BRIDGES works to promote meaningful action for transformative change based on UNESCO’s Guidelines for Sustainability Science in Research and Education. The Coalition draws upon these guidelines, as well as the guiding BRIDGES Principles and strategic priorities, as formulated during a two-year visioning and establishment process (2019-2021) led by the Founding Partners: UNESCO, the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH) and Humanities for the Environment’s (HfE’s) Circumpolar Observatory. These key documents can be found on this site under the header BRIDGES Foundational Documents. The hallmarks of the BRIDGES approach include the following priorities:
Humanities-centered transdisciplinary research
This first priority reaffirms, in part, the first of the BRIDGES principles referenced above and provides additional rationale not only for why a humanities-centered (and a human-centered) approach is necessary but also why this aim must be integrated with co-production efforts that are genuinely transdisciplinary in scope and orientation.
The humanities must play a leading role both in strengthening sustainability science research and in supporting actions for sustainability. The long-existing major gap in academic research on what it will actually mean for societies to transform in the face of environmental changes (or, indeed, what it has meant in the past) was addressed extensively in the BRIDGES Establishment workshops. Emphasizing the humanities in the context of Sustainability Science serve not only to underscore the value of knowledge resources and critical perspectives encompassed by humanistic fields; it also reinforces the relations and indispensable roles of humanities disciplines within the wider continuum of scientific domains that compose the fields of sustainability science, education, policy and action.
BRIDGES UK Hub Launch event, 2 Nov 2022, Swansea
In the coalition’s visioning and establishment process, the BRIDGES Principles developed in part from observations that normative scientific and humanistic terminologies are often reflective of competing, sometimes even incommensurate, epistemological traditions and viewpoints. Without concerted efforts to bridge those gaps an unreflective reliance on normative terminology can be both limiting and counter-productive rather than unifying. BRIDGES actively seeks to uncover occluded concepts, including new methodologies that may in some cases be based on long-established but obscured practices, or ways of working collectively/holistically, especially with non-scientists, that do not easily, or at least outwardly, fall within standard scientific protocols.
BRIDGES acknowledges, even foregrounds, the crucial contribution of humanities in embracing complexity and addressing multidimensional issues (or “wicked problems”) from a locality-based perspective. Contrasting with a totality-based approach, which can impede the ability of policymakers and environmental managers to address issues that are necessarily occurring at a local/regional scale (such as biodiversity loss), a humanities-centered approach allows for bottom-up initiatives to set help agendas in which context is always a central consideration.
Sites: territories, communities and processes
Beginning during its inception phase, BRIDGES will be developing an action framework by bringing together a range of partners to design and implement, in a co-owned manner, site-based pilot projects, combining different knowledge sources and traditions. The pilot activities are intended to operationalize BRIDGES’ core principles and demonstrate new models of human-centered sustainability science for wider adoption and adaptation.
Explorations during the BRIDGES establishment workshops clarified criteria for site-centered activities BRIDGES seeks to endorse. The sites envisaged will showcase a territory-based approach to sustainability in which a locality or district is defined as encompassing three intertwined aspects: a territory, a community of stakeholders and a process.
- A territory is characterized but not defined by an area representable on a two-dimensional map. In addition to that spatial dimension, a territory includes a range of connections through time and space which define its quality and significance. In particular, the history of a territory, composed of cultural narratives that makes a particular geographical area much more than just space, is essential to a territory’s practical dimension. Connections between apparently distinct and mutually distant territories are also appreciable through the migrations, for example, of invasive species and their effects on ecosystems, just as the migration of all kinds of entities, or the exchanges of goods and services, can impact regions in complex ways. Such examples should encourage us to resist the temptation to reduce a territory to its administrative mapping.
- A community of stakeholders is defined not by the geographic limits of its territory, but by the web of connections that shape its character. It follows that constituting a community of stakeholders is a political and not simply a descriptive task; moreover, the word “community”, while often convenient for practical purposes, does not necessarily imply a uniform perspective regarding the use of a locality or region’s constituent natural elements, whether these are regarded as natural resources or as entities bearing their own rights and agency. Nor necessarily can a functional equality be assumed between/among the values and standards of all stakeholders in a territory. On the contrary, assessing and evaluating stakeholders in terms of the urgency of their interests is a key aspect of the politics of territoriality.
- From these characterizations of territory and stakeholders, it should follow that a site necessarily involves a process, or many processes; the identification of a process is not a natural fact in a site-based strategy, to be analysed exclusively through the interests from which it emerges. A site is inevitably an object of ongoing interpretive struggle, which affects not only its geographic boundaries but also its meanings. The extensive discussions that formed the basis of the emerging BRIDGES Coalition’s establishment process reached a consensus view on the need for appropriate analyses of these processes, from a research-oriented perspective, as well as the necessity of designing appropriate actions to help shape and respectfully guide processes in relevant ways without imposing them from outside or from above these socio-environmental systems, which must always be recognized as having their own distinct integrity.
Aiming to be more inclusive to marginalized areas and communities, particular attention will be paid in BRIDGES’ short-term and medium-term strategic efforts to identify and work with sites that are vulnerable, or degraded, and where steps are being undertaken to stimulate transformative change.
As BRIDGES’ portfolio of endorsed activities and supported projects expands, appropriate theoretical frameworks and practical modes/models of centextual integration will be developed.
Communication and Advocacy
Strategic communications will be crucial to efforts to effectively support and develop the activities of the BRIDGES coalition. As BRIDGES’ knowledge management arm, an online communication platform is expected to allow for further research dissemination, enhancing the quality of research by connecting actors and creating synergies.
This website is the first step in the development of such a platform. However, it will take time and resources beyond the coalition’s present capacities to realize the potential of a more interactive online platform enabling dissemination of impactful co-produced knowledge and the demonstration of effective transdisciplinary sustainability science in action.
Such a platform can also connect actors and create synergies across territories and cases, allowing resources to be mutualized within the coalition, especially for the purposes of knowledge exchange, comparative study, data management and dissemination of research/education design models and results.
There was also universal support in the visioning process that led to the establishment of BRIDGES for the development of advocacy activities as key functions of BRIDGES’ engagement in the sustainability science domain. This role includes the coalition’s promotion and showcasing of UNESCO’s Guidelines Sustainability Science in Research and Education as achievable in practice.
Governance and Principles — strategic priorities
For a fuller articulation of the governance, principles and strategic priorities identified in the BRIDGES Establishment Process, please see the respective documents reflecting the exploratory discussions, consensus and eventual outcomes in each of these areas that are accessible on this site under the header BRIDGES Foundational Documents.
Education and Training
The coalition will facilitate development of professional training strategies and models as a prioritized activity, in all likelihood after the inception phase of the BRIDGES International Program Office. Such training initiatives may be linked initially to territories-based projects/collaborations in identified sites. Education or professional training for practitioners or researchers can be developed to increase understanding of local and traditional knowledge and the distinct cultural heritage that define unique socio-ecological systems.
As demonstration projects, such training initiatives can also be developed to synergize with communications goals, thereby bridging different nodes in the consortium where knowledge sharing across territories and site-based collaborations/case-studies can play a valuable role in capacity building, adaption of successful approaches and even in scaling up collaborative knowledge-based actions for sustainability.
In its efforts to stimulate development of training and education projects the coalition will rely initially on existing structures and networks of partners linked to appropriate sites. Together with Strategic Partners, in co-developed modalities or programs, BRIDGES will aim to identify knowledge and capacity gaps and/or build on existing training materials that can be applied experimentally for development and testing at relevant sites. Building on the results of initial iterations of training (including experimental approaches), the coalition will seek to develop a site-based training and educational model, potentially adaptable to other contexts.
Beyond professional training, the coalition will work to support activities at the interface of scientific research and education in lifelong learning, strengthening linkages with libraries and memory centers contributing to public appreciation and usage of such institutions as archives of knowledge and learning resources.
In due course the range of educational and training activities should be expanded, contingent on resource availability, to encompass further initiatives that can synergize well with other strategic BRIDGES objectives, such as researcher education and field-based training, or training initiatives for civil servants, policy-makers and media professionals such as scientific journalists.
BRIDGES will take an agile approach to funding to support the coalition’s mission, approaching local sources, as well as national and international sources (both state-sponsored and private philanthropic funders), and adopting a project-based approach to support. Appropriate advocacy efforts should taken to encourage funders to adapt their own funding priorities to include necessary integrated approaches that more successfully mobilize knowledge across domains of the natural and social sciences, the humanities, the arts and non-academic knowledge domains. National funding towards the humanities and a humanities led-approach about and for sustainability science should also be encouraged, and these objectives are both funding and advocacy priorities of the BRIDGES Coalition.