Taking the future in hand – doing science differently

By Melanie Ryan, Capacity & Fellows Programme Lead, Luc Hoffmann Institute

The sustainable future of our earth is in the hands of billions – the many choices and actions of these billions.

As one of the seven billion (soon to be 10 billion!), what each of us knows, how we choose to act, the way we relate to one another and to our natural environment, will determine whether we surmount our global environmental predicament.

Debate around the scale and complexity of the choices we face demands more from science and the science community than ever before. We also know that it is more complicated than simple choices at the individual level, that the capacity to influence and enact change across individuals, organisations, societies and whole systems is not equal. We know that some choices have greater potential for change and influence than others. Compounding this is the urgency and diverse nature of the challenges, coupled with inertia in our systems – human, environmental, institutional – to recover from and respond to change.

This is the world that early-career scientists are faced with.

Capacity is the ability to perform actions and solve problems, to set and achieve objectives. Key questions underpinning the design of the Luc Hoffmann Capacity Development Programme concern who needs to know what and why, and how we can support them to achieve their own outcomes via a range of interventions. For Luc Hoffmann Fellows, this specifically relates to developing abilities and skills to ‘co-design’ new research, approaches and methods in collaboration with science and policy actors. This, we hope, will have a positive influence on conservation. Fellows develop research and so-called ‘non-traditional skills’ through training, experiential learning and peer and mentoring support.

Underpinning how we interact with others, within science-policy arenas, conducting and constructing research, and in seeking change, are our own values, beliefs and assumptions. These define how the world works and how we think it should work – a kind of internal map or model of the world. Importantly, this is where capacity actually begins. This internal map shapes how we use our skills, knowledge and resources along a pathway for change. Through the process of ‘co-design’, the Luc Hoffmann Fellows are given the space and experience to test assumptions about what it means to undertake research in complex decision contexts, and what impact science can have in addressing the conservation challenges we face. Importantly, they push and challenge each other, drawing on their collective experience to ask ‘what is my role in making change?’

One of the key assumptions in choosing any capacity-building intervention or programme as a method of achieving sustainable outcomes is that participants already want to change; that they are embracing new skills and knowledge, new ways of thinking and being; that transformation is desirable; that they have a new future in mind and are ready to take it in hand.

Fortunately for me, as someone with a deep conviction in the power of people to influence change, this is true of the researchers attracted to our Fellows Programme.

Coming from a country where she is one of more than a billion, Dr Siyuan He considers the pressing challenges of change for people and nature and the role of science in this change. China’s conservation biodiversity challenges are deeply connected to those of the ongoing concerns of socio-economic development. As a Luc Hoffmann Fellow, Siyuan shares her experiences of ‘doing science differently’ as do all our Fellows in this new series of videos.