Key competencies for knowledge innovation towards sustainability transformations – meeting systemic challenges within the science-policy interface

16:15 Tuesday 28 May

SS020 • OC115

Room S16


Luis Pinto (Denmark) 1

1 - University of Westminster and European Environment Agency

The key goal of this research project is to contribute to the ongoing governance efforts towards systemic transformations in environmental sustainability. In this arena, knowledge produced in the past decades seems to have been be of great value for policy-making. However, the developing complexity of sustainability challenges has brought with it increasing recognition that existing knowledge and governance approaches are inadequate to deal with them.Governance endeavours for systemic transformations in the sustainability arena require a ‘new type of knowledge’.

Being aware of this, actors in the so-called ‘science-policy interface’ have been investing in understanding what the key features of such a ‘new type of knowledge’ are. Through this research project, we have been able to propose five such key characteristics, referring to a type of knowledge that is (1) co-created, (2) transdisciplinary, (3) systemic, (4) reflexive and (5) generative.

While there is a vast array of literature supporting and reviewing these findings, there is not much said and researched regarding the individual competencies required to generate such type of knowledge. What does an individual – a researcher or a sustainability professional – need to be differently competent at in order to generate such a different type of knowledge? What is required from an individual professional to be able to, for example, apply systems thinking in a reflexive, transdisciplinary, co-created and generative mode?

Through empirical work, this research project has been exploring the pertinence and validity of 10 proposed key competencies required to generate such a new type of knowledge as defined above.

Research seems to tell so far that most actors involved in governance towards sustainability transitions have themselves been educated and trained towards a completely different set of competencies, based on the traditional paradigms of problem-solving, linear causality, discipline-based analysis and planning.

How can these very same actors – including policy-makers and those working in the science-policy interface – be now equipped to deal with complex systems and engage in strategic knowledge development towards systemic, transformative innovation? For instance, how can these same actors tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity when they were trained to produce indisputable definitive answers? How can they induce disruption when they were educated to tame complexity? How can they mobilise intuition when only their cognitive load was tested and valued?

This study points to some of the learning strategies that seem to enhance systemic change in what the production of knowledge for sustainability transitions is concerned.