torsdag 8 mars 2018

Sustainable diffusion: leveraging innovators’ sustainable practices (application)

My previous blog post concerned a smaller (one-year) research grant application that was handed in to the The Swedish Council for Sustainable Development's (FORMAS) call about "Syntheses and research projects for a sustainable spatial planning". As it turns out, they had two separate "sub-calls" within that umbrella call; one for (smaller one-year) synthesis projects ("Syntheses of knowledge status and knowledge gaps") and another call for (larger three-year) research projects ("Research projects focussing on the citizens or actors involved"), and, we actually handed in an application to each of those two calls. Here's the call for the larger research projects.

So beyond the previous application (see the previous blog post), we also handed in an application called "Sustainable diffusion: leveraging innovators’ sustainable practices through digitalization". It's for the most part the same persons that are behind both applications but with two important differences; where the previous application was led by Björn Hedin (project leader), this application was led by Elina Eriksson (project leader). Both me and Cecilia Katzeff are also part of both applications but our newly hired colleague Rob Comber is also part of this, the second and larger application. We will, if our application is granted, also hire a post-doc for two years who will work full-time in this research project.

It's quite a feat (and it was pretty tough) writing two (partly overlapping) applications with the same deadline at the same time but we set up a streamlined process where primarily Björn and Cecilia worked with the smaller synthesis application and Elina and Rob worked in parallel with the larger application. I also primarily worked with the larger application (at a distance, from Barcelona) but also now and then went back and forth between the two applications. The second application is written in English and here's the 1500-character summary of the project:

We need to increase the pace at which we are building a sustainable society. To achieve the Swedish Environmental Objectives changes need to happen faster across society - infrastructural, behavioral etc. There already exists innovative and successful solutions created for example by citizens' initiatives and grassroots movements, and there are also innovative municipalities that have come a long way in their transition work. However, there is a gap on the one hand between the sustainable practices that innovators (forerunners) explore and that those who follow in their trajectories perhaps adopt, and on the other hand between initiatives that authorities and municipalities run and which citizens perhaps adopt. In this project we will investigate what role digitization can play to bridge these gaps.

The project will explore ways to disseminate sustainable innovations bottom-up, ‘middle-out’ and top-down and we will explore three interlinked contexts for sustainable innovations: 1) the documentation and sharing of sustainable innovations from forerunners to early adopters, 2) the power of civic and third sector organisations, such as grass root movements, and 3) the role of government agents and agencies, such as the Municipal Energy and Climate Advisors (EKR). The project will strive to create long-term and sustainable digital and social ways for the spread of sustainable innovations.

Below are some other, selected parts of the application. From the Background:

In this project we are interested in sustainable innovations - new ways of configuring lived life in order to aim for less impact on the planet. Sustainable innovations also explicitly aim for a more just society - measures that lessen the impact on the planet can not lead to a more unequal society. Although understudied (Shove and Walker, 2010), there are already innovative and successful initiatives created by individual citizens and grass root movements, referred to as “forerunners” (Rogers, 2010) in this project. Among these forerunners, municipalities, regions and other public organizations have come far in their transition thinking and processes. However, there is a gap between the sustainable practices that forerunners engage in, including those that municipalities and public authorities advocate, and the practices adopted by followers, e.g. by early adopters and the early majority.

From the Aims and Goals:

The project holds as its primary aim to increase diffusion of sustainable innovation through the design of digital platforms that are attuned to the social practices of innovation. We question: How can digital platforms be utilized to increase the diffusion of innovative sustainable practices and behaviors?

This aim is supported by the following goals:
1. To understand the social practices of actors engaged with sustainable innovation (forerunners).
2. To identify the opportunities for digital platforms to support shared practices (competences, materials, meanings) within pathways of diffusion.
3. To design digital platforms and socio-technical pathways to support diffusion of sustainable innovation
4. To establish criteria for measuring success of pathways for diffusion with stakeholders

We have three partners in the project (and a special thanks goes to Pella Thiel for suggesting we should get in touch with (super-enthusiastic) Erik Noaksson):

Susanna Elfors, consultant in sustainable local development
Bagarmossen Resilience Centre (BRC) - a local meeting place for transition, resilience, sustainability and local development in the border between the rural and the urban. See further:

Erik Noaksson, Innovation Strategist for Region Jämtland Härjedalen, project leader SMICE
SMICE - an innovation network supporting sustainable development that connects actors in Jämtland, Härjedalen and Tröndelag. See further:

Emelie Skoog, Regional Development Leader (Regional Utvecklingsledare - RUL)
Mälardalen Energy Agency (MEA) - a regional energy agency with commitments in four counties in Sweden: Södermanland, Västmanland, Uppsala and Gotland, See further:

We are also much more ambitious in our plans for disseminating the results from the project than in any other application I've been part of; we will, besides scientific dissemination through articles and conference presentations set up a web page, a blog (promising to publish one blog post per week for three years), record short videos and podcasts and organise knowledge dissemination seminars:

The project group has prior experiences with all these formats, for example Daniel Pargman has a long standing academic blog where he has published 1-2 blog posts per week for more than 7.5 years, Elina Eriksson and Cecilia Katzeff have both organized and taken part in seminars in Almedalen and Rob Comber and Elina Eriksson have engaged in popular science communication through events such as British Science Festival and ForskarFredag. Furthermore, the project will also use the possible communication channels that our project partners [...] have at their disposal (e.g. homepages, Facebook groups, Twitter accounts etc.).

I believe we have put together a strong application that is in line with the call but we will again have to wait for more than half a year (until September) to know if our application will be granted.

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