Matthias Wanner Wins "Transformative Science" Research Prize

Researcher impresses jury with experimental and participatory urban and neighbourhood development project

  • Press Releases 20.09.2021
Matthias Wanner
Matthias Wanner, a PhD student with a scholarship from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, is this year's recipient of the "Transformative Science" research prize. Source: Wolf Sondermann

The "Transformative Science" research award with prize money of 25,000 euros will this year be presented for the fifth and final time by the Wuppertal Institute and the Zempelin Foundation in the Stifterverband (Donors' Association). Matthias Wanner, a PhD student with a scholarship from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, made a strong impression on the jury. This was thanks to both his scientifically well-founded research, the quality of which stands out from a theoretical as well as a methodological perspective, and his many years of practical experience and process participation. The award ceremony will be held as a hybrid event on 5 October 2021 at the Utopiastadt social and cultural centre in the former Mirke railway station – a Wuppertal transformation site and key real-world partner in the winner’s applied research.

The research prize is primarily aimed at individuals and teams who carry out scientific investigations into transformative innovations and integrate stakeholders from civil society into their research. In 2021, the call for entries focused on contributions to the field of transformative innovations. Transformative science can be defined as science that uses interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary methods to trigger social action, supports this with scientific guidance and engages civil society.

This year, the jury chose Matthias Wanner as the recipient of the 2021 "Transformative Science" research prize worth 25,000 euros. The jury members were impressed by the prize-winner's wide-ranging contributions to transformative research. One focus of Wanner’s work is on Wuppertal, which he considers to be an attractive place of transformation with vast potential. Together with the Wuppertal Institute, the Centre for Transformation Research and Sustainability (TransZent) at the University of Wuppertal and other partners, Wanner has successfully inspired significant new momentum in the city. He has also shown commitment to strengthening networks and the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary exchange of ideas. Prof. Dr. Manfred Fischedick, Scientific Managing Director of the Wuppertal Institute, congratulated the winner, saying: "Given the need for transformation, there is great potential – especially with regard to social innovations – for research in the form of participatory and education-oriented approaches, for example. Matthias Wanner’s research is particularly notable for its holistic approach, which helps to advance the Great Transformation and connects stakeholders with one another."

Matthias Wanner expressed his delight at winning the prize: "Transformative and transdisciplinary research are still not highly regarded in the scientific system. That makes me all the more pleased to receive this award and the recognition that comes with it. I also see the prize as a thank you to the stakeholders who are active in social initiatives like Utopiastadt and have engaged in joint research and development projects over many years in order to promote urban change."

Use of the prize money and award presentation

Matthias Wanner will use a small amount of the prize money to support the work of the local co-research group by financing materials, printing costs or travel expenses without bureaucratic red tape. "Most of the prize money will go towards promoting dialogue between researchers in real-world laboratories, administrative staff in local government, scientists working in the fields of spatial and planning science and citymakers," explained Matthias Wanner. In this context there are plans – kick-started by the prize money – to hold a symposium in the autumn of 2022 with the aim of strengthening effective, strategic cooperation between the research community, public administration and civil society for the benefit of sustainable urban development.

The "Transformative Science" research prize will be officially presented on 5 October 2021 at a hybrid event, beginning at 16.30 CEST in the former Mirke railway station, the headquarters of the Utopiastadt urban development project. The award ceremony will also serve to launch the dialogue with citymakers and will thus pave the way for the symposium in autumn 2022. All those interested in watching the presentation can register for the event via the link below. The Wuppertal Institute plans to upload the video to its YouTube channel afterwards.

The jury's reasoning

The jury attached great importance to the social relevance of the research, its scientific quality and the innovative research approach. It also took account of the potential of the research to serve as a model and how it engaged with its stakeholders. The jury members are united in their opinion that, through his research in Wuppertal's real-world laboratory and other contexts, Matthias Wanner will continue to trigger valuable momentum at the interface between science and practical application. According to the jury, Wanner’s research is blazing a distinct trail in the field of transformative research and education.

The seven-member jury is made up of:

  • Prof. Dr. Claudia Hornberg University of Bielefeld, Faculty of Health Sciences; Environment and Health
  • Prof. Dr. Heike Köckler Hochschule für Gesundheit (University of Applied Sciences), Dean of the Department of Community Health, Professor for Social Environment and Health
  • Prof. Dr. Jasmin Mantilla-Contreras University of Hildesheim, Institute of Biology and Chemistry; Ecology and Environmental Education
  • Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Marquardt Chairman of the Board of Directors of Forschungszentrum Jülich Research Centre
  • Dr. Volker Meyer-Guckel Donors' Association for the Promotion of Humanities and Sciences in Germany (Stifterverband), Deputy Secretary-General and member of the executive board, Head of Programmes and Funding
  • Prof. Dr. Roland Scholz Danube University Krems, Chief Senior Scientist and visiting professor in the Department for Knowledge and Communication Management
  • Dr. Steffi Ober Initiator and Head of the Civil Society Platform "Forschungswende"

About the prize-winner, Matthias Wanner

Research scientist Matthias Wanner has held a scholarship from the Heinrich Böll Foundation since 2018 to work on his PhD thesis on the subject of "Civic engagement and place identity: a real-world laboratory for the transformation of urban well-being in a neighbourhood in Wuppertal/Germany" at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg under Prof. Dr. Daniel Lang. Alongside his primary activity as a Heinrich Böll Foundation PhD scholar, Wanner is also involved in a lesser capacity in the "Transformative learning through commitment – social innovation as a driving force for environmental education and education for sustainable development" (TrafoBNE) project in the Innovation Labs research unit at the Wuppertal Institute.
The researcher studied psychology and political sciences at the University of Münster (WWU) and held a scholarship from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation throughout his university course. Alongside his doctorate, Matthias Wanner has worked on a diverse range of projects in Wuppertal's real-world laboratory, including as a research fellow in the University of Wuppertal's TransZent centre (2015–2018). While in this position, he led the “Mirke real-world laboratory” work package within the "Well-Being Transformation Wuppertal" project. This team analysed the neighbourhood development of the Mirke district and carried out various interventions to boost the engagement and participation of civil society. Wanner’s expertise lies in experimental and participatory urban and neighbourhood development, the design, implementation and evaluation of real-world laboratory projects and in education and learning in transformative settings.

About the research prize

The “Transformative Science” research prize is aimed at all forms of research that inspire society, promote social change and thereby engage civil society. Transdisciplinary research design plays an important role in this process. The winners are awarded 25,000 euros in prize money to support the implementation of their project ideas in the field of transformative science. In addition to the prize money, the winner or winning team receives a sculpture forged from the steel rails of the Wuppertal suspension railway – the Schwebebahn – built in 1898.


Joint Press release:

Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie gGmbH
Responsible for content: Prof. Dr. Manfred Fischedick, Scientific Managing Director
Contact: Luisa Lucas, Deputy Head of Public Relations
Tel: +49 202 2492-292

Zempelin Foundation in the Stifterverband (Donors' Association)
Contact: Anke Meis, Head of Communications
Tel: +49 201 8401-204

Printable pictures

Matthias Wanner
Matthias Wanner, a PhD student with a scholarship from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, is this year's recipient of the "Transformative Science" research prize. Source: Wolf Sondermann

In addition to prize money of 25,000 euros, the winner receives a sculpture forged from steel rails from the Wuppertal suspension railway – the Schwebebahn – built in 1898. 
Source: Wuppertal Institute/S. Michaelis

Cookie Settings

Cookies help us to constantly improve the website for you. By clicking on the "Allow cookies" button, you agree to the use of cookies. For further information on the use of cookies or to change your settings, please click on More about the use and rejection of cookies.