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‘Imagining transformative biodiversity futures’: Nature Sustainability commentary explores future scenarios for life on Earth

A new commentary published in Nature Sustainability highlights a need for greater diversity, justice and creativity in efforts to rebalance humanity’s relationship with the natural world. Citing three evocative scenarios of what the future of life on Earth might look like, the article aims to spark conversations about the choices society makes for humanity and nature.

Set in 2050, the scenarios portray the potential consequences of decisions and events in the coming years. Though none are inevitable, the stories are based on existing and emerging narratives, strategies and trade-offs for biodiversity, climate, human health, conservation and sustainable development. Authored by a diverse group, including a strong and inspiring set of early career voices, this piece shines a light on the contrasting worldviews and priorities that will shape our futures and provides a snapshot of how diversity in collaboration prompts us to think differently. 

At the heart of the commentary is the need for biodiversity to cross-pollinate with other fields, and move beyond “us vs them” mentalities. We can no longer live in linear, siloed spaces, but must take a fresh, conscious, integrated approach. Our futures depend on innovation and collaboration, people and nature, justice and eco-sustainability, gender equity and development.

“It is beautifully unique to see a high-profile, science-based commentary piece focused on future scenarios and written by young voices in narrative form,” says Rebecca Shaw, Chief Scientist WWF. “This is a new generation’s take on communicating science, not unlike the rise of street art as a form of a more activist and uncompromising set of voices.”

This commentary caps the two-year, Luc Hoffmann Institute-led Biodiversity Revisited initiative, a global, collaborative review of the narratives, principles and practices underpinning biodiversity. 

The project culminated in publication of the Biodiversity Revisited research and action agenda, designed to rethink biodiversity research and generate new conservation actions that put justice at the centre of our efforts. The full agenda is available on ResearchGate and the Luc Hoffmann Institute website, and a synthesised version is under review for publication in Conservation Biology. The foundations for Biodiversity Revisited were laid by Seeds of Change, a compilation of provocative reviews and essays about how to sustain a biodiverse world.

Accompanying the Nature Sustainability commentary will be a thought piece on the Nature Communities website and an interview with Luc Hoffmann Institute Director Jon Hutton and Head of Programme (ad-interim) Melanie Ryan. This offers a candid review of the Biodiversity Revisited journey, including the challenges and impacts of a collaboration involving almost 300 people from diverse countries, sectors, disciplines, and career stages. 

The commentary appears in the latest issue of Nature Sustainability and is available open access for four weeks.

The Nature Sustainability commentary authors are: Carina Wyborn, Federico Davila, Laura Pereira, Michelle Lim, Isis Alvarez, Gretchen Henderson, Amy Luers, Kristal Maze, Maria Jose Martinez-Harms, Jasper Montana, Melanie Ryan, Chris Sandbrook, Rebecca Shaw, Emma Woods.

Biodiversity Revisited was led by the Luc Hoffmann Institute in collaboration with WWF, Future Earth, ETH Zürich Department of Environmental Systems Science, the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London
This initiative was generously supported by the NOMIS Foundation, MAVA Foundation, Foundation for Environmental Conservation and The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center.

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Securing the Future of Nature-based Tourism in Africa: A Collaborative Platform

The Covid-19 pandemic has created multiple disruptions to the way society works: the near total suspension of global travel is one of these. Where global tourism revenues have been helping to deliver biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods, the pandemic has dramatically altered the trajectory of many local economies.

It is no exaggeration to say that the collapse of wildlife tourism threatens to compromise decades of development and conservation work in nature-rich and emblematic parts of Africa. It has also made the frailty of nature conservation and livelihoods dependent on nature-based tourism increasingly apparent. How can we regain what we have lost while building a more resilient future, looking beyond tourism, for people and nature conservation in Africa?

Who we are working with

Related SDGs

Explore the impacts

Ideation

Play video →
May 2020

Watch the video from the 20 May 2020 convening

Aspiration

June/July 2020

The institute continues stakeholder outreach and progresses its incubation of a new Collaborative Platform in response to the challenges. The goal is to amplify existing fundraising efforts and support the activities of community stakeholders who are the custodians of the landscapes and wildlife, and upon whom successful tourism activities depend.

Incubation

July 2020

$1.9m funding is secured from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for implementation by WWF-US. WWF-US becomes the formal executing agency for the grant, but consultations are underway with African-based organisations to identify a host that will provide the Secretariat and lead the Platform.

Timeline ends here

Related resources

Developing a platform for sustaining conservation and communities in Africa 
The initial proposal for the African Collaborative Platform, drafted by the Luc Hoffmann Institute and discussed at the 20 May 2020 convening.  

COVID-19 and Conservation
A March 2020 blog post by Luc Hoffmann Institute Advisory Council member Bill Adams in his series Thinking like a human which inspired the institute’s COVID-19 response. 

COVID 19 and sustainable tourism: Information resources and links
A collection of resources by Dr Anna Spenceley including ideas to help resilience and recovery, market research and intelligence, impacts on tourism and destinations, virtual tours and ideas to keep us inspired, and more. 

Innovative business models for life on Earth
A Luc Hoffmann Institute thought leadership initiative pointing to possible new ways to sustain conservation and livelihoods. The initiative contributes to the third stream of the Collaborative Platform by helping to source longer-term measures to improve the resilience of African conservation strategies.

Building Back Better: a Marshall Plan for Natural Capital (external document)
A plan on reversing the decline in Sub-Saharan African GDP in Nature-Based Tourism Sector from COVID-19

Editorial Essay: COVID-19 and Protected and Conserved Areas (external document)
This special editorial provides a snapshot of how protected and conserved areas around the world are being impacted by COVID-19. For many protected and conserved areas, negative impacts on management capacity, budgets and effectiveness are significant, as are impacts on the livelihoods of communities living in and around these areas.

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Biodiversity Revisited: New frontiers for biodiversity knowledge and action

A two-year collaboration involving nearly 300 people of 46 nationalities has culminated in a new agenda that charts a course for more effective biodiversity research and action for the next five years.

The agenda is the result of Biodiversity Revisited, an initiative conceived by the Luc Hoffmann Institute that has looked at why the world has failed to stop biodiversity loss and what large-scale changes are needed to sustain diverse and just futures for life on Earth. The initiative carried out the first comprehensive review of the concepts, research, policies and practices underpinning biodiversity conservation since the term emerged in the 1980s. 

The diversity of life that sustains humanity is being severely degraded by human action. This is leading to a deterioration in land, air and water quality, loss of natural ecosystems and widespread declines in populations of wild species. These changes are well documented and of existential significance to human societies, yet significant knowledge about the problem has not catalysed effective, broad-based action. Biodiversity has not, generally speaking, proved to be a compelling object for sufficient action to halt the degradation of the diversity of life on earth.

This research agenda is based on the premise that humanity is part of biodiversity and that we are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. It urges the conservation community to think more broadly and draw on different perspectives, such as the political, legal, economic, social, cultural, and philosophical.

“This agenda is an invitation to consider a new way of thinking and acting in tackling interconnected challenges, whether local or global,” says Dame Georgina Mace, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystems at University College London. “We hope it inspires collaboration between different sectors of society and academia, and invite researchers, policy-makers and funders to take the agenda forward to radically change the way conservation is done.”

A strong interdisciplinary research agenda is critical at a time when global inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and further highlighted by the Black Lives Matter protests have reinforced the need for justice to be at the centre of our efforts. With society undergoing seismic shifts in every aspect of life, holistic collaboration across sectors, disciplines and communities is more important than ever if we are to achieve sustainable futures.

The Biodiversity Revisited agenda aims to guide researchers, practitioners and decision-makers in reframing biodiversity research with a holistic approach that puts an emphasis on justice and the inclusion of a diversity of perspectives. 

Four main themes are covered encompassing a series of research questions designed to broaden thinking and collaboration, and encourage a more comprehensive understanding of what constitutes ‘desirable’ futures. 

  • “Revisiting biodiversity narratives” addresses the entrenched concepts and narratives that have separated humans, cultures, economies and societies from nature. 
  • “Anthropocene, biodiversity, and culture” explores perspectives on the fundamental and evolving relationships between biodiversity and human cultures.
  • “Nature and economy” examines the existing economic and financial systems, which are some of the primary drivers of biodiversity loss.
  • “Enabling transformative biodiversity research and change” draws all of these together, focusing on what individuals and institutions can do to embrace and open up spaces for transformative change by expanding the knowledge, values and cultures utilised within biodiversity research. 

The agenda advocates changes in the way institutions fund, review and conduct research. These could involve adopting more flexible objectives, unlocking funding for inter- and transdisciplinary research and action, integrating professionals across different career stages, and creating equal opportunities for marginalised voices. While interdisciplinary research is increasing, there continues to be a lag in including non-academic voices in research projects, notably those from marginalised communities.

Download the Biodiversity Revisited research agenda.

Visit Biodiversity Revisited for more information about the initiative and its outputs, including Seeds of Change, a compilation of expert reviews and provocative essays that preceded this agenda.

Biodiversity Revisited was led by the Luc Hoffmann Institute in collaboration with WWF, Future Earth, ETH Zürich Department of Environmental Systems Science, the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London

This initiative was generously supported by the NOMIS Foundation, MAVA Foundation, Foundation for Environmental Conservation and The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center.

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Fuller Seminar: How did justice end up at the heart of a conversation on biodiversity?

On 11 June, a panel of three emerging, cross-sectoral leaders came together to discuss the development of the Biodiversity Revisited initiative and the soon-to-be-released research and action agenda. This online seminar forms part of the WWF Fuller Science for Nature series, a regular forum for the conservation community to learn, discuss, network and inspire. The series seeks to advance the discussion of cutting edge research relating to critical topics in international conservation.

Coming at the end of the formal Biodiversity Revisited project, this session covered the two-year journey towards the forthcoming agenda. As part of this journey, the panellists were invited to share their scientific and practical expertise, as well as personal experiences of participating in this global, collaborative endeavour. Drawn from the wider initiative, which has been shaped by hundreds of experts from around the world, the panellists covered a wide range of topics related to the present and future of biodiversity research, practice, policy and broader societal issues. 

The group elaborated on how the interplay of dynamics between networks, people, diverse knowledge, and project design resulted in a process that could incorporate a range of topics and span complex questions of the relationships between people, nature, justice, economy, Indigenous people, history and power. The seminar dug into the overarching design of global collaboration, and responded to tough questions on issues such as transformative change, systems approaches to conservation, equity and justice, gender, food systems, policy and decolonising conservation. 

You can watch the full seminar below or on Vimeo.

The Biodiversity Revisited agenda will be published in early July 2020 and will help pave the way for other outputs, new research and exciting new collaborations that will emerge in the coming months. Join the conversation using #BiodiversityRevisited along with a global network of researchers and practitioners interested in the future of life on Earth. 

For more information, please contact:
Melanie Ryan, Head of Programme at the Luc Hoffmann Institute: melryan@wwfint.org

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The Luc Hoffmann Institute mobilises key actors to make African conservation more resilient post-COVID

The weaknesses of a system exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic:
The Covid-19 pandemic has created seemingly limitless shocks and hitherto inconceivable disruptions to the way society works: the near total suspension of global travel is one of these. Where global tourism revenues have been helping simultaneously to deliver biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods, the pandemic has dramatically altered the trajectory of some national and many local economies. 

“Communities in Africa face a defining moment. They work hard, but are hardly noticed. Although they have kept the conservation world alive, now that disaster has struck they are all but invisible, and a major source of their income – wildlife tourism – has evaporated. Many are destitute, and may have little alternative but to turn to unsustainable and destructive extraction of wild resources to survive,” says Maxwell Gomera from the United Nations Environment Programme. 

Nature conservation in sub-Saharan Africa overly dependent on tourism:  
When tourism stops, so too do the benefits of conservation. Coexisting with wildlife has significant costs (think ‘human-wildlife conflict’) and the erosion of direct financial incentives arising from the business of wildlife tourism will often sharply tip the balance away from conservation. 

Forging paths to resilience for nature and people:  
On 20 May 2020, the Luc Hoffmann Institute virtually convened more than 75 participants, mostly from Africa, across different sectors, geographies and disciplines, to discuss a collaborative response to the COVID-19 impacts on communities and wildlife. 

“While there are many initiatives to raise money for wildlife areas, there has been less focus on supporting rural community stakeholders who are the custodians of the landscape and the wildlife on which this tourism depends. We think that a collaborative platform can address this shortcoming while also amplifying existing fundraising approaches,” suggested Luc Hoffmann Institute Director Jon Hutton. 

Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO at the African Leadership Group, asked “How can we build long-term business models? How do we think about diversified revenue streams that go beyond tourism and that are not dependent on donors? So that we can really think differently and show that when there is another crisis we have diversified revenue streams that can allow us to sustain our communities and the wildlife that they live with today.” 

During the meeting, a vision was set forth that would bring to bear an investment of at least USD one billion to support a three-step approach:

  1. deploying emergency relief funds to support local communities, civil society, and small-scale enterprises as compensation for lost jobs and revenues; 
  2. developing a 24-month stimulus package to support the physical and social infrastructure that makes wildlife tourism possible so that it can quickly resume once the pandemic is alleviated;
  3. sourcing promising longer-term measures to improve the resilience of African conservation strategies.

“We don’t want all the support to go to the hotels and the tourism operators, and forget the communities that are the stewards of this,” stressed Alice Ruhweza, Africa Region Director at WWF, “So I see an important role for the platform, bringing a collective voice to talk about these issues and to advocate better for nature – and nature beyond tourism – and to share knowledge with everyone outside of [the conservation] sector.” 

“We need new ways of thinking!” exhorted Gomera. “Rural African communities face an endless stream of obstacles to doing business. They are finding it difficult to build representative, community-based enterprises to deliver commercial outcomes. It is time to genuinely empower them to play a role in the development of wildlife economies, and that includes giving them rights to wildlife and resources, and greater equity and stake in related businesses. Saving wildlife is a common goal, but the cost of doing so cannot be borne by communities alone. We all have a responsibility and must commit to their cause.” 

Watch the video highlights from the 20 May 2020 convening:

Read more about the collaborative response here and visit our web page about the initiative for more information. If you would like to contribute to the further development of the response, please contact Jon Hutton, Director of the Luc Hoffmann Institute at jhutton@wwfint.org.

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Join the 11 June 2020 Fuller Seminar to hear the Biodiversity Revisited story!

‘What’s wrong with biodiversity?’ This was the initial question that developed into the two-year flagship thought leadership project, Biodiversity Revisited. Since early 2018, the initiative has brought together close to 300 experts from nearly 50 countries to completely rethink future research on biodiversity and conservation, starting with the very definition of the concept. Join us on 11 June 2020 for the Fuller Seminar when researchers and practitioners involved in the initiative will share inspiring stories from the project, along with their takes on the ideas and publications that have emerged during this journey.  

Hosted by WWF US, the Fuller Seminar is a series of meetings providing a platform for conservation ideas and is a part of the Kathryn Fuller Science Fund for Nature supporting innovative ideas in conservation science research. 

What’s in it for you? 

  • Learn new ways of thinking about biodiversity conservation science
  • Explore the systems thinking methodology applied to the project and how it can help your ideas 
  • Get inspired by three panelists from across the world who work in biodiversity conservation

How to take a part? 

  • Join the 75-minute virtual seminar on Thursday, 11 June 2020 at 4 PM EST

For more information, please contact:
Melanie Ryan, Head of Programme (ad-interim) at the Luc Hoffmann Institute: melryan@wwfint.org

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The Luc Hoffmann Institute launches refreshed website to attract further innovation for life on Earth

The Luc Hoffmann Institute is pleased to announce that it has launched its refreshed website, replacing the previous version that had been in place for several years. The institute team had been working over months to get it ready and were fortunate that all the effort that had gone into it previously allowed the institute to launch the site even in the midst of COVID-19. 

“The new website makes it simple for our visitors to find the information they need quickly and easily, and we have included key information on major projects in a visually-appealing timeline form, so people can stay up to date on what the institute is doing in the way of driving innovation in societal change for life on Earth,” says Luc Hoffmann Institute director Jon Hutton. 

The website has new features that will allow the institute to source innovative ideas for nature conservation from diverse audiences across the globe, and includes additional opportunities for visitors to get involved or provide feedback – which is vital for ongoing innovation. The institute has also built in other features to include more engaging content – such as video – and has search-engine-optimised the site to help innovators, investors, and collaborators find content more easily. 

Here are some pages visitors might enjoy exploring first:

Even before the new website went live, the Luc Hoffmann Institute website was receiving a steady stream of visitors (10,000 unique visitors per year) and the average session duration had risen 20% since last year. While it is too early to gather comparative figures, the institute hopes that the new, refreshed website will provide an even better experience for visitors and keep them engaged for a longer duration with our content and our opportunities to take part in innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute aims to be the world’s leading catalyst for innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity, the foundation of all life on Earth. It creates the conditions for new approaches to emerge, identify and mobilise the most promising innovators and ideas, and provides a flow of impactful, de-risked and exciting initiatives for investors. Its passionate and open-minded team is dedicated to driving societal change for nature and people to thrive together. Learn more at www.luchoffmanninstitute.org, connect with the institute on LinkedIn, or follow it on Twitter @LucHoffmannInst.

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Submit your idea or solution for the Capsule worldwide hackathon for the planet!

At the Luc Hoffmann Institute, we believe that innovation can stem from all geographies and all parts of society. No idea or innovator is too small, and no discipline is too remote to influence the well-being of life on Earth. That is why, in its quest for  innovation and transformative change to maintain biodiversity, the Luc Hoffmann Institute is proudly partnering with Capsule for “Capsule Hack”, a 2-day virtual hackathon event centered around solutions to climate and biodiversity issues.

In light of the current crisis, it is crucial, now more than ever, for us to identify and mobilise the most promising innovators and ideas for nature and people. If you have an idea, an existing project, or a possible solution worth exploring, then we invite you to join us! Are you an artist, historian, construction worker, poet, business person, farmer, doctor or just someone who is passionate about sustainability, including social justice and nature? Then this hackathon may be for you. We’ll be hacking ideas and finding solutions that fall under one of the following categories: art, cities, education, energy, food, and health.

What’s in it for you?

  • A chance to be paired with a mentor for your idea or solution, to grow your network, and be part of the special magic of hacking a better future together!
  • The hackathon will include art and musical performances, keynote speakers, dynamic panels, and even influencer-led yoga classes.
  • Following the hackathon, if your idea or project is selected by the Luc Hoffmann Institute, you could win the chance for your idea or project to be incubated and accelerated with us over the next year. 

How to take part:

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Climate change, biodiversity and the peace process in Colombia

By Claudia Munera Roldan and Carolina Figueroa of the Luc Hoffmann Institute Conservation Futures project.

In 2012 the latest efforts towards a peace process in Colombia began to put an end to a 52 year- conflict with the FARC. After lengthy negotiations, the Colombian Congress finally approved the peace agreement in December 2016.

The uncertainty the process presents both for Colombian society and conservation of the country’s rich biodiversity became apparent in 2014 when the Luc Hoffmann Institute first started engaging with WWF Colombia on the Conservation Futures project.

Conservation Futures aims to help protected area planners and managers navigate pressures such as climate change, the spread of invasive species and habitat loss, which all come with a level of unpredictability. The peace process adds another layer of complexity and uncertainty to the management of biodiversity and this makes Colombia a challenging but fascinating place to work.

With the origins of the conflict emerging from disagreements over land tenure, a big challenge is to find land for the 6 million people displaced by the conflict, creating concerns about the pressure to change the land tenure map. Although protected areas in Colombia are legally protected, there is uncertainty about whether the post-treaty period will follow a sustainable development path or reflect ‘business as usual’ with continuing pressure from deforestation, mining, and so on.

Over the past 50 years Colombians have had to live with uncertainty surrounding the conflict and attempts for peace. While we can’t be sure about the consequences of the treaty, it is fair to say that a major social transformation is underway. It is against this backdrop that climate change, and responses to it will unfold in Colombia. The current social and political transformation foreshadows an ecological transformation that will be driven by climate change in the longer term.

Which brings us to the major challenge facing the Conservation Futures project: How do you make decisions now, for impacts 20-50 years into a future that you can’t possibly predict?

This question was the subject of a ‘Futures Dialogue’ held in Bogota last October. In collaboration with our WWF Colombia colleagues, we hosted a workshop with Parques Nacionales Naturales de Colombia, to understand the implications of ecological transformation that climate change may bring, and possible impacts on the social and ecological values of Colombia’s protected area network.

As we gather more information and improve climate projections, models become more complex and uncertain, particularly in understanding how climate drivers interact with each other and impact biodiversity conservation. Adapting to climate change involves learning how to live with, and make decisions in a context of uncertainty.

Climate uncertainty may be a whole new ball game, but we are not starting from scratch. There is a lot to be learned from past experience. In the short term, the stressors will remain much the same: floods, droughts, invasive species, illicit crops, agriculture, mining and development. Protected area managers deal with these on a daily basis. We know more or less what types of adaptation and management strategies can be used to cope with these stressors. It is often a case of finding agreement on social values, and getting the right rules in place to enable action. But there is a group of adaptation challenges that we don’t yet know how to deal with – social, political or institutional barriers – that may prevent the implementation of adaptation measures, such as weak environmental policy frameworks or inconsistent cross-sectoral policies. Learning how to deal with these challenges is a critical part of the adaptation challenge.

Although good progress has been made regarding climate adaptation by the Colombian government through policy statements (the National Development Plan and the National Adaptation Plan), it is still difficult to identify good examples of planning, policy and management working together at different levels and between sectors. Strategies for addressing climate risks need to be paired with efforts to tackle the barriers to adaptation. Climate adaptation in an uncertain future requires creating and strengthening governance processes, including decision making, planning and management.

With the implementation of the peace process we may expect changes. There is much work to do, much thinking needed and many questions arise: What will happen to the millions of displaced Colombians? What can we expect for the establishment of new protected areas and the ecosystem services they provide under a climate change/peace process scenario? How do we maintain the current social and ecological values of protected areas as the climate changes?

Colombian society will need to acquire the information and skills to address emerging challenges. But perhaps the incidental upside of years of uncertainty the country has faced, is that it is well equipped to adapt to change. The peace process is a big deal for Colombia and we hope it will help rather than hinder the ability of the country’s protected areas to continue providing critical ecosystem services and conserving our rich biodiversity in the long term.

Ultimately, the capacity to make decisions for a long term, uncertain future requires a learning approach, taking risks, following up progress and being adaptive as more is learned about the implications of climate change and the efficacy of adaptation measures. So, in addition to asking what will happen to protected areas in the post-treaty period, we should also be asking what can we learn from the past 50 years about strategies that help us to live with change and uncertainty.

Main image: © Pablo Corral / WWF

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Enabling co-creation: aligning values, rules and knowledge

By Lorrae van Kerkhoff, member of the leadership team for the Luc Hoffmann Institute’s Conservation Futures project which helps protected area managers and agencies plan for future ecosystem changes.

How do we improve? In the context of sustainable development, we continually confront the question of how we can develop meaningful and positive actions towards a ‘better’ world (social, ecological, economic outcomes) despite inherent uncertainties about what the future holds.

Co-creation is one concept among several that seek to reorientate us from simplistic, largely linear ideas of progress towards more nuanced, subtle ideas that highlight that there are many different aspects of ‘progress’, and these can be deeply contested and challenging to reconcile. Enabling co-creation, then – or operationalizing it – means finding practical ways to work together, to deal with our different experiences, aspirations and expectations as well as the uncertainties of the future.

Co-creation sits within a learning paradigm that suggests engagement, social and mutual learning, adaptation and flexibility are key to enabling action in the face of uncertainty. But how do we think about learning?

Read the full article on Integration and Implementation – a blog about research resources for action-oriented team science.

 

Main image: ©  Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom, Luc Hoffmann Institute – WWF