Building Sustainable Legacies


How to inspire scientists on a Monday morning?

The Swiss National Fund (SNF) is a key provider of research funding in Switzerland. The National Research Programme 73 (NRP73) is a CHF 20 mio. research program that supports and encourages applied research across all fields to help achieve a sustainable economy. After a lengthy application and screening process, 25 projects were selected across all major public research institutions in Switzerland. The ambition of the program is that these 25 projects deliver not just independent research outcomes but collaborate among them and also with the stakeholders they seek to influence. That is a high call and one that researchers traditionally find difficult to embrace. It is often hard enough to collaborate within a multi-stakeholder project that there is little room to investigate further opportunities beyond. My job as the opening keynote speaker of the NRP73 kick-off session with about 100 of the scientists present in one room was “to inspire them”.

I chose to address three key questions that would contextualize their projects and to develop key emerging challenges resulting from this investigation. Knowing that there would be an expert in the room with more knowledge than me on pretty much any point I would address, I needed to be careful in framing my assumptions and conclusions. The three questions addressed the role of sustainability research in Switzerland, the ability to ensure relevance, and how to achieve impact through sustainability research. Figure 1 shows an overview of the emerging challenges I have identified.

Figure 1: Overview of the emerging challenges resulting from the 3 questions

In the context of the Gapframe (see Figure 2), I suggested that each project team assesses their project with regards to the issue it addresses. Some concern issues where Switzerland is particularly strong internationally and where solutions can be pioneered as a result of new insights. Other issues are of key priority for Switzerland itself and solutions will need to be innovated to ensure local relevance. Further issues may be of critical relevance globally and Swiss solutions can be scaled and shared as best practices.

Figure 2: Overview of the emerging challenges resulting from the 3 questions

To provoke thinking, I suggested there was a perception gap between how practice looks at “applied research” and how science looks at it (see Figure 3). This generated more nodding than I had dared to hope for. I even got a positive reaction to my suggestion to consider taking an action research stance, whereby the researcher assumes a subjective partner rather than an objective observer perspective. Very promising indeed!

Figure 3: The perception gap between science and practice in refereeing to “applied research”

When looking at these challenges, I remembered the insight of Insight of Andrew Hoffman in his book “How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate”: more knowledge doesn’t change minds. So how do we maximize the value of all the knowledge that will be generated by these 25 projects? My recommendation was framed as an attempt to answer the three questions and I highlighted that the secret lies in the research process. I summarized the elements of a success research process in 7 points:

  1. PURPOSE FOCUS
  2. DYNAMIC
  3. INCLUSIVE
  4. CO-CREATIVE
  5. IMPACT ORIENTED
  6. ONGOING DISSEMINATION
  7. ADAPTIVE OUTPUT

A purpose focus entails verifying again & again: does this project truly serving society, and if so how? A dynamic process needs to integrate new developments and may embrace an action research stance. Being inclusive means involving those stakeholders that are intended recipients the project seeks to influence. A co-creative research projects includes being truly “applied” from a user-perspective rather than a research perspective and includes integrating feedback. Being impact oriented is about ensure that the project is truly influencing those who matter when it matters. Ensuring ongoing dissemination means that external communications starts from the very beginning of the project, not only once first results are in. Finally, achieving an adaptive output includes negotiating and agreeing on value of improving output along the way according to changing context.

In conclusion, I suggested that it is of prime importance to review and adapt both the research process and outcome in an adaptive and dynamic way throughout the project lifetime.

 

 

Author: Katrin Muff, PhD

Active in thought leadership, consulting & applied research in sustainability & responsibility, and directing the DAS & DBA programs

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Research that plays an active role in business and society

The Management school of the future is committed to ongoing research as an important contribution to keep the school vibrant, exciting and relevant. The 50+20 stakeholder survey[1] shows that business and management research need to transform into future-oriented search that is designed and conducted with and written for stakeholders.

Research is re-oriented to become an enabler for many long-term societal targets (such as the Millennium Development Goals which set eradication of poverty targets or the climate change 2050 targets).  The management school conducts research that is multi-disciplinary, serves all stakeholders concerned with the resolution of an issue, and is designed and conducted in collaboration with these stakeholders.

Research involves a broad stakeholder base beyond managers and entrepreneurs to include societal stakeholders such as politicians and NGOs.  The significant problems of our time can only be approached through applied research conducted by multi-disciplinary teams[2]. As an example, developing solutions to climate change requires the whole of community response, new technology, government action and significant behavioral change. The ability to focus on the social and environmental impact of proposed approaches requires researchers with backgrounds across science, social science and health science disciplines. This will be imperative to develop effective solutions to global challenges. Our researchers become active players in business and society, collaborating with relevant stakeholders in the process of formulating and disseminating research questions.


[1]            50+20 project: Stakeholder survey (Aug 2011)

[2]            Adams C, A (2010) ‘Sustainability research in need of a multi-disciplinary approach and a practice and policy focus?’ Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal, 1, 1.


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Collaboratories: the result of holding a space

The capability to “hold a space” becomes the central purpose of management education. The capability of holding a space grounds deeply in our human heritage; it represents the ultimate duty of the Elders among many indigenous people. In our world, this capacity is known as the fundamental skills of a good coach; the degree to which a coach is able to create and hold such a space determines the potential outcome of a coaching session[1].

Figure 2: Holding a space is about the ability to create the right frame. The black frames above represent the common thread among these different expressions of our vision: a) a fertile ground, b) putting the fire in the middle symbolizes respecting future generations in every decision taken, c) a visual of the management school of the future.

Collaborative learning platforms for action learning and research (collaboratories) become the distinguishing factor for future management school. They represent the preferred meeting place for citizens with a desire to act responsibly for the world. Participants come from all walks of life and from all 4 corners of the planet. They share a common passion for wanting to make a difference and they co-share the responsibility of learning with the faculty. They include both the so-called 99% including the 4 billion at the “bottom of the pyramid” as well as the 1% currently in function of responsibility and power.

Collaboratories can be located in business, in society, communities, at management schools, virtually or a combination of all of these. The key of these platforms is that they are organized around issues rather than disciplines. Issues addressed include: hunger, energy, water, climate change, migration, democracy, capitalism, terrorism, disease, violence. Systemic thinking and design thinking enable step-changing innovation and rapid prototyping as fundamentals of magic: finding solutions to the impossible. Action learning and research meet in order to jointly immerse in a new type of activity: issue-centred learning focusses on environmental, societal and economic issues both globally and locally.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”         Margaret Mead

At the management school of the future, we see the faculty as lead-learners and guardians of this space. They reflect a rich combination of stakeholders: coaches, facilitators, business and management faculty, citizens, entrepreneurs and elders [2]. They see themselves as transient gatekeepers of a world in need of new solutions and stand out with their attitude of service.

 


[1]    Students tell us that we are preaching to the converted; that they realize the world is at a critical place. They want to address the issues and perceive professors as self-absorbed by their own shift in consciousness. Source: GRLI Meeting Stuttgart 2011.

[2]    The energy of an elder, or the stereotypical grandmother, complements a learning environment with an essential factor: grand-mothers (uncles, retired professors, god-mothers, etc.) are storytellers able to put a current issue into a larger perspective. They have experienced many phases of success and failure, exploration and disappointment not only from a global, economic or societal perspective, but also from a human point of view of individual cycles of life.


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A new vision for Management Education For The World – Business School 4.0

Get an understanding of the key elements of a radically new vision for business schools and management educations by the driving forces and stakeholders involved in project 50+20 (www.50plus20.org).


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The need for new leaders

We are many things: children, parents, neighbours, lovers, students and teachers, employees, employers or both, citizens, experts in some domains and novices in others, consumers, stakeholders, care takers and care givers. As human beings, we are the most advanced race on earth.

We owe this distinction to the frontal lobe of our brain, the Neo Cortex. It represents the centre for reflection, analysis and perspective. It is our most potent weapon to overcome and tame the reptilian brain located right next to the brain stem: this deeply en-rooted “fight or flight” instinct that has enabled our ancestors to survive and prevail. Yet, no other species has destroyed our planet more than we have[1].  Our ancestors have brought all large animal species to extinction in a few 10’000 of years; we have transformed fertile land into desserts, and rivers[2], lakes and oceans into bio-hazards. Today, we use more resources than our planet can regenerate and despite the fact that we know this, we are unable to turn around the trend. The reptilian brain causes more harm than good and reactions triggered by conscious and unconscious fears often bear consequences that limit not only the well-being and happiness of a person, but may well endanger the well-being of communities, nations and the world. Connecting ourselves with our full potential, overcoming the reptilian instinct with more careful consideration and reflection, thus raising not only our awareness but our consciousness, is critical to fully explore the magnificent potential of our species and to preserve the world as our home.

Brain sketch

The journey of developing the full potential of a human being is a personal as well as a collective adventure. It starts with a personal choice, a desire to look inside, to connect to what drives and motivates us. It requires us to dig deep down to render subconscious reaction conscious, to reflect to what degree what we feel, think and do are triggers of deeply instilled automated fear-based mechanisms. The path requires courage, patience, persistence, humility and compassion – first and foremost with ourselves. Increasingly, this path will lead us to become more reflected, conscious and truly human beings, able to treat others with this same compassion, patience and humility. At some point, when we are able to truly embrace that we are part of one – all of us, humans, plants, animals, all living beings on earth – when we feel this in every cell of our body, we have the potential to become truly enlightened leaders. This journey is what leadership training needs to put in motion and while no training can guarantee such an outcome, it is this end goal that represents the core of a truly relevant management education of the future.


[1]        Tim Flannery: “Here on Earth” (2010)
[2]        In 1969, the Cuyahoga River (Ohio, USA) was polluted with chemical
           toxics to such an extent that it took fire.
           This represented a turn-around moment for the environmental movement.