Governing Sustainable Futures: Advancing the use of Participatory Mechanisms for addressing Place-based Contestations of Sustainable Living

Lead Research Organisation: UNIVERSITY OF EXETER
Department Name: Geography


Delivering sustainability transitions in diverse places across the UK entails changes in how we live and work across diverse issues such as land use planning and management, food and diet, energy production, transport and mobility and achieving net zero policy goals. The changes associated with sustainability transitions can be perceived in terms of winners and losers, incumbents and change-leaders, and often act as loci of disagreement, contestation over values and judgements about what is fair or just; for example, the recent controversy on the so-called '15-minute city' and debates about political intervention and freedom associated transport measures in Oxford. These 'flashpoints' are relevant not only to the places in which they emerge, but also for debate and policy action on delivering sustainable places nationally. Such flashpoints raise important issues about how common sustainability transitions are governed at different geographic scales, the ways in which past conflicts shape present-day contestation and the types and levels of engagement promoted and experienced by different interest groups. Accordingly, we need to understand what makes for a flashpoint issue on sustainable living: how such issues emerge, how they are framed, and how changes to governing sustainable living can promote ways of working with communities that promote participation and the co-production of solutions. The Governing Sustainable Future (GSF) project aims to examine how we can build new ways of understanding and acting on place-based sustainability contestations that address the local and non-local causes of conflict.

GSF brings together a unique collaboration of social scientists and regional (Devon, UK) partners, who have a long history of working together, along with national partners, to address this question through novel and established social science and participatory approaches that are alert to questions of power and social difference. These collaborative relations underpin the research programme, embedding Co-production, Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and Sustainability principles in our research practice.

GSF addresses four overarching aims associated work packages, that reflect our theoretical approach to identifying, analysing and intervening in sustainable policy conflicts:

To develop an approach that helps us to understand local and non-local causes of conflicts that emerge in a particular place but also have connections to other places and evolve over time.

To present new ways of thinking about places and relations between places that can help to unlock new solutions to sustainably policy conflicts.

To develop innovative collaborative and participatory methods for responding to place-based sustainability conflicts (in Devon, UK) and apply to policy challenges on the ground.

To generate new understandings of how participatory processes can support public and stakeholder engagement with the local and non-local causes of place-based sustainability conflicts, and progress action on just transitions in the UK. A core principle of GSF will be to make clear connections between insights from regional experience and recommendations for national policy and practice.

Our team includes leading experts in discursive and participatory research methods, theories of place and sustainable transitions, environmental policy and politics, environmental controversy, and just transitions, plus key regional policy and practice organisations. Team members play a leading role in other major UKRI investments into sustainable living. The University of Exeter will provide match-fund support, which reflect considerable research synergies and institutional commitment to applying knowledge from this project. Together we will co-produce timely policy insights for achieving equitable and sustainable places.


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