söndag 6 mars 2022

Digital Transformation for Sustainability


This is the first blog post after a two-year break - the last blog posts were published in May 2020 but I published regularly (at least once per week) during the first four months of that year. The hiatus thus correlates neatly with the Covid epidemic and all the various restrictions and shutdowns around the world. I myself had Covid for the first time less than a month ago, but I'm triple-vaccinated and it didn't feel substantially different from having an ordinary cold. 

While there is a correlation between Covid and me not blogging, I can't really say that there is a causal relationship between these two events. Covid did not per se make me quit blogging, nor did my blogging (or my lack of blogging) cause the Covid epidemic (as far as I know).

Much has of course happened during these two years, but I will not help readers catch up by spending weeks retroactively filling in various gaps. I will instead introduce new topics as they happen, but will also present a backstory that draws on 2020 and 2021 when needed - starting now. 

"Digital Transformation for Sustainability" is the working name of a proposed two-year masters programme that me and my colleague, Elina Erikssons, have been working on for some time. If successful, we could accept students and start the program 18 months from now, e.g. in September 2023. When I investigate, I can see that we started to write meeting notes and to-do lists back in April 2021, but not much happened before last summer. We did however write a 1-page pitch back in September, and where the audience was primarily people at our university, and in particular at our school, the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Here's the latest version of the 1-page pitch:

Digital transformations for sustainability (proposal)

"The scientific evidence suggests that the years ahead will test coming generations in extraordinary ways. Educators are obliged to tell the truth about such things but then to convert the anxiety that often accompanies increased awareness of danger to positive energy that can generate constructive changes. Environmental education must be an exercise in applied hope that equips young people with the skills, aptitudes, analytic wherewithal, creativity, and stamina to dream, act, and lead heroically. To be effective on a significant scale, however, the creative energies of the rising generation must be joined with strong and bold institutional leadership."

State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability. L. Starke, & L. Mastny (Eds.). WW Norton & Company, p.83.

Many experts agree that the major challenge facing humanity this century is to decrease our emissions of greenhouse gases and stop catastrophic heating of planet Earth. This master’s programme takes its starting point in the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree target and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and aims to attract students from all engineering programs at the KTH School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to work towards these goals by harnessing the transformational power of ICT. The master’s program will recruit students from both EECS major subjects, electrical engineering and computer science. There are few examples of similar international programs, yet the interest in this kind of education is high and we also expect a large number of international students to apply as well. This master’s programme will span the whole EECS school, allowing students from all bachelor programmes to choose a master’s programme that leads to a deep understanding of the role of digitalisation and digital transformation for sustainable development. 

The program takes the Carbon Law (Rockström et al. 2017) and the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap (Falk et al. 2019) - that we need to decrease CO2 emissions by 50% every decade - as starting points for a transformation of society. The program furthermore takes inspiration from and incorporates systems thinking and will explore how digitalisation can be used to address current societal issues, for example as represented by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The programme will thus address issues pertaining to ecological, social and economic sustainability, making the students who graduate from the programme into change agents for a better tomorrow.

The Digital Transformations for Sustainability program will (tentatively) consist of four parts: 30 hp core (mandatory) courses, 30 hp in different tracks (connected to the different engineering programmes), 30 hp elective courses and 30 hp master’s thesis. The programme is a continuation of and a progression from the bachelor’s level, meaning that students, if they have not taken an introductory course to sustainability, will have to do so at the beginning of the programme (e.g. the course DM2573). The focus of the core courses will be to impart a broad understanding of sustainable societal transformation through digitalization, change processes and leadership. Core courses will for example include DM2720 Sustainable ICT in Practice, which has a focus on understanding how the IT and Media industries work with sustainability issues. The track courses will give the students deeper knowledge and skills in technology-related aspects of their track (corresponding to the different engineering programmes the students come from). The elective courses will give students the opportunity to either go deeper into a specific area or to gain a broader understanding. A programme integrating course will span the two years of the programme and will support better cohesion and networking opportunities between students and other relevant actors both within and outside of the academy.


Johan Falk et al. 2019. Exponential Roadmap 1.5. Future earth, SITRA (2019).

Johan Rockström et al. 2017. A roadmap for rapid decarbonization. Science 355, 6331 (2017), 1269–1271.

The reason I write this blog post at this particular moment in time is because we handed in a 15-page programme proposal this week, and we also separately handed in a 4-page application for money to develop a new course, "Leading complex change processes". Both of these documents were written in Swedish and while I will not translate them, I can say a few words about the work we do right now in relation to the proposed masters programme. 

The program we plan would be quite unique as there aren't many masters programmes in the intersection of sustainability and computing, and what there is is mostly geared towards Green IT and software engineering - while our proposal aims more broadly. If we are successful, we will get a go-ahead later this spring and we would be able to welcome students to our programme next year (September 2023). Much needs to happen before that though, including developing three new masters-level courses. Separate from the masters programme application, we also handed in an application for funds to develop one of these three courses, "Leading complex change processes". The course would, in one sentence, "aim to teach, but also show how to understand, relate to and lead change projects in a world that is characterized by increased complexity and uncertainty". 

I will surely come back to this topic (probably several times this spring). While we handed in the document this past week, we will, this coming week, present it to and answer questions from the KTH Vice President for Education and the Directors of First and Second Cycle Education at the five KTH Schools. It's an important meeting but it will be followed by an even more important meeting in April (where a binding decision could be taken). 

Wish us luck!


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