Friday 27th 11.00 – 12.00 Track 5

Governing urban change

Transforming university partnerships for sustainable urban futures

11.00 – 11.15 The university of tomorrow – exploring learning for urban transformations
– Gavin McCrory

“No human society, however wise, subtle, prudent, and cautious you may think it to be, has had to grapple with the reactions of the earth system to the actions of eight or nine billion humans. All the wisdom accumulated over ten thousand years, even if we were to succeed in rediscovering it, has never served more than a few hundred, a few thousand, a few million human beings on a relatively stable stage.”
(Latour, 2018, p. 45)

We live in a time of compounding ecological, political and social change. Ongoing crises imply that for individuals, organizations, communities, cities and countries, change in the near future is inevitable. There is a complex nature to sustainability issues, where facts are uncertain, futures unknown, values in dispute and decisions urgent. Moreover, significant transformative societal change cannot be produced through the same kinds of thinking that created them. In urban contexts, there is a need for stakeholders to collectively explore, unravel and experiment with how change can happen in real-world contexts. Greater focus is therefore shifting towards learning how to make change happen, in the present for the future.
Universities exist as crucial sites for fostering critical agency, action competence and disruptive capacity required for transformative learning. Yet many universities are educating students for the future through the prism of the past. The failing educational mission is reinforced through incremental logics that individualize, compartmentalize and commoditize knowledge.

As a result, deep transformations from research and education are hollowed out to that of methodology and employability, where:
“The people with the biggest ecological footprints are not the ones who received no formal education living in poverty but are the ones with PhDs, Masters and Bachelors degrees […] The conventional wisdom holds that all education is good, and the more of it one has, the better[…] The truth is that without significant precautions, [it] can equip people merely to be more effective vandals of the Earth.”
(David Orr in Wals, 2015)

What if, given the axiological and ontological quality of sustainability challenges, that which is to be learned is not a matter of more knowledge? What if we assume that universities possess a latent potential for developing meaningful learning orientations that transgress the boundaries between university and society. What if research and education matter profoundly to one another in such orientations?

This session invites researchers, educators, stakeholders and students – interested in learning in times of transformation – to reflect upon the promises of education, learning, research and change. Firstly, I introduce real-world university approaches to teaching and learning sustainability, where educators are experimenting, in, through, and with, universities. Located at university campuses, these spaces focus on rethinking university-society relations by engaging students in experiential, multi-stakeholder, action-oriented learning.

Institutionally, they counter dominant educational approaches to sustainable development that are teacher-centered, lecture-based and disconnected from real-world application. Secondly, I point towards four orientations that can support in exploring the university of tomorrow: 1) the community university, 2) the committed university, 3) the co-created university, and 4) the caring university.

Gavin McCrory is a doctor of philosophy in the field of sustainability transitions and transformations. His research interests concern the governance of change as multi-stakeholder learning processes. In particular, He is fascinated with how such processes are co-framed and co-designed, as well as how they unfold over space and time. In addition, he actively questions how dominant knowledge systems produce unsustainability, and explore new forms of knowledge that may be required for deep, structural transformations to sustainability. His training bridges theory and practice, as well as education and research, and is supported by fields such as geography, futures studies, learning sciences and sustainability science.

11.15 – 11.30 Speculative design in real-world laboratories: a theory of play and fantasy
– Sunniva Münster

This paper explores the concept and theory of play and fantasy (Bateson, 1972), as a tool to create thought provoking speculative design futures in contemporary societies, through a systems-oriented design perspective. A case study of a design project consisting of a series of workshops where speculative design was utilized makes the origin for a theoretical discussion about design for urban change and transformation, up against theory on play and fantasy. Cybernetics and Krippendorff makes the epistemological view by his description of products and spaces as interfaces, that is, I study design beyond the qualities of the objects and spaces themselves (Krippendorff, 2007). Through socially sustainable design and underlying theories on play and fantasy, and by analyzing these, the primary aim of this paper is to raise awareness about how play theories can impact design education and contribute to positive social and systemic change and develop knowledge about what creates socially and ecologically urban futures.

The intention of the conducted qualitative research and the following projects and theory reviews was to develop a collection of socially sustainable and speculative design tools that challenge ideas, products spaces and services, along with the theoretical traditions within product design education. First, the concepts of play, speculative design and socially sustainable urban design is defined. Next, an analysis of a case study in a real- world laboratory in the district of Bjørvika in Oslo, Norway. The case is meant to open for critical reflection about the value that the project embodies in relation to creating social citizenship and socially- and ecologically urban futures. The paper concludes with a discussion on the influences and learning experiences that theories on play and fantasy and speculative design can have on product design education and design for urban space, looking beyond the objects and spaces themselves into products as playful interfaces, and into the social, psychological, and cultural experiences the mediate.

Sunniva Münster is a product designer and PhD candidate at the Faculty of Technology, Art and Design, Department of Product Design, Oslo Metropolitan University.

11.30 – 11.45 Bugs and spiders in a web of wicked problems: unlocking co-generative responses to localized urban sustainability challenges through transformative student-research partnerships in universities and beyond
– Aina Landsverk Hagen, Simona Brozmanova, Haizea Pérez Machin, Arne L. Bygdås, Alex Taylor, Kumar Sourav Moharana & Hilde Rønnaug Kitterød

The past decade we have seen a radical paradigm shift in the social functions of universities, where they aim to become actors of transforming and co-creating society in the pursuit of
sustainable development via a much broader range of channels, approaches, and actors (Trencher et al. 2014). Partnerships and collaboration between academia, industry, government, and civil society are thus increasingly seen as a prerequisite for tackling various sustainability challenges (Clarke and Holiday 2006; Talwar et al. 2011; Whitmer et al. 2010 in Trencher et al. 2014). Such transformative research approaches are inter- and transdisciplinary and include the participation of and collaboration with societal stakeholders (Kates et al. 2001; Saltelli et al. 2016 in Loorback et al 2023:6).

Scholars argue universities are currently incapable of having such a function, to the scale and urgency that the climate crisis demands, as they are ingrained in new public management and capitalist consumer logics that are the cause of the planetary crisis (Loorbach et al. 2023, Lopez-Lopez 2021) through strategies of command and control (Bartels et al. 2020) rather than communication and co-creation. We argue that the students are not just potential receivers of transformative education (Paul and Quiggin 2020, Loorback et al 2023) but overlooked partners in enabling universities to take on an integral role in giving systematic and grand-scale responses to localized sustainability challenges.

By identifying what we call “bugs and spiders” in the educational system, the pilot locates the obstacles of the status quo (the bugs) and the already engaged actors (spiders) that are experimenting with alternative student active models in their teaching, research, or
administrative work at the university. These actors are potent change agents, not only for their immediate surroundings but can also – if connected – contribute to solving some of the many wicked problems/grand challenges by weaving a web of sustainable partnerships in and beyond campus. The pilot will be investigating further what components in the web are needed to activate change on a systemic level.

The authors Aina Landsverk Hagen, Simona Brozmanova, Haizea Pérez Machin, Arne L. Bygdås, Alex Taylor, Kumar Sourav Moharana & Hilde Rønnaug Kitterød are all parttaking in the ongoing pilot on student-researcher sustainability partnerships and research collaboration (Sparc) at OsloMet. The research professors Hagen & Bygdås are based at the Work Research Institute together with research assistants Brozmanova and Kitterød, while Taylor, Moharana and Machin are MA students at the Department of Product Design, OsloMet.

11.45 – 12.00 Discussion

Want to engage more with how we can work together to generate the relationships needed to transform our urban futures?
Come to the keynote Universities dating Urbanity Friday at 13.30.