Conference report: Transformative Partnerships for a Better World 

October 23rd, 2023

Team members from the Valuing Sustainability Future Science Platform (VS FSP) recently attended the 2023 Transformations Conference in Sydney. With 8 people attending from across different projects in the VS FSP this was a fantastic opportunity to share research and learn from others in the Transformations field. 

The global theme for this year’s conference was “Transformative Partnerships for a Better World,” and the event was held from 11-15 July, 2023, with conference hubs in Europe and North America, and a simultaneous conference taking place online. The programme attracted participants from more than 40 countries, and included workshops, walk-shops, and panels. 

Key themes included transformative cultural evolution, Indigenous perspectives, community-led initiatives, leadership, learning and knowledge practices, and systemic transformations. The conference was organised using ‘unconference’ principles, which meant there was much more focus on participatory workshop sessions, a diverse mix of formats, and greater inclusion of non-research participants, creative arts, and humanities. 

VS FSP researchers Dr Sabrina Chakori and Dr Nicky Grigg ran a workshop session called ‘Navigating the limits to plurality in sustainability transformations.’ They invited participants to undertake a range of activities to explore different interpretations of sustainability; to use a simple systems thinking ‘iceberg’ approach to explore root systemic causes of problems that they care about; and to discuss any challenges they have experienced when working with people to explore deeper systemic levels of problems. The workshop has led to further opportunities including an upcoming paper. 

Dr Sabrina Chakori presents at the 2023 Transformations conference.

Dr Sabrina Chakori presents at the 2023 Transformations conference.

Dr Sabrina Chakori presents at the 2023 Transformations conference.

Dr Grigg also contributed to a session called ‘Reframing policy-science-practice interface for transformation’, which included presentations from four case studies where CSIRO projects have worked with non-research partners in contexts facing transformational change (drought resilience planning, wetland management, regional climate adaptation, and traditional owner land & sea management in the Torres Strait). 

“Common lessons across the case studies included the value of designing adaptive projects, framing our science so that it is about building shared capacity to work effectively with high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity, and the importance of being able to accommodate and work with partners’ reality rather than idealised expectations of how things ‘should’ be,” said Dr Grigg. 

Dr Claudia Munera-Roldan co-organised and presented in two panel sessions. The first was called ‘Transformative Futures’ (with Laura Pereira, Carina Wyborn and Federico Davila). This panel had discussions about transformations in the context of diverse worldviews, co-producing futures to unpack what transformative change means, decolonial futures, and the practices that can enable us to envision more radical futures. “Despite the hard work involved in transformational change, there are a variety of examples of good practice – science – policy from around the world to learn about,” Dr Munera-Roldan said. “There is an appetite for doing things differently, and to rethink the role of science in supporting transformational change.” 

The second session was linking co-production and futures thinking and co-organised with Dr Lorrae van Kerkhoff, Director of the Institute for Water Futures at ANU; CERC Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Emma Ligtermoet; and VS FSP Director Dr Peat Leith. Dr Munera-Roldan is now drafting a collaborative paper with the other panellists based on the group discussions. In this session, Dr Ligtermoet shared her experience in co-producing a seasonal calendar with Indigenous knowledge holders and reflected on the opportunities and challenges a Futuring framework might present for co-producing knowledge in this context. “I found the level of interest in knowledge co-production and futures work very encouraging, as shown by our well-attended session and rich discussions during the workshop break out groups,” Dr Ligtermoet said. 

Overall, the conference provided a strong opportunity for members of the VS FSP team to showcase and share their work, while learning about other research in the transformations field. The different format of the conference also allowed greater workshopping of ideas and increased engagement with the various audiences. 

“I enjoyed learning about the diverse range of transformations-related research that is going on in the world,” said Dr Grigg. “There was a much greater focus on ‘inner’ transformation work than I was expecting. Work involving transformational change in complex settings will engage people’s emotions and will reveal uncertainties, ambiguities, and tensions between different values. This requires a level of ‘inner’ work, including practices for working with emotional and social complexities, to be prepared to lead transdisciplinary research of this kind.” 

Dr Chakori agreed. “I was also greatly surprised by the attention to the inner transformation. I have never participated in a conference that included so many sessions that invited participants to explore and reflect on inner change.” 

Author – Ruth Dawkins