Transformative Research

Transformative research contributes to solving societal problems and is characterized by an explicit aspiration to get involved: The aim is to catalyse processes of change and to actively involve stakeholders in the research process. In this way, transformative research generates "socially robust" knowledge needed for sustainability transitions.

Research at the Wuppertal Institute thus follows a transdisciplinary concept of knowledge: it does not only serve to generate "systems knowledge" (e.g. technological or resource-oriented systems analysis), but also integrates stakeholders in the process of generating "target knowledge" (visions and guiding principles) and "transformation knowledge" in concrete settings of urban or sectoral transitions to sustainability.

Transformative research contributes to solving societal problems and is characterised by an explicit aspiration to get involved: The aim is to catalyse processes of change and to actively involve stakeholders in the research process. In this way, transformative research generates "socially robust" knowledge needed for sustainability transitions. Research at the Wuppertal Institute thus follows a transdisciplinary concept of knowledge: it does not only serve to generate "systems knowledge" (e.g. technological or resource-oriented systems analysis), but also integrates stakeholders in the process of generating "target knowledge" (visions and guiding principles) and “transformation knowledge” in concrete settings of urban or sectoral transitions to sustainability.

Transformation knowledge

The quality of transformative research must be measured on the basis of its own aspiration to catalyse societal change for sustainability. Assessment schemes for transformative research thus include not only academic quality criteria, but also new forms of measuring societal impact. At the Wuppertal Institut, transformative research approaches and innovative methods of assuring their scientific quality are being developed. This is done in cooperation with leading national and international institutions in the field of transdisciplinary sustainability research.

Methods and Concepts

Doing transformative research for sustainability transitions, the Wuppertal Institute applies a comprehensive set of methods – ranging from scenario analysis, resource and energy systems modelling to policy analysis and evaluation – for the generation of systems, target and transformation knowledge. A specific type of transformative research is carried out in real-world laboratories where scientists and stakeholders do research together and work on solutions for real-world problems.

The application of these methods and their further development is realised in close cooperation with national and international partners and via internal programs for scientific qualification and dissertation projects supervised at the Wuppertal Institute.

Transformative Science research prize

In 2017, the "Transformative Science" research prize has been offered for the first time by the Wuppertal Institute and the Zempelin Foundation in the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Humanities and Sciences in Germany (Stifterverband).

The "Transformative Science" research prize focuses on all forms of research that spark and promote social impetus and thus involve civil society. Transdisciplinary research design plays a significant role in this. The research prize is endowed with 25,000 euros. The money is awarded to prize winners for their project ideas in the field of transformative science. This year, for the first time, the Wuppertal Institute has awarded the research prize, which is funded by the Zempelin Foundation in the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Humanities and Sciences in Germany (Stifterverband). The Wuppertal Institute sees it as recognition of its achievements in this field that the Donors' Association commissioned the Institute to coordinate the award of the Zempelin Foundation-sponsored prize for "Transformative Science".

The 2017 winner

The winner of this year's "Transformative Science" research prize has now been selected: Dr. Laura Woltersdorf impressed the jury with her concept in which she designed, implemented and consolidated an integrated evaluation system for sustainable water resource management. As part of the research project, "CuveWaters", carried out at the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE), Dr. Laura Woltersdorf developed an integrated evaluation system for sustainable water management in Namibia. "The use of non-conventional water resources, such as purified, reused municipal (waste) water and harvested rainwater, helps to utilise the water resources that are available locally in a more efficient and productive way," says Dr. Woltersdorf.

Photo: Gesa Coordes

With her sustainability assessment, the scientist demonstrates which technology options are ecological in areas with limited water resources, or are socially and economically beneficial for fighting poverty as well as most effective under the existing local institutional conditions and technical possibilities. In order to develop the concept, she worked closely with local stakeholders and integrated their empirical knowledge: the concept therefore made a significant contribution to decisions affecting water management in the region and enjoyed high public acceptance. Laura Woltersdorf currently works at Goethe University Frankfurt as a post-doctoral researcher in the Hydrology Research Group at the Institute of Physical Geography. At the institute, her work focuses on methods of transdisciplinary research and links between social and natural sciences.

The winner will use the prize money to advance her transdisciplinary research: "I will use the prize money for my research, particularly to further develop my integrative methods. I would also like to give the international research community an understanding of my results and thus extend my network," says Dr. Woltersdorf.

On site in Namibia: scientist Dr. Laura Woltersdorf (right) and the operator of a wastewater treatment plant took water samples from a sewer in order to examine the water quality. Photo: Laura Woltersdorf
The jury and its selection criteria

The jury attaches great importance to the social relevance of the subject and to the quality and innovative character of the research design. The prize winners are expected to be role models for other researchers. The jury agreed that Laura Woltersdorf's work was an outstanding example of a transdisciplinary research project in the context of development cooperation.

The seven members of the jury are:

  • Prof. Dr. Claudia Hornberg
    from the University of Bielefeld, Faculty of Health Sciences; working group 7 Environment and Health
  • Prof. Dr. Heike Köckler
    from the Hochschule für Gesundheit (University of Applied Sciences), Dean of the Department of Community Health, Professor for social environment and physical health
  • Prof. Dr. Jasmin Mantilla-Contreras
    from the University of Hildesheim, Institute of Biology and Chemistry; working group for Ecology and Environmental Education
  • Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Marquardt
    Chairman of the Board of Directors of Forschungszentrum Jülich Research Centre
  • Dr. Volker Meyer-Guckel
    Deputy Secretary-General and member of the executive board of the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Humanities and Sciences in Germany (Stifterverband), Head of "Programmes and Funding"
  • Prof. Dr. Roland Scholz
    Chief Senior Scientist and visiting professor at the Danube University Krems
  • Dr. Steffi Ober
    Initiator and Head of the "Civil Society Platform 'Forschungswende'"

The Wuppertal Institute will organise the call for entries for the "Transformative Science" research prize and select the award winner for an initial period of five years. The Zempelin Foundation is making funds totalling 250,000 euros available, which will be used for the call for applications, the selection process and the award ceremony, as well as an accompanying symposium. By allocating the funds to the Wuppertal Institute, the Zempelin Foundation is aknowledging the Institute’s outstanding commitment to developing the area of transformative science. The "Transformative Science" research prize will be awarded on an annual basis.

Projects

Here you find selected sample projects with a transformative research approach.