Working with interdisciplinary, multi-generational participants from government and citizens’ organizations, our Living Laboratory approach teaches contents, methods and hands-on learning as students develop solutions for pressing sustainability challenges.
Starting in 2013, as a planning PhD in a transport engineering department, I developed two courses, ICT3543 Planning for Sustainable Transport, Citizens and Cities, and ICT3544 Toward Cycle-inclusive cities, planning, participation and design. Both blend technical and socio-political issues associated with the emerging knowledge about planning for healthy, happy and inclusive cities.
In 2018-2019, with support from the university’s teaching support centre, a survey revealed high satisfaction and, among graduates, high levels of recall of specific tools, theories and lessons. This study revealed that courses deeply influenced graduates’ sense of citizenship, and profoundly changed the attitudes of many, regarding sustainability. A common “criticism” was that students wanted more.
The result was a team effort within the emerging Institute for Sustainable Development, to co-create — with university and community partners — a methods course: The ARt of research: action research methods to study communities of change. Currently underway, this first application of the new course has become an action research project in itself, to reach the final version. The teaching team comes from five disciplines (planning, community development, transport engineering, communications and environmental studies), while students hail from physical sciences, biology, astronomy, agronomy, social sciences and design.
This strategy involved making course materials “open-source”: the theoretical and practical materials are available to students, community partners, civil society organizations, governmental staff and anyone else needing help to conceptualize or advance in sustainability. In Spanish, these materials include theoretical contents central to shaping and correctly applying sustainability strategies, and practical tools. Thus, the Guias Einstein summarize key work, such as the capabilities approach developed by Sen and Nussbaum, the donut economy (Kate Raworth), democratization and participation for change, among others.
The toolbox, meanwhile, provides basic instructions on how to facilitate for social change, how to select a qualitative sample, how to process qualitative and quantitative data, and how to get the most out of different epistemologies, cosmovisions and other ways of perceiving reality.
This effort aims to foster a common language and a shared repertoire of fundamental techniques and theories for understanding the social transformations necessary to achieve just sustainabilities.