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Transformations to Sustainability

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - T2S (Transformations to Sustainability)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2022-12-31

NORFACE (New Opportunities for Research Funding Agency Cooperation in Europe), together with the Belmont Forum, has launched the Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) programme to contribute to re-structuring the field of sustainability research by placing social science and humanities at the heart of interdisciplinary research.

Climate change, environmental degradation and resource pressures have created unprecedented situations for societies worldwide. Consequently, there is growing attention to the need for more fundamental transformations in the way societies interact with each other and the natural environment. T2S was a concerted initiative to boost research on transformations to sustainability and catalyse new kinds of solutions to environmental and social challenges.

The aims of T2S were twofold: to develop understanding of and promote research on transformations to sustainability which are of significant social, economic and policy concern throughout the world; and to build capacity, overcome fragmentation and have a lasting impact on both society and the research landscape by cultivating durable research collaboration across multiple borders, disciplines and different types of partners. This included new research collaborations with parts of the world which are not often involved in large-scale international research efforts, notably low- and middle-income countries.

T2S was funded by 12 national or regional research funding agencies, the International Science Council (ISC), and supported by the EC.

12 transnational research projects, with a combined budget of €11.6m undertook theoretically and methodologically innovative research in areas ranging from groundwater, mining, urban development and land registration, to the role of migration and intellectual property rights in sustainability transitions. The projects engaged partners in 29 countries.

To enhance the relevance of the knowledge being produced, the projects took transdisciplinary approaches involving stakeholder partners in the research process. The knowledge produced by the projects is of relevance to researchers, practitioners and policymakers across a multitude of sectors and will contribute to advancing transformative change around the globe.
The programme produced high-quality scientific outcomes, largely due to the formative position given to the social sciences and humanities. The transdisciplinary nature of the programme allowed for new avenues of research in the field of transformations in sustainability and therefore led to deepened understandings both locally and globally. Projects engaged deeply and meaningfully with the concept of transformations and made great advancements in its theoretical and conceptual debates. Below are some examples of the projects’ contributions.

Advancement of project sciences and other knowledge
- new techniques in satellite image analysis to capture complex small-scale production systems, mapping and representing over 200 types of local initiatives in over 900 locations in the Amazon (AGENTS)
- improved understanding of unexpected outcomes of land tenure registration in conflict affected settings (SecTenSusPeace)
- ingenious ways of engaging with stakeholders in community-led and bottom-up transboundary engagements across research, policy and practice thus amplifying the voices of marginalised communities (TAPESTRY)

Policy effects
- the concept of ‘Convivial Conservation’ (CON-VIVA) was adopted by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency for the Swedish strategy for regional development cooperation in Sub-Saharan Africa, and contributed to informing EU funding priorities as well as EU policy-maker perspectives
- coaching and policy dialogues with national, local and international (UN, World Bank, African Development Bank) organisations (Gold Matters)
- Two PIs of the GoST project were appointed as lead experts of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services assessment of transformative change
- Misty: interactions with UN processes. the project was instrumental in the process which led to, in 2021, the Government of Bangladesh adopting a ground-breaking proactive and comprehensive displacement management strategy
- Input for adaptations of the Tanzanian National Water Policy. Findings related to the case of Randullabad village, India, strengthened the existing groundwater management protocols there (T2GS)

Tools and methods
- methodological innovation contributing to institutional economics and urban geography, the Adaptive Pathways method for periurban contexts supporting stakeholders to visualise future scenarios and pathways towards ideal futures (H2O–T2S)
- creation of an open access Business Toolkit, which businesses can use to reflect on how they use their IP assets and give tools to increase their sustainability impact rather than just concentrate on protecting their competitive advantage (IPACST)
- development of participatory training modules, engaging different actors on issues such as development, territory, power relations, livelihood strategies and value chains (TRUEPATH)
- creation of a citizen-science mobile app and a Guide for School Teachers to support flood resilience and prevention activities. The Brazilian National Centre for Disaster Monitoring and Early Warning has institutionalised the application. The state of Acre has confirmed that it will use the maps produced to support disaster response planning in future (Waterproofing Data)
At the programme level a number of coordinated activities to help the T2S programme reach its objectives and create pathways for knowledge exchange and impact even after the end of the action have been successfully carried out.

15 newsletters were produced distilling highlights from the projects and programme-level activities, including numerous workshops and public events, webinars and virtual conference sessions. The programme website was regularly updated and is a rich resource to find knowledge on social transformations emanating from the projects.

11 of the T2S projects contributed to a special issue of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (COSUST), published in April 2021, focused on contributions of social science approaches in research for sustainability and transformation. The projects are currently (in 2023) in the final stages of producing a second special issue, in Global Environmental Change, highlighting their empirical contributions to knowledge.

Two T2S projects (TAPESTRY and MISTY) were selected to feature in a science stories partnership between BBC Storyworks and the ISC in 2021: ‘Unlocking Science’. Stories from the two projects were written into a dynamic article, ‘Empowering marginalized communities’. The article recorded the highest number of engagements and clicks across all articles in the series in the early months, with over 660k impressions after eight weeks.

In 2021–2022 a set of six short films based and a conceptual film about transformations to sustainability were produced. A science writing consultancy was commissioned to produce ‘impact stories’ from each of the 12 projects. The stories were released in February 2023.

A synthesis study was commissioned in 2021 to draw out learning and lessons from across the 12 projects in a participatory process with the projects. The findings from the synthesis will be published in the second quarter of 2023.
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