Transformations to Sustainability

The Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) programme supports and advances international, transdisciplinary research with a focus on the social dimensions of the causes of and solutions to sustainability challenges.

Transformations to Sustainability is a research programme that aims to make a difference. Launched in 2014, the programme was designed to increase the social science contribution to addressing global environmental change, by providing a platform for social scientists, including from the Global South, to lead interdisciplinary sustainability research; building research capacity for international, transdisciplinary sustainability research; and promoting the use of the best social science knowledge available.

The programme has had two phases – the first, showcased on TransformationsToSustainability.org – was financed almost entirely by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and involved the funding of 38 seed grants and three major international research projects, or ‘Transformative Knowledge Networks’ between 2014 and 2019, with a research budget of 3.7m EUR.

In the second phase, the ISC, with the support of Sida, has joined forces with the Belmont Forum and NORFACE to jointly fund a set of 12 international research projects which run from 2018 to 2022 with a research budget of 11.5m EUR. The activities and outputs associated with the current projects are showcased on a dedicated website: t2sresearch.org.

Sign up for the quarterly T2S newsletter here.

Sarah Moore

transformations@council.science


A source of up-to-date knowledge on questions of social transformations to sustainability

Knowledge about transformations to sustainability is increasing but is still fragmented. The T2S programme produces and shares cutting-edge thinking on social transformations and on engaged, co-designed and co-produced sustainability research. Some of the key outputs are collected below.


What is transformation?

Watch: Three leading scholars and practitioners – Ulrich BrandCheikh Mbow and Karen O’Brien – discuss some of the critical questions for research on transformations to sustainability in 2021.

Watch: Ten leading thinkers give their views on social transformation and how to achieve it

Watch: Members of the T2S projects share ideas on ‘transformations in practice’ – what kind of transformations in research and practice are needed, and how can we make them happen, fast?


Reviews of recent literature on transformation in various domains of research

View Articles published in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability

A virtual, ongoing special issue of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability: ‘The State of Knowledge on Social Transformation’, a partnership between the ISC and COSUST. This constantly expanding special issue consists of peer-reviewed reviews of knowledge on various dimensions of social transformations to sustainability, with conclusions for research, practice and policy.

The latest reviews to be published are:

Visseren-Hamakers, I. et al. 2021. Transformative governance of biodiversity: insights for sustainable development. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. December 2021, 53:20–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2021.06.002

This article argues that transformative governance is needed to enable the transformative change necessary for achieving global sustainability goals and unpacks the concept of transformative governance. 

Siders, AR, et al. 2021. Transformative potential of managed retreat as climate adaptation. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. June 2021, 50:272–280. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2021.06.007

This review shows that managed retreat in response to climate change has potential to change societal perceptions of climate risk, challenge techno-optimistic in situ adaptations, and foreground issues of equity as a primary concern in adaptation.

Galvin, K. 2021. Transformational adaptation in drylands. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. June 2021, 50:64–71. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2021.03.003

This article describes forces of change in drylands and the social changes observed in pastoralist dryland systems, with a focus on Africa. The observed changes point to changes in values, social/gender relations, livelihoods and institutions, all fundamental elements of transformational adaptation.

Schneider, F. et al. 2021. Co-production of knowledge and sustainability transformations: a strategic compass for global research networks. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. April 2021, 49:127–142. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2021.04.007

This article introduces a strategic tool called the ‘network compass’ which highlights four generic, interrelated fields of action through which global research networks, such as the Transformations to Sustainability community, can foster co-production. 

Riedy, C. 2020. Discourse coalitions for sustainability transformations: common ground and conflict beyond neoliberalism. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2020, 45:100–112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2020.09.014

This paper reviews alternative sustainability discourses to identify common ground and conflicts, arguing that this is an important step towards the formation of discourse coalitions that could rival the political power of neoliberal capitalism.


Knowledge briefs

Digests of up-to-date knowledge on social transformations for non-specialist communities, mainly based on the peer-reviewed papers in the COSUST virtual special issue. Find the full list of published briefs here.

The latest brief is:

Three ways of understanding social transformations to sustainability’. Knowledge Brief 6, March 2021.

‘Promoting Indigenous knowledge and values for more sustainable water resource management’. Knowledge Brief 5, Oct 2020.


Questions of the ‘how’ of transdisciplinary research on transformations to sustainability

blog summarizing perceptions of the current project members of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their transdisciplinary research, and touching on what ‘transformation’ means in the context of such disruption.

In this short video, Dylan McGarry of the T-Learning project presents an original ‘tarot-based’ framework to understand the various roles and responsibilities of the researcher in contemporary times, particularly in the domains of research for development or engaged, co-produced, ‘transgressive’ research.

A synthesis article on the transformative potential of co-design:

Moser, S. 2016. Can science on transformation transform science? Lessons from co-design. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2016, 20:106–115. Read more

A special issue of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability on ‘Transformations and co-design’, compiling learning from 16 seed grantees on the process of co-design. Ed. Moser, S. Vol. 20, June 2016. Read more

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The book Transformative Pathways to Sustainability, published in 2021 by Routledge, draws together learning from five years of transdisciplinary research involving over a hundred researchers across five contents in the ‘PATHWAYS’ Transformative knowledge network (TKN).

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