Deep Institutional Change for Sustainability as Human Flourishing



The overall objective of the project is to initiate a joined-up discussion of the diverse and fundamental changes needed in the foundational institutions of society if we are to address global challenges and create a fairer and more sustainable world. It aims to engage with diverse stakeholders across currently unconnected policy areas to generate a new holistic narrative of what the transition to fairness and sustainability entails.

It is widely acknowledged that while science, technology and innovation will play a key role in system transitions, sustainability transitions also require broader behavioural, cultural, institutional and value change. Current geopolitical developments illustrate that leadership and citizen behaviour, as well as established institutional norms and values, can mitigate against deep transitions towards sustainability. In addition, marked increases in inequality, economic crises, the rise of populism, rising global tensions, and ongoing religious and ethnic conflicts provide further evidence that current institutions are not optimal either for human flourishing or for addressing global challenges.

This project begins with the hypothesis that changes in individual and collective psychology are needed as an enabling condition for the transition to the fairer and more sustainable world envisioned in the SDGs. The project adopts a systemic view of institutions, leadership and citizenship as deeply interconnected. Following Unger (1987), it views institutions as the primary determinants of what Unger calls the formative context from within which leadership emerges and through which citizen beliefs and behaviours are shaped. The project will examine the institutions of economics, politics, technology and religion as foundational institutions of current unsustainability.

Through a series of workshops, the project will explore what types of institutional reforms are necessary to align the norms, values and behaviours of these institutions/social systems with the values of collective empathy and constructive cooperation needed to transition to sustainability and achieve the SDGs.

The project will begin with an exploration of the current dominant institutions of economics. For each institution to be explored, an authoritative critique of currently existing norms, values, rules and institutional arrangements will form the starting point for the workshop discussions. In the case of economics, the project will draw on the OECD New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) project for this critique. The NAEC project, which has drawn on experts around the world, identifies, for example, the profit motive of firms, the increased power of global corporations, governments’ focus on GDP as the dominant metric of progress, and a culture of destructive competition in some sectors, as the formative context for contemporary capitalist societies. The workshops will explore if and how this formative context needs to change to foster the normative changes as well as the changes in leadership and citizen behaviour needed for the transition to sustainability.

Similarly, authoritative critiques of the institutions of politics, technology and religion will be identified or created as the starting point for the workshops in these areas.

This activity fits under Conference Themes 1: New ways of defining and conceptualising transformative change and its relationship with policy.

Project Resources

Energy Policy and Modelling Group, Marine and Renewable Energy Centre, University College Cork, Ireland

Mulholland, Eamonn; Rogan, Fionn; Ó Gallachóir, Brian P. (2017) ‘From technology pathways to policy roadmaps to enabling measures – A multi-model approach’. Energy, 138 :1030-1041

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