This report argues that one of the most effective ways to support sustainable development through research and innovation is to establish large, integrated funding programmes, referred to here as lighthouse programmes. As well as producing impact-oriented knowledge on key sustainability challenges, these programmes would bring many other societal, scientific, and institutional benefits. These include: building closer relationships between science, society, and policy, and encouraging changes in the academic system itself, for example by increasing its capacity for inter- and transdisciplinary research.
Achieving sustainability is perhaps the greatest challenge of our time. Not only is the need for effective action urgent, but it will remain so for the foreseeable future. The academic community has a major role to play in proposing solutions and helping societies understand the consequences of different courses of action. In order to fulfil this role, more emphasis must be given to research that is interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and impact-oriented.
Impact-oriented sustainability research has several distinct characteristics with implications for researchers, research funders, and research institutions. Essential features include its strong normative dimension, the need to co-produce knowledge jointly with societal actors and stakeholders, the use of novel experimental systems such as real-world laboratories, and the fact that the research is transformative in the sense that its goal is to produce major changes in thought patterns in society.
This report was produced by the Sustainability Research Initiative of the Swiss Academy of Sciences in collaboration with many experts from the research community and funding institutions. It describes the special requirements of research and innovation for sustainable development and how these could be effectively achieved by lighthouse programmes. Each section of the report briefly explains key issues and then presents various design options, usually in the form of recommendations, that might be useful in designing or managing a programme.
Chapter 2 outlines essential features of lighthouse programmes and how these could be incorporated into the design of a programme. The first three sections of the chapter concern the level of individual projects funded under the umbrella of a lighthouse programme, including how to frame complex sustainability questions, how to ensure that the research and innovation is societally relevant, and how to plan a project so that it links to an intended societal impact. The final section makes recommendations on how the funded projects can be supported at the overall programme level. Helpful features comprise providing training in transdisciplinary work, making the data produced accessible to those who can use it, establishing a forum for dialogue and debate on sustainability issues, and tracking changing research needs.
Chapter 3 discusses issues related to preparing and managing lighthouse programmes and makes recommendations directed towards funding agencies for assessing proposals and evaluating research impact. The topics covered in this chapter are how to redefine programme development, expand programme leadership, redesign proposal assessment, and integrate formative impact evaluation.
Chapter 4 discusses specific opportunities for universities and research institutions that can be reinforced through lighthouse programmes. It addresses issues around making sustainable development an institutional priority, fostering cross-cutting structures for research and innovtion in broader contexts, building capacity, and improving career opportunities for those who engage in sustainability research and innovation.
Standard identifier: doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.6543447
Source: Wuelser G, Edwards P (2023): Lighthouse Programmes in Sustainability Research and Innovation, Swiss Academies Reports 18 (2)
Dr. Gabriela Wülser
Steering Committee Sustainability Research
House of Academies