Research Approach - Sustainability transformations

Research and education at the Helsinki In­sti­tute of Sustainability Science fo­cus on sustainability transformations.

Sustainability transformations are fundamental changes in societies paving their way towards sustainable well-being of nature and humans. To achieve these sustainability transformations, new approaches and methodologies must be developed in the field of sustainability science. This is one focus of the research and teaching at HELSUS.

The potential of sustainability science in understanding and managing complex problems is based on inter- and transdisciplinary approaches. These integrate scientific knowledge across different disciplines and between experts, practitioners and citizens beyond academia.  

The research and education at the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science compose of three main interrelated dimensions. These research dimensions serve as organisational pillars for the scientific research carried out at HELSUS, which is then operationalized through various research programmes and projects.

Un­der­stand­ing - What is?

The first research dimension aims at increasing analytical knowledge of complex social-ecological-cultural processes and dynamics. Its goal is to valorize what are the lock-ins and opportunities for transformations by focusing on the following questions:

  • How have coupled social-ecological-cultural system dynamics evolved in the past, how are they currently functioning, and might further develop?
  • What are the acceleration and tipping points for sustainability transformations?
  • How to measure sustainability transformations?

Ex­plor­ing – What can be done?

The second research dimension aims for answering the question: how to enable and guide transformations that ensure ecological integrity and social justice? This dimension explores the conditions, processes and limits of transformation at the individual, communal as well as institutional levels. While acknowledging the contested and normative nature of sustainability, the dimension focuses research on

  • practices
  • changes in values and human agency (behaviour, attitudes, worldviews)
  • guiding mechanisms (policy, regulation, governance, education)
  • learning (organizational, social and institutional) and communication
  • limits and conditions for change
  • ethical conditions

Co-pro­du­cing and co-design­ing - How to do it?

What are the case-specific pathways and solutions to sustainability transformations? How do they relate to specific real-world problems and experiments? The third research dimension aims for answering this question.

It bases and underlines the analytical understanding from which the applied/practical dimension is drawn. It utilizes transdisciplinary co-production methodologies and involves the practitioners in the research from joint problem definition to dissemination. 

This kind of research leads to practical solutions or alternative pathways and socially robust knowledge. It also increases scientific understanding of the phenomena in question.

The research in this dimension acknowledges the high reflexivity regarding the aims and the results, as well as different roles of the researchers themselves.