“There's always room for a story that can transport people…
On October the 14th the ARTS project was kicked-off at the Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IÖR) in Dresden. Over 60 people from local initiatives came, listened to the two opening lectures by Florian Kern and Marcus Egermann and engaged in the Q&A session afterwards.
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About a month ago the opening event of the ARTS project took place in Dresden. Dresden’s research team is lead by Markus Egermann. He and his team invited stakeholders on 14th of October into the Leibnitz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IÖR) in Dresden. The evening was meant for presenting of the project to the public, promoting mutual knowledge and also for the various stakeholders to give feedback about ARTS’s approach.
Many came and the room was packed with interested representatives and activists from science, industry and grassroots initiatives. More than 60 people came and the IÖR almost ran out of chairs in the hall. “I haven’t seen this room so full,” said the research team.
Scientific background of ARTS
The opening lecture was given by Dr. Florian Kern, Transition researcher and lecturer at the University of Sussex (SPRU) in United Kingdom. He talked about social change and the role of local initiatives.
ARTS is rooted in the interdisciplinary transformation research. Transformation research tries to find out how a stable society or regime changes and how a new stable system is established. To gives a historical example of such a change Florian Kern talked about the transition from cities dominated by horse-drawn carriages to car cities. Both systems are stable within themselves, but very different from each other. All societal changes are initiated and accelerated by constraints, innovations, new economic systems or new needs.
The transition from one stable regime (A) to another one (B) usually takes a few generations. That is because the whole infrastructure, production chains, industries, jobs and not to underestimate human habits and expectations have to adapt along the way.
The change we have to master now is all-embracing. For a system as ours that requires infinite resources on a finite planet cannot go on forever. We need a systemic change and the sooner the better. We already see the global consequences of our unsustainable actions everywhere. Whether it is climate change, with all its consequences for food or water security, the overuse of finite resources such as fossil fuels or social injustice to feed the consumption wants of a few.
We all know the headlines and many remain with the gloomy feeling of an impossible task ahead and the question “What can I do now?”. For how does systemic change happen? And what can be done on a local level to achieve sustainability faster?
This is exactly what ARTS wants to find out. And they are tapping directly into the global change that is already happening. For thousands of local initiatives worldwide are dealing with the exact same questions for years, developing local solutions and implementing them, with varying success. The ARTS team wants to learn as much as possible from the experiences of these local actors in different national contexts.
ARTS in Dresden
At this point in the evening Markus Egermann from the research team in Dresden started his talk, explaining the ARTS agenda for Dresden and Europe. For ARTS is a collaborative project of five research institutions in five European city regions. It takes place simultaneously in Brighton (United Kingdom), in Budapest (Hungary), in Genk (Netherlands), Stockholm (Sweden) and in Dresden. Lead partner in the research project is the Institute Dutch Research Institute for Transition (DRIFT) in the Netherlands. In all these different settings they want to find out how local initiatives arise. And how the pioneers of change can work together to contribute to a faster pace of change.
What will ARTS do in Dresden? So far, the researchers made and inventory of the initiatives in town and also talked with some representatives of projects. After this kick-off event the team organized a World Café event at the Umundu Festival, which is a week-long happening for globally sustainable consumption in Dresden.
To stay in a constant dialogue with the local actors of change throughout the project time the researchers break new ground for a scientific project. All five research institutions work together with bloggers who keep all interested parties informed about the developments within the project. The blog for ARTS in Dresden is here. In addition to a blog in each city there is also a blog where you can follow the entries of all bloggers at once. That’s what you are reading right now by the way
On the ARTS website you can look up all the institutions and the scientists involved as well as publications and interim reports. In 2015 an art competition is intended, which works with the theme of transformation. Over the coming winter the team will conduct intensive interviews with representatives of local initiatives, to learn about their methods, problems and goals. The team wants to conduct analysis workshops with the stakeholders in the spring of 2015. Parallel to the exchange between the researchers institutes ARTS also wants to bring together other European pioneers of change. Four international meetings are scheduled where not only the researchers will exchange, but also the bloggers and some representatives of local initiatives have the opportunity to come along and to interact with each other. The next international meeting is from 26th-27th March 2015 in Rotterdam.
A further ambitious goal is to create a Transition Roadmap until 2016 for the cities involved. This is supposed to be a guideline for accelerating change in the respective cities and can be used by the local volunteers, researchers, entrepreneurs and the city government.
Q & A session
After these two explanatory lectures we had a Q & A session and an open exchange of ideas. Because the researchers of ARTS not only want to be mere observers, but learn mostly from the dialogue with the actors. To stimulate discussion they asked three questions:
- What does it take to further change in the city of Dresden?
- What role do local initiatives play for a change towards sustainability?
- How can a research project like ARTS support such a change?
An interesting question from the audience was for example, “How do we define sustainability?” So, what is actually the state B we strive for. I think that is one of the most interesting questions, because we will have to find a way into the future which integrates resource limitations and social visions. And the more people are involved in creating this vision of our collective future the more sustainable it will be. So sustainability is always a process of social negotiation.
Some expressed concern that local initiatives are only researched and then their experiences will be sold as a scientific achievement. Here the researchers from Dresden made clear that they not only feel committed to scientific objectivity but also see themselves personally as actors for sustainable change at the same time. Marcus Egermann is part of the biggest food co-op in Dresden from the times in which they sold vegetables out of a small flat and co-researcher Kristin Reiß has co-founded the community garden project KaKaKo in Kassel.
Others wished that the researchers explore the inner motivation and change in the individual actors. Because before I engage and commit myself in whatever form towards a different society something happens inside me beforehand.
One for me also intriguing question was whether we can ever direct the multidimensional changes already taking place in a chosen direction. A very philosophical question I feel, which will definitely come up in the course of ARTS.
To what extent are policy bodies included in ARTS? And you may make a fixed consultation-hour for local initiatives, so that they can pick up the latest findings of the research?
There were many more divers questions, which shows that all parties involved need to talk to each other more often. Grassroot initiatives need to talk among each other, researchers with activists and activists with the public sector. If ARTS and all stakeholders can develop a common language for this colorful mix of people, we can maybe build the tower of a sustainable future faster. For we will be building it together.
ARTS becomes relevant though your participation. So please comment and share your experiences, expectations about the outcomes ARTS and your visions for a sustainable future with us. We are looking forward to a lively exchange!
A brief summary of ARTS can be found here.
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