Societal Transformation

In Germany, numerous players in political discourse emphasize the importance of an extensive transformation of politics, economy and society, in order to do justice to the challenges of a sustainable development. But what is exactly societal transformation? At the FFU, we understand societal transformation to be a long process that comprises of extensive changes in different areas of the society (subsystems) – ranging from production and consumption patterns to legal concepts, from types of organisations to cultural practices and beliefs. These changes in individual subsystems are interdependent; this means that the changes in one subsystem will influence changes in another. Societal transformation is then the result when different changes in subsystems reinforce each other and give overall development of society a direction (e.g. sustainability). During the transformation processes, the ‘old’ and ‘new’ still coexist (e.g. in the form of technologies, social norms, economic and political systems). Only in the course of a transformation –by overcoming path dependencies and barriers – a direction will emerge in which transformative processes will change a society.
The FFU is engaged in different projects with the preconditions for and approaches to governing the transformation towards a sustainable society.

The conventional food production is associated with negative impacts on the environment, such as biodiversity loss, water pollution and the emission of climate-damaging greenhouse gases. In addition, the consumption patterns of Western societies have far-reaching health implications; among them the increase in coronary heart disease, obesity, and colorectal cancer.

A growing world population, changing dietary habits of the emerging middle class in emerging economies and global and national environmental and climate goals require the food system to become more sustainable . In addition to technical solutions, social and institutional innovations are essential to achieve this goal.

As part of the project "Social-ecological transformation of the food system - exploring environmental policy intervention possibilities on the basis of current findings of transformation research" the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) aims at gaining knowledge about novel political intervention options in the food system and broadening the debate in transformation science by examining the example of the transformation of the food system.

The consortium of NAHhaft e.V., the Environmental Policy Research Centre of the FU-Berlin, and the Chair of Sustainability Governance of the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität (ALU), Freiburg, will

  1. Use the insights from transformation research to analyze the transformation field of the food system and thus identify policy intervention options
  2.  Use findings from the analysis of the transformation field of food systems to advance the general scientific debate on sustainability transformation and research in further transformation fields.

Partner: NAHhaft e.V., Albert-Ludwig-Universität Freiburg

Employees in ministries and public authorities have a special responsibility in shaping a sustainable future. Major societal transformation processes, such as digitization and the achievement of the Paris climate goals, require specific capacities and competencies in these organizations.How are social innovations promoted? How are powerful narratives formulated? Are transformation actors strengthened?

Many employees in political-administrative organizations already have expertise on these issues. The effectiveness can be increased if the knowledge is sharedwithin? departments, across? departments or organizations. What is needed is a space for reflection and learning that helps organizations to discover and promote these competences.

In the UFOPLAN project "Dare to Transform", the FFU works together with Politics for Tomorrow and other partners to develop an education program as a learning and transformation laboratory for strengthening competences needed to shape a sustainable future.

Across disciplines, transformation of societies towards sustainability is seen as necessary in order to live within the planetary boundaries and to prevent unforeseeable negative consequences (like e.g. uncontrolled climate change) for our well-being. But there are sharp divisions over the question how such a ‚transformed society’ should look like. Also, it is still debated how such change processes can be brought about and if they can be governed at al. At the same time there are continuously change processes taking place, be it the rise of sharing economy or technological innovations.

How can public policy, and specifically environmental policy, govern or support transformation towards sustainability? The project aims at developing central elements of a concept for transformative environmental policy.

The project builds on previous work, were we developed a rudimentary concept of transformative environmental policy (see ffu-report). The concept of transformative environmental policy is based on the assumption of limited government’s capacities to plan and steer societal transformations. It is also based on the notion of transformation as a co-evolution of different societal systems, and in particular technological systems, culture and institutions. There is no single determinant that is causal for transformation, and certainly not a single governmental intervention. Instead, transformations are the result of a dynamic interplay between different systems and innovation.

In order to further develop the concept, scientific contributions will be analysed regarding the potential of governing transformations, stakeholder workshops will be held to discuss the design of the central elements with practitioners and last, a practical guideline will be formulated with examples of working fields, instruments, institutions and good practice for transformative environmental policies.

Partners: Öko-Institut e.V., IFOK

This project contributes to measurement of progress towards Green Economy and its understanding for political decision making process in Germany. Based on a synopsis of rele-vant measurement concepts it identifies deficits of available concepts and develops suggestions for an adequate indicator system.

December 15, 2011 - September 30, 2014

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The project aims at expanding the period of time covered by Germany’s Sustainability Strategy to the year 2030 and at sketching out the development until 2050. To do this, major issue areas and challenges need to be identified, and strategies and sub-targets for their implementation have to be developed.

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Schools@University is an innovative inter- and transdisciplinary educational format at the Freie Universität of Berlin that builds bridges between academia and civil society. Fifth and sixth graders and their teachers are invited to the FUB twice a year to gain in-depth knowledge on sustainability issues and critical thinking skills empowering them to effect changes within their everyday world and in society at large. The format is based on two pillars:

  • A one-week program for 10 -13 years-olds featuring 75 interactive and participatory workshops.

  • A half-day practical teacher training to encourage application of lessons learnt in their respective schools.

We develop the workshop designs together with 100 partners from academia (students, scientists and administration staff), the state of Berlin, local businesses/companies, art and culture institutions, as well as NGOs.

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The Environmental Policy Research Centre is involved in the Alliance with a comprehensive project from the political science perspective. The project will investigate new governance requirements for the electricity system restructuring.

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The initative SUSTAIN IT! has the comprehensive goal of discussing local and global questions  of sustainability in the fields of politics, science, economics, adminstration, technology, society and education.

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Currently, an environmentally recyclable concept of a socio-ecological, sustainable growth and social model is missing, which would be a reference point for future economic and social prosperity and corresponding transformation processes. With this background, the main point of this study is the technical analysis and discussion of the following aspects:
1) theoretical and practical approaches of ecological and sustainable-oriented social and economic models – based on a national or macro-economic view.
2) conceptual and empirical reform efforts for the measurement of social welfare and economic prosperity.

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The European project “Schools at university for Climate & Energy (SAUCE)” offered a series of one-week on-campus education programmes for pupils ages 10-13 on the core topics of energy and climate change. The project has continued with the current School University.

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The study recapitulates the most important shortfalls and vacancies of the GDP figures. Founded on this analysis, the question of possible complementary indicators has been discussed.

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In time for the twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster and for the first time at the Free University of Berlin and in Germany, a thematically focused school university on climate and energy took place from 20th March to 24th March 2006. The project has continued with the current School University.

Term: 01.05.2005 - 30.09.2006

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