Transforming Innovation

A series of nine planetary boundaries have been identified by Rockstrom et al. 2009. It is becoming increasingly clear that development pathways must reconnect with the biosphere’s capacity to sustain them  (Folke et al. 2011). Sarah Burch, a research colleague of mine on the MC3: Meeting the Climate Change Challenge project, has argued that we must look to the deeper underlying path dependent development trajectories to reveal the true sources of barriers to action (Burch and Robinson, 2007, Robinson et al., 2006). Again, it is clear to me that development pathways must reconnect with the biosphere’s capacity to sustain them (Folke et al., 2011).

 An interesting article on Transforming Innovation for Sustainability by Leach et al. (2012) looks at using innovation in three interlinked dimensions—specific direction, diversity and distribution. Direction refers to being clear on the specific goals and principles driving policy and innovation, and not leaving them open and driven by the current growth and progress imperative, but actively steering them towards development pathways that are needed to stay within the nine planetary boundaries. The second, diversity, and one I have written about in an article entitled, All Things Counter, Original, Spare, Strange: Why are We so Bad at Difference?, is critical to ensuring future innovation options. The paper makes an interesting link between diversity as a tool to resist the powerful process of lock-in and thus catalyzes more transformative forms of innovation.

 The third dimension, distribution, which will become increasingly important as we reach more and more natural resource limits, in particular water, requires keeping social justice or what Soja refers to as spatial justice, at centre stage—in shaping fundamental directions of change and including instead of excluding large segments of the population from participating in the solutions. Why is this important, because social science research shows us that equitable societies almost always do better on all manner of social indicators ranging from education to social mobility to crime rates to health outcomes (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009).

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