Transforming knowledge for sustainability: towards adaptive academic institutions

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Authors: T.R. Miller, T. Muñoz-Erickson, C.L. Redman

Publication Year: 2011

Source: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/14676371111118228

Journal: International Journal of Sustainable in Higher Education

Volume: 12

Issue: 2

Categories: Innovation, Adaptive Cycle, Gestalt Switch, Qualitative, Revolt


Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to argue that the types of and ways in which academic institutions produce knowledge are insufficient to contribute to a transition to sustainability. Design/methodology/approach – Reflecting on experiences at the School of Sustainability, theauthors contend that a different kind of knowledge is needed, what we call sustainability knowledge. A conceptual approach is taken wherein the authors propose several characteristics of sustainability knowledge and offer some proposals on how academic institutions must be structured to produce it. Findings – Sustainability knowledge has several characteristics including social robustness, recognition of system complexity and uncertainty, acknowledgement of multiple ways of knowing and the incorporation of normative and ethical premises. In order to produce sustainability knowledge, the knowledge production process itself must be changed to be more adaptive and engaged with society. Two organizing characteristics for institutions seeking to produce such knowledge are proposed – epistemological pluralism and reflexivity. The adaptive cycle from resilience theory is then used as a heuristic to illustrate how these design characteristics play out in making the institution (and individual) more adaptive.
Practical implications – As more academic institutions move to address sustainability, this paper does not offer a roadmap; rather, it raises important issues that must be addressed in performing research and education for sustainability.; Originality/value – The paper shows that type of knowledge that academia must produce and how it might produce it are redefined for sustainability problems.


Critical Reflection

In my view it is interesting to see how resilience theory and the adaptive cycle are used to better understand the processes involved with knowledge production of institutions instead of looking at these processes from an iterative viewpoint. This shows that academic institutions (and individuals) also go through the adaptive cycle and could benefit from being more adaptive. As stated by the authors: “Knowledge processing and learning also happens in cycles.” In the case of this paper the challenge of transition to sustainability can then be seen as a perturbation that should be dealt with. (Opportunity for innovation, positive transformation) The article gives some in my opinion useful insights on how to possibly make knowledge creating processes and the type of knowledge created more sustainable and adaptive. In this article these propositions are focused on the context of academic institutions, however since knowledge is an important organizational asset some (aspects of) proposed ideas could possibly be useful to make organizations in general more adaptive by creating more adaptive and sustainable knowledge. Also, the article gave me some in my view useful ideas about strategies involving changing cooperation that an organization can employ to encourage the move out of equilibrium (‘K’ face) and into the back loop in order to avoid becoming too rigid.