Headline: Democratic Transformations

Sustainability and democracy are necessarily intertwined in democratic societies. In short, democratic transformations towards sustainability require sustainable democratic processes if they are to succeed. This poses a major and ongoing challenge for society, which we cannot expect to solve definitively, but which requires the continuous reconfiguration, reformulation, and application of policy ideas or civic initiatives. This mission brings with it a need to understand how transformations towards sustainability can and do occur in the context of democracy.

This tension informs the questions underpinning this research area: How can the relationship between democracy and sustainability transformations be studied? What theories can we use and develop to understand sustainability transformations in democracies? And how can we enable and practice these transformations as a society?

The research groups within this area address these questions by focusing on ongoing local and regional transformation processes. Undertaking transformative research, the research groups are more than mere observers; instead, their findings are used to enable and support people engaged in transformation processes. Generating their research questions and results in close cooperation with actors from civil society, government, business and public administration, the research groups both develop knowledge and design transformation processes to address social, economic, and ecological realities at the crossroads of democracy and change for sustainability.

The research group "Co-creation and Contemporary Policy Advice" analyses and explores the potential of co-creative processes for sustainability transformations. The group also advises diverse initiatives and institutions seeking to experiment with collaborative formats within policy arenas, such as the recently established citizen councils in Berlin). The research group "Democratic (Re)Configurations of Sustainability Transformations" considers the contemporary conditions for democracy and explores opportunities for the development of new democratic realities, processes and innovations, such as a socio-environmental monitoring system for the Amazon basin. The group also hosts a thinking space at the IASS focused on democratic reconfigurations and experimentation. The research group "Social Transformation and Responsive Policy Advice in Lusatia" studies the complex social, cultural and political implications of the shift from a carbon-based economy. The group advises the futuring project "Zukunftswerkstatt" (Workshop for the Future) in the coal-region of Lusatia. Prototypes for local and cross-sectoral collaboration developed by the group are used to gain a better understanding of citizens' motivations and to explore the transformative potentials of science-society interactions.

Berlin

Shoppers’ Mobility Habits: Retailers Overestimate Car Use

Retail traders often fear that reducing the amount of urban space made available for parking private vehicles would have a negative effect on their businesses. A survey conducted by researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) on two shopping streets in Berlin shows that traders have a skewed perception of their customers’ mobility habits. The findings of this research will facilitate better informed decision-making around urban land-use planning.

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Brandenburg

Childhood in the Age of Covid-19: Survey Reveals Concerns and Wishes

The measures imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic have hit children and young people especially hard, including in the town of Lauchhammer in Brandenburg, Germany. A new survey reveals how children there have fared since the outbreak of the pandemic and sheds light on their experiences and where and how they spent their time. Youth participation around local issues and projects is common in Lauchhammer and the survey also looks at how civic engagement could be jumpstarted again after the pandemic.

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Stakeholder Commissions

Legitimation Strategies for Coal Exits in Germany and Canada

Ending our dependence on coal is essential for effective climate protection. Nevertheless, efforts to phase out coal trigger anxiety and resistance, particularly in mining regions. The governments of both Canada and Germany have involved various stakeholders to develop recommendations aimed at delivering just transitions and guiding structural change. In a new study, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) compare the stakeholder commissions convened by the two countries, drawing on expert interviews with their members, and examine how governments use commissions to legitimize their transition policies.

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Democratic transformations

Education for Sustainable Development in a Changing Region

How can school pupils get to grips with the transformation processes underway in the former coal-mining region of Lusatia and take an active role in shaping change? In a new study, IASS researchers show how teachers can engage with these issues in and outside their classrooms. The aim is not only to stimulate discussions, but also to empower young people to participate in the transformation process.

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Study

Why Germany’s Coal Compromise Failed to End the Debate

Can expert commissions develop solutions for controversial issues that will enjoy broad democratic support? A team of researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) has analysed the work of Germany’s “Coal Exit Commission” using a set of new criteria. While the authors view positively the Commission’s success in reaching a compromise, they criticise its failure to deliver an outcome that promotes the common good, particularly with respect to the high cost of the coal exit and its unambitious contribution towards Germany’s climate goals, as well as the lack of public participation.

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Futures

Making Space for Visionary Thinking? How Civil Society Organizations Shaped the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The development of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was supposed to be more inclusive, transparent and participatory than previous processes, and to this end, civil society organizations were explicitly involved in the process. In a new study, IASS researchers Henrike Knappe and Oscar Schmidt analyse the engagement of these organizations and the visions of a better future that guided their contributions.

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Special Issue

Reform or Revolution? What is at stake in democratic sustainability transformations

Calls for new forms of democratic sustainability and their achievement by way of a “great,” “socio-ecological,” and/or “democratic” transformation of societies have gained traction, both in academia and among policy makers. A special issue of the journal “Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy”, edited by researchers from the IASS, examines what is at stake in current debates.

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Coal Exit

At a Crossroads between Populism and Renewal: How the Structural Transformation of Lusatia can Succeed

Lusatia needs to tackle a double challenge in the coming decades: the loss of a major industry with the planned coal exit and the unabated radicalisation of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the region. In a new publication, IASS researcher Tobias Haas discusses the economic, political and cultural reasons for the rise of authoritarian populism in Lusatia, while also identifying pathways towards a progressive renewal.

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Structural transformation

Arrested Transformation: Can Lusatia Make a Clean Break from Coal?

The coal phaseout in Lusatia has already been dragging on for three decades. In the face of delays to the promised structural transformation of the region, the out-migration of its young people, and local conflicts of interest, politicians now need to take action on two fronts. Financial investment alone will not be enough; the local population has to be involved in determining the direction its region is going to take. In a new publication IASS researchers analyse the obstacles to change and point to opportunities for democratically legitimised transformations.

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Sustainability and Democracy: Exploring the Power of Labs

Modern times are characterised by an increase in “wicked problems” that threaten established forms of democratic governability. What can labs ¬¬– collaborative spaces for testing innovative ideas – contribute to democratic innovation and sustainability in government? In the workshop “Toward Democratic Transformation: A Lab on Labs” at the IASS, international practitioners, leading researchers and government experts explored lab methods and principles to promote democracy and sustainability.

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Political processes

Recommendations for Responding to the Fridays for Future Movement

The level of public concern about climate change has risen significantly in recent years. The Fridays for Future movement enjoys broad political and public support, but this has so far not translated into tangible changes. IASS Fellow Elizabeth Dirth has now developed a resource – the Futuring Tool – and a more comprehensive Policy Brief aimed at decision-makers who want to make climate protection a guiding principle of their work.

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Climate Change Disinformation

Time for a new take on climate communication

As the evidence for disruptive climate change has mounted over the last decades, organised attacks on climate science have grown, flanked by conspiracy theories, disinformation, and false claims. How is disinformation produced, to what end, and by whom? A workshop addressing these and related questions took place at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam and was attended by a host of international scholars.

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Interview

Climate Action Takes Shape in Israel

David Dunetz has worked for 20 years at the Heschel Center for Sustainability in Tel Aviv, which leads the Israel Climate Forum, a consortium of civil society organizations. As a Visiting Research Fellow at the IASS Potsdam on a joint program with the Israel Public Policy Institute, he is currently researching how civic engagement and participation processes can advance climate policy and democratic innovation.

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Public Participation

Democracy 3.0: The Key to More Successful Citizen Participation

How can parliamentary representative democracies be strengthened and revitalised? In the context of the ever more complex future questions society has to grapple with, the study “Bundesrepublik 3.0” (Federal Republic 3.0) presents a concept for more citizen participation at national level. It was developed in a co-creative process where examples of best practice were considered and combined to generate new solutions.

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The IASS at the Katowice Climate Change Conference

The 24th UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) is due to take place in the Polish city of Katowice from 2 to 14 December. At this year’s COP, minds will focus on concrete steps towards implementing the Paris Climate Agreement. A whole host of experts from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) will be there. At the international symposium on “Safeguarding Our Climate, Advancing Our Society”, IASS Scientific Director Patrizia Nanz will speak about the role democratic structures can play in the shift to sustainability. And IASS Scientific Director Mark Lawrence will represent the institute at the High Level Assembly of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition on the margins of the conference.

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Phasing Out Coal: IASS to Investigate Structural Transformation in Lusatia

The region of Lusatia in Eastern Germany is experiencing a structural transformation due to the dwindling significance of lignite. In a new research project, the IASS will investigate the changes taking place there. Karl Eugen Huthmacher from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and IASS Scientific Director Patrizia Nanz presented the project at the Lusatia Dialogue on 25 June.

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Blog Posts

Structures in Transformation – Lusatia in Focus

Since 2020 artist and photographer Sven Gatter has been documenting traces of decay and renewal in Lower Lusatia that are simultaneously new beginnings and occasions for discourse. He is now bringing the results of this work together in the artist's book "ECHO TEKTUR. Ruins and Models". IASS researcher Johannes Staemmler has penned a contribution to this publication, which we publish here in an abridged version. Sven Gatter's works will be shown at Brandenburg’s State Museum of Modern Art from 10 September through to 21 November 2021.

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Can the climate change agenda ‘save’ the Amazon?

Concern with the Amazon is common in international climate discourse. Indeed, “saving” the Amazon for the sake of the climate has become a rallying cry among climate policymakers and researchers alike. In this post, I want to argue that while curbing deforestation in the Amazon is undoubtedly important, framing the challenge as a mission to “save” the Amazon in order to fight climate change is problematic.

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What do you know about Lusatia?

How do you get a feel for a place? I have to be there in person. I feel the ground, taste the air, dip my fingertips in the water; I let the sounds weave its stories me. Since April, I've been working on an artistic project about the region of Lusatia. The region has long captivated my imagination, since learning about its cross-border identity and the history of the Sorbs in Lusatia, pre-dating current nation states.

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Technocratic Residues in Transdisciplinary Research? A Reflection on the Methods and Political Roles of Sustainability Scholars

For scholars it is always hard to reflect about their role in sustainability transformations and conflicts. This predicament is tackled in a new special issue of the journal Social Epistemology that Ulli Vilsmaier (Leuphana) and I have just published. Contributors from several disciplines discuss the dilemma of control in transdisciplinary research in this special issue and consider how scholars can deal with their own involvement in power-ridden constellations.

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Structural change and sustainability must go hand in hand

With the Structural Adjustment Act, the German government intends to provide 40 billion euros of federal funding for the coal-mining areas of Germany. In addition, an emergency fund of 260 million euros is earmarked for short-term projects. However, the effect of these funds will remain modest if the federal and state governments do not go further than previously planned in implementing the costly coal exit. They risk losing sight of three essential goals: enabling sustainability, strengthening regional activity, and learning to shape transformation.

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