Break the wall of disciplines: Internal and external transformation for sustainability and climate

The growing need to respond the quest for sustainability, raises the importance of good decision making. A great article just published, relates good sustainable decisioning to internal and external transformations needed.
The authors propose an integrated model of change as an agenda and roadmap for future research, policy and practice.

  • Current approaches are fragmented and segregated across disciplines.
  • Simplistic one-way perspectives/relationships dominate.
  • Gaps relate to foci, conceptualisation, epistemology, ontology and ethics.
  • The complexity of internal–external transformation requires emergent approaches.
  • In the article, the authors propose an integrated model to guide future research, policy and practice.

Some intersting text snippets:

From static to developmental contextualism

[…] Most studies give little consideration to underlying, long-term change processes. Almost none consider stages of personal/adult development, or apply longitudinal/ time series analyses.
The question of how beliefs, values, worldviews and associated internal capacities can be influenced becomes even more complex if these aspects are considered in relation to long-term personal development processes that are impacted by different life experiences 

From disciplinary to inter/transdisciplinary

[.. ] The inner (and social) complexity (and dynamics) of transformation processes are often downplayed or ignored in favour of other ontological (e.g. behavioural) approaches to sustainability. This relates, amongst other things, to the fact that most studies adopt a specific disciplinary angle and take a positivist approach.
[…] Three, broadly distinct approaches coming from behavioural economics, environmental psychology & health, and sustainability sciences.
Bringing together diverse knowledge fields offers huge potential for advancing current approaches. 

From instrumental to integral

[… studies that examine links between] Inner and outer change are often driven by fragmented and instrumental approaches that are typically grounded in a (neo)positivist way of thinking.
They follow current neoliberal or growth paradigms, which are not primarily concerned with supporting personal development or growth for sustainability.
Only a few highlight, for instance, that policy interventions to support behavioural change could also be a means to empower people, for example, to act in line with values that they consider to be important.

Quantum social theory is presented as a possible alternative. […] It looks at inner-outer change through its ontological view of social reality as being deeply entangled, which provides a strong foundation for recognizing and promoting people as a key driver for change at collective and systems levels. It represents a potential paradigm shift – a move from a fragmented form of thinking towards a holistic view that is able to incorporate lived experience and subjectivity into environmental studies.
Other examples include complexity theory, integral approaches, indigenous knowledge, and experiential and relational approaches.
Common to all of these ontological approaches is how they seek to overcome the dualisms such as nature/ culture, subjectivity/ objectivity and mind/ matter, which characterise current dominant social paradigms.

Transformative qualities/ capacities

[…] Certain internal qualities/ capacities underpin people’s learning, everyday life choices and decision-taking, and can facilitate the paradigm shift needed for a more sustainable future. They influence how people process and filter information, take decisions, cooperate and act. They can be systematised into five, interrelated clusters regarding their influence on people’s awareness, connection, insight, purpose, and agency.
In addition to the qualities/ capacities listed above, few overarching concepts relate to all five categories, namely emotional (or spiritual) intelligence, compassion and mindfulness

 Intermediary factors

Intermediary factors can be understood as the outcomes of transformative qualities/ capacities that, in turn, influence outer change toward climate action and sustainability.
They mainly relate to four issues:
i) subjective wellbeing and (physical and mental) health as a precondition for engagement and action;
ii) self-efficacy, i.e. the belief that one’s actions can change outcomes ;
iii) cognitive dissonance, i.e. the identification and reduction of dissonance between knowledge, conflicting values and actual behaviour; and
iv) social identity and trust.

Inner states – values, beliefs and worldviews/ paradigms

The identified transformative qualities/ capacities and intermediary factors can influence inner states, which are composed of the values, beliefs, emotions and paradigms that delineate our relationships.
They can shift how we experience and relate to ourselves and our world. In the context of such “ever-expanding worldviews”, four aspects are repeatedly highlighted as key for inner–outer transformations.
They include:
i) a connectedness with the human and more-than-human, which influences
ii) other-focused orientations, such as altruism, and
iii) non-materialistic/ intrinsic and biospheric values. Together, these can influence:
iv) a sense of agency and related perceptions of identity, care, influence and responsibility.

Interventions and enabling environments

[..]) Relatively little is written about interventions and enabling factors that could support transformative qualities/ capacities and go beyond instrumental approaches to behavioural and systems change (e.g. policy incentives and nudging). There seems to be no comprehensive, systematic approaches to their consideration in current systems and structures. 

Towards a new research and policy agenda

[..] require a comprehensive understanding of internal–external transformation toward sustainability, which is currently lacking.
The aim is, instead, to create a broader, overarching framework that allows for cross- and transdisciplinary co-creation. Achieving this requires change to contemporary knowledge production systems, which are predominantly reliant on a positivist mode of thinking. Hence, the model is ontologically and epistemologically grounded in interdisciplinarity, multidirectionality and interdependency, acknowledging the complexity of transformation processes.
The components of the model show that:
1) clusters of transformative qualities/ capacities; and
2) associated intermediary factors relate to;
3) certain worldviews, beliefs and values that delineate our relationships (with ourselves, others, work, the environment and future generations). These influence, in turn, the three dimensions of agency at individual and collective level: interbeing, interthinking and interacting.

“we’ve moved from the age of enlightenment to the age of entanglement where sense-making aided by imagination is now more critical than ever.”

John Seely Brown

 Consistent with our findings and associated model, this would include looking deeper into:
i) interventions and enabling environments – what (elements) constitutes a transformative environment in organisational and educational settings;
ii) the internal–external continuum – how interdependencies, and the inherent developmental characteristics and feedback loops of internal dimensions can be most comprehensively captured and addressed by inter- and transdisciplinary approaches; and
iii) sustainability outcomes – how the intersection of the mind and climate change can be best-considered in politics and policymaking, and support spillover effects and co-constructed outcomes across scales.

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