Archive for July, 2024

Blog: KWMC at the Nordic Environmental Social Science Conference (NESS2024)

Written by Julia Costa Carneiro (Research Lead at KWMC)

Co-producing sustainability transformations with local communities,
reflections on the role of research in co-creative processes for change.

Sometimes you need to leave your home to find your place again. I hope that this had happened with me last week, but it’s too early to judge on that. We’ve been participating at the Nordic Environmental Social Science Conference (NESS2024) in Turku from 4 to 6.6.2024, themed “Co-producing knowledge for sustainability”. And I come back with a fresh view on how I can support the co-creative experiments I am working on in my role as Research Lead at KWMC.

The conference gave us the possibility to discuss our GREENGAGE approach on Citizen Observatories with peers during the half-day workshop on “Potentials and challenges of citizen science in sustainability transformations.” Different to conventional academic conferences, these workshops opened a space for mutual learning and in-depth feedback as the participants had read the papers beforehand and there was enough time to discuss each contribution in a critical space, yet one with shared interests.

In our paper “Towards a Methodological Framework for Citizen Observatories to Promote Inclusive Urban Governance” we reflected on how we organise the GREENGAGE Innovation Action to prepare, test and learn collectively on the different observatories that we are developing in five pilots across Europe.

During the first year of the project, we were co-designing these observatories together with local planning agents, tech-providers, researchers and civic innovators and were forced to bring them all under one conceptual framework. This was very much against our belief that transformation needs to be grounded in specific social-political contexts and KWMC’s practice that established over the years a neighbourhood-based Living Lab. So, we envisioned GREENGAGE Observatories as situated, data-driven, community-led intelligence for implementing the European Green Deal that relate to each other within a pan-European policy and governance innovation ecosystem. This is too abstract to engage anyone beyond the academic community and even they can be puzzled. Although the high-level conceptualisation of experiments was needed due to the project brief, its time now for us social scientists to start interpreting and analysing what is happening in the messy real worlds of the different pilots and to gather colleagues to make sense of GREENGAGE Observatories to enable full-scale piloting after this summer.

Beside these workshops, the keynotes and panel discussions at the conference shine light on the topic of co-creation/co-production from various disciplinary angles and empiric cases. The speakers surfaced critical aspects that need to be considered but are often often not addressed, although they are especially meaningful in justice work. Issues that seem most relevant are power, followed by trust, ethics, process, transparency, accountability and many more, as the mentimeter pic shows. What can be the role of researchers in these?  I got ensured that as critical, visionary and engaged action researcher, I am equipped to support these messy processes to become more reflexive and politically engaged. Through critical thinking and analysis, I can pinpoint what is not just, what is not sustainable and what are locked potentials for transformations.

I can also co-create “free spaces” where we think about the future, and facilitate arenas for in-depth conversation, to common some futures, as we are currently doing in KWMC’s visioning sessions. And I can describe where co-creative practices are shaping examples of preferred futures and thus make them visible and contribute to realise them.

Being a critical and engaged researcher in co-creative processes is a balancing act, that sometimes is so uncomfortable that it’s hard to trust in what you are doing. For that it is important to come together in someone’s distinctive community of practice, hearing from others that they face similar struggles and get to your own place again, getting secure in between insecurities.

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