Organising a safe space for navigating social-ecological transformations to sustainability

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 May 28;12(6):6027-44. doi: 10.3390/ijerph120606027.


The need for developing socially just living conditions for the world's growing population whilst keeping human societies within a 'safe operating space' has become a modern imperative. This requires transformative changes in the dominant social norms, behaviours, governance and management regimes that guide human responses in areas such as urban ecology, public health, resource security (e.g., food, water, energy access), economic development and biodiversity conservation. However, such systemic transformations necessitate experimentation in public arenas of exchange and a deepening of processes that can widen multi-stakeholder learning. We argue that there is an emergent potential in bridging the sustainability transitions and resilience approaches to create new scientific capacity that can support large-scale social-ecological transformations (SETs) to sustainability globally, not just in the West. In this article, we elucidate a set of guiding principles for the design of a 'safe space' to encourage stronger interactions between these research areas and others that are relevant to the challenges faced. We envisage new opportunities for transdisciplinary collaboration that will develop an adaptive and evolving community of practice. In particular, we emphasise the great opportunity for engaging with the role of emerging economies in facilitating safe space experimentation.

Keywords: complexity; knowledge co-production; learning; reflexivity; resilience; safe space; sustainability; transformation; transitions.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Ecology*
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Communication*
  • Safety*
  • Social Change*
  • Social Conditions*