2020 should have been an intense period of fieldwork and data collection, but became instead a year of learning, reflection and reprioritization for the projects and the programme coordinators.
‘The biggest challenge was to conduct face-to-face workshop styled interviews for case studies as originally planned. How did we overcome the challenge? By learning new tools and digitalizing the data collection process.’2020 T2S virtual meeting participant
The researchers proved their resourcefulness by using information and communication technologies in creative ways to continue data collection and collaboration with stakeholders, although they confirmed that reaching the most marginalized and least connected communities was (and still is) the greatest challenge during the pandemic.
The pandemic challenged some fundamental assumptions in research on transformations to sustainability: what does transformation to sustainability mean in the context of the massive disruption caused by the pandemic and the powerful desire to return to or achieve some kind of ‘normal’? Several T2S research projects incorporated considerations relating to the COVID pandemic in their research, such as a case study into whether COVID-19 was shifting attitudes towards sustainability in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Programme activities planned by the coordination team at the ISC moved online, and the 2020 midterm workshop was held virtually. Discussions centred on four key concerns of the projects: theory, politics, ethics and methodology of transformative research. A follow-up meeting was organized in December to take stock of the projects’ progress, learning and needs.
In addition, 18 early-career researchers funded through the programme took part in an online science communications training course delivered by SciDev.Net. This was very well received, as one participant said:
‘The course instructor and contents were outstanding and I was able to develop valuable skills and abilities.’
The programme also continued its partnership with the journal COSUST (Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability) on an ongoing virtual special issue on ‘The state of knowledge on transformations to sustainability’, with three papers published in 2020.
In addition, two ‘Knowledge Briefs’, bringing peer-reviewed research relevant to social transformations to a wider audience, were produced in 2020:
In the second half of 2020 a midterm evaluation of the Belmont Forum–NORFACE T2S Programme was conducted by a panel of four external experts. The evaluation highlighted both the significant opportunities for cross-project, integrated knowledge production and learning offered by the programme, and the difficulties in realizing those opportunities due to resource constraints and the COVID-19 pandemic. A synthesis study of the programme will be launched in 2021 to ensure that the programme makes the best possible contribution to knowledge on transformations to sustainability and on how to enable and foster research for transformations to sustainability.
The Transformations to Sustainability research programme is funded by thirteen NORFACE and Belmont Forum partners and the European Commission. The ISC funds the participation of researchers from low- and lower-middle income countries, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
Image: Frederic Huybrechs (TruePATH project)