Research has a lot to offer

Editorial by Jan Peter Schemmel, CEO, Oeko-Institut
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Transformation means far-reaching change. Not change that simply happens, but change that we shape. Likewise, changing our habits falls into this category. Consciously going without something is another way to promote change, although many people are loathe to go without. But the question is, would it really be so terrible? Anyone can simply try this out, and more besides, by taking part in a project for socio-ecological transformation. Replace the car with a cargo bike for a while. Try to manage with less living space. If someone actually feels the benefits of a more sustainable everyday life, maybe they will not even want to get back in their car – much like the countless people who still hanker after the 9-euro Germany-wide public transport ticket from the summer of 2022.

The formats of transdisciplinary sustainability research, such as living labs, are often a means for doing just that: trying out new approaches in demarcated experimentation spaces. But another major task is to bring the results into widespread use later on. The challenge of transferring successful pilot projects to other municipalities is one I know about from my time in development cooperation. One way to accomplish it is by network building, which is also pivotal to transdisciplinary sustainability research. For instance, a training and advisors’ network was built up as part of a project for better waste management in Mexico. Initiatives of that kind require capacities and resources to be available, which means this has to be factored into the funding of transdisciplinary research.

Another important aspect of transdisciplinary sustainability research is to integrate the perspectives and practical expertise of societal actors and the population into the problem-solving process. Because transformation is not purely a technological process; it needs to be shaped together with society. This is why the current draft of the German education ministry’s “Future Strategy for Research and Innovation” needs to take considerably more account of societal issues. To date, it has concentrated too heavily on technical innovations alone.

Incidentally, the Oeko-Institut was already engaged in application-oriented and participation-based research long before transdisciplinary research became an established concept. One example of this is the energy transition network involving 400 municipal initiatives, in which new approaches to the energy supply problem were developed and put into practice from the mid-1980s onwards. The experiences of the past few decades show that this type of research has a lot to offer. Even today its results are indispensable for the socio-ecological transformation. And for me this is not about going without or restricting anything, but about proactively shaping the future. For ourselves, but above all for our children.


Jan Peter Schemmel
CEO, Oeko-Institut