Headliner: How do we mobilize knowledge and create agency/capacity for transformative partnerships

Speaker: Katy Roelich, Zuzana Harmackova
Public sector decision making for sustainability transformations
Katy RoelichThere is an emerging focus on how sustainability transformations might come about (Hajer et al., 2015; Willis, 2020) but current research focuses on the role of civil society or businesses in developing alternative visions and business models. This overlooks the crucial role of public sector organisations making decisions about systems implicated in visions of transformative change, such as transport and energy. This is problematic because current public sector decisions are constraining, not enabling change (Rickards et al., 2014). The systems implicated in sustainability transformations are complex and characterised by feedback processes, emergence, lock-in effects and path dependence, and change being non-linear and characterised by discontinuities, ruptures and thresholds. It is not surprising that making decisions that drive sustainability transformations is difficult. Nevertheless, the narrow perspectives of decision makers and the path dependence embedded in decision making processes exacerbate these difficulties (Marsden and Docherty, 2021; Rickards et al., 2014). In this presentation I will focus on three challenges of decision making for sustainability transformations. Firstly, the complex nature of the systems under examination, which require decision makers to make sense of uncertainty and explore relations between a wide range of actors and drivers to address the boundary spanning nature of sustainability (Burch et al., 2019; Feola, 2015; Patterson et al., 2017). Secondly, public sector organisations have cultural and institutional context that can affect both the process and outcomes of decisions, which should not be ignored when developing decision support tools or analysing decision making (Bonjean Stanton and Roelich, 2021). Finally, the outcomes and processes of system transformation are not neutral, they are value-laden and political, so decision making processes must be inclusive and explicitly address the politics of transformation. I will discuss each challenge and initiate a discussion on a future research agenda for decision making for sustainability transformations.