy of science; public health, evidence-based medicine, and evidence-based policy.
• Development of a broad and overarching notion of Practical Wisdom for sustainability on the basis of philosophical literature.

Final results

Each objective of EPISUS was conceived keeping in mind issues of both scientific and societal relevance.

Objective 1: By creating a conceptual framework for action-oriented knowledge for sustainability, EPISUS has filled an important research gap in the conceptual and theoretical development of sustainability science (Scientific relevance). Thanks to the work I have done with my co-authors on this, it will be easier for sustainability researchers to generate knowledge that can actually support actions (e.g. interventions and policy) to addressin pressing sustainability issues of our time. The framework can be used to facilitate collaboration at the science-society and science-policy interface (societal relevance).

Objective 2: By developing an expanded notion of evidence for action-oriented knowledge for sustainability, EPISUS has filled and important gap in the conceptual and theoretical development of sustainability science. In fact, the notion of evidence we develop should help better understand how to establish criteria for the evaluation of action-oriented knowledge for sustainability (scientific relevance). Also, such a notion of evidence is meant to support scientists in better understanding how to generate evidence-based and at the same time action-oriented knowledge that can be used by policy and decision makers to support their decisions and policies (societal relevance).

Objective 3: By developing a notion of practical wisdom for sustainability that can support an understanding of broader assumptions and features that characterize what it means to do sustainability research, EPISUS provides a broad conceptual framework to understand the way in which we think about sustainability science beyond specific theories and models. Given the proliferation of such theories and models in this field, there is a need to overarching perspectives that are able to capture the way specific theories and models are bound together with experimental practices and actions for sustainability transformations at the science-society interface (scientific and societal relevance).

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