Transdisciplinary Experimentation

Research and Innovation (R&I) can serve as catalysts for realizing sustainability transitions. In particular, it is argued that transdisciplinary and action-oriented approaches that include societal stakeholders, perspectives and values into R&I processes are promising in bringing along transformative change. Doing transdisciplinarity is not easy and raises many questions: how do you govern and support transdisciplinary experimentation processes? And what kind of R&I systems do we need to support transdisciplinarity? In my research I explore these types of questions.

One particular interest I have concerns the role of R&I systems. Scholars have pointed out that incumbent R&I systems (in terms of structures, cultures, practices) do not support the uptake of transdisciplinary and transformative research. For instance, funding mechanisms support fragmented and disciplinary research, and scientific cultures value high-impact publications above efforts that foster societal impact. If R&I is really to be transdisciplinary and transformative, there is a need to transform R&I systems. We have suggested to adopt a coupled-systems perspective, that allows to understand R&I systems as being coupled to other societal systems and to identify where interventions might be most effective [1].

Second, I am interested in understanding how – and in which spaces – we can best organize transdisciplinary processes. In line with increased interest in EU policy contexts and academia, we work on designing and supporting transformative Living Labs as multi-stakeholder spaces for co-creation of transformative innovations, and to stimulate learning and reflection in transdisciplinary processes. With colleagues in the FIT4FOOD2030 project, we developed methodologies and tools to support the engagement of societal stakeholders in Living Labs [2]. The ‘inclusion’ of stakeholders in such transdisciplinary processes aimed at societal transformation is not straightforward, as it is a deeply political process: who (decides who) is allowed to join, to speak for others, and why, and how? In one of our contributions, we have argued that understanding ‘doing inclusion’ as a political practice helps to understand the challenges involved, and thus to formulate strategies for stakeholder inclusion [3]. Importantly, it raises questions regarding the different types of impact that such Labs can bring along, including building capacities for change, as well as creating changes in the system the Labs are part of [4].

A final sub-theme I am working on is the governance of portfolios of transition experiments. How can transition-oriented programs and projects govern and support multiple transdisciplinary transition experiments (in different spatial contexts) simultaneously? This also raises questions of how transition experiments can be(come) connected across spatial scales, and how to better understand which types of translocal dynamics emerge in such large-scale transition projects. To address these questions, we are proposing a framework for understanding the governance of translocal experimentation for sustainability transitions [5]. In other work, we zoom in on the role of translocal learning: how can learning systems and learning paths best be designed in such large-scale projects that support multiple Labs? [6]

Selected publications

[1] Kok, K. P. W., den Boer, A. C. L., Cesuroglu, T., et al., (2019). Transforming Research and Innovation for Sustainable Food Systems: A Coupled-Systems Perspective. Sustainability, 11(24), 7176. LINK

[2] European Commission (Eds: Kok, K.P.W., Lucht, L. & Broerse, J.E.W.) (2021). Research and Innovation Accelerating Food System Transformation: Operationalising FOOD 2030 through Living Labs. Publications Office of the European Union. LINK

[3] Kok, K. P. W., Gjefsen, M. D., Regeer, B. J., & Broerse, J. E. W. (2021). Unraveling the Politics of ‘Doing Inclusion’ in Transdisciplinarity for Sustainable Transformation. Sustainability Science, 16, 1811-1826. LINK

[4] Kok, K.P.W., van der Meij, M. G., Wagner, P., Cesuroglu, T., Broerse, J. E., & Regeer, B. J. (2023). Exploring the practice of Labs for sustainable transformation: The challenge of ‘creating impact’. Journal of Cleaner Production388, 135994. LINK

[5] Kok, K. P. W., de Hoop, E., Sengers, F., Broerse, J. E. W., Regeer, B. J., & Loeber, A. M. C. (2022). Governing translocal experimentation in multi-sited transition programs: Dynamics and challenges. Environmental Innovation & Societal Transitions, 43, 393-407. LINK

[6] Svare, H., Gjefsen, M. D., den Boer, A., & Kok, K.P.W. (2023). Learning systems and learning paths in sustainability transitions. Ecology and Society28(1). LINK