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Understanding governance barriers and enablers for municipal and regional transition towards sustainability—Presenting a comprehensive diagnostic tool based on six case studies in Sweden
Blekinge Institute of Technology, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Strategic Sustainable Development.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9602-4135
Blekinge Institute of Technology, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Strategic Sustainable Development.
Blekinge Institute of Technology, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Strategic Sustainable Development.
Blekinge Institute of Technology, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Strategic Sustainable Development.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3870-5375
2023 (English)In: Geo: Geography and Environment, E-ISSN 2054-4049, Vol. 10, no 1Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Municipal and regional leaders' achievements for synchronised sustainability transitions are still not enough. Systemic, systematic and strategic cross-sectoral collaboration and co-creation are needed. However, sectors isolated in silos leads to suboptimal measures and strategies, and a reductionist view on what hinders and enables joint action towards full sustainability. Consequently, methodological support for addressing the coordinative challenge is often not asked for. This study investigates the observed reductionist perspective as foundation for developing enhanced methodological support for strategic sustainable development (SSD) and further aimed to gain insight into how leaders can be better supported to understand their current reality of barriers and enablers for cross-sectoral SSD work and to prototype such support. Results from fieldwork with leaders in six municipalities and regions suggest that both frequency and depth of barriers and enablers in relation to elements for SSD are insufficient. Nine categories were identified and combined with SSD core elements into a diagnostic tool.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
John Wiley & Sons, 2023. Vol. 10, no 1
Keywords [en]
barriers and enablers, diagnostic tool, municipalities and regions, strategic sustainable development, sustainability transition
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:bth-20577DOI: 10.1002/geo2.118ISI: 000938138200001Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85162155430OAI: oai:DiVA.org:bth-20577DiVA, id: diva2:1478965
Funder
European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)Available from: 2020-10-23 Created: 2020-10-23 Last updated: 2023-06-30Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Introductory methodological support for cross-sectoral municipal and regional strategic work for sustainability
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Introductory methodological support for cross-sectoral municipal and regional strategic work for sustainability
2020 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Municipal and regional actors, and in particular their respective governments, have key roles to play for society’s transition to sustainability, and many good efforts have been made. However, co-creating sustainable visions and effective governance towards such visions is a complex challenge and an overarching systems perspective is often lacking in the decision making. This is an often-forgotten piece in the sustainability discourse, which risks leading to ’solutions’ in one area that cause problems in another area. This, in turn, risks leading to unnecessary goal-conflicts, sub-optimizations, and slow progress. Despite good insights and actions on sub-parts of the sustainability challenge, capacity to coordinate efforts across sectors is generally missing. The overarching aim of this work was therefore to explore how practitioners, not the least leaders, in municipalities and regions can be sufficiently supported in their missions to enhance cross-sectoral strategic work for sustainability.

The overall pursuit of this aim was undertaken through an action research approach with seven Swedish municipalities, two Swedish regions and one Finnish region. Initially, practitioners’ perspectives of what hinders effective sustainability transitions in their municipalities or regions were investigated through focus group discussions. In addition to many specific, context dependent barriers, a prevailing blindness to barriers that are directly linked to a lack of a sufficiently large systems perspective was found. Most of the action research was about testing an existing preliminary implementation model for multi-stakeholder co-creation and co-learning for strategic sustainable development. The model was evaluated in terms of strengths, weaknesses, barriers and enablers through observations, dialogues, round table discussions and a survey.

The preliminary implementation model was generally appreciated by practitioners and was generally considered to fill its purpose. However, a need for additional support was pointed out, to assist continued work with the model in the absence of external expert facilitators.

A key element of the asked-for support was ways to involve and engage top leaders into active participation already upfront. An approach to achieve this was explored in one of the participating municipalities. This included an initial assessment of current work and existing steering systems and their alignment with the preliminary implementation model, followed by a focus group discussion with political and administrative leaders.

In combination with a comprehensive understanding of barriers to effective sustainability transitions, the result from the testing of the preliminary implementation model and the approach to engaging leaders have laid a foundation for methodological support for cross-sectoral municipal and regional strategic work for sustainability.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlskrona: Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, 2020
Series
Blekinge Institute of Technology Licentiate Dissertation Series, ISSN 1650-2140 ; 2020:06
Keywords
Strategic sustainable development, Cross-sector collaboration, Action research, Municipalities and regions, Methodological support
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:bth-20579 (URN)978-91-7295-411-3 (ISBN)
Presentation
2020-12-11, Karlskrona, 09:30 (English)
Supervisors
Available from: 2020-10-27 Created: 2020-10-23 Last updated: 2022-09-16Bibliographically approved
2. Methodological support for strategic sustainable development work in municipalities and regions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Methodological support for strategic sustainable development work in municipalities and regions
2023 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Municipal and regional actors have key roles to play in society’s transition to sustainability. However, co-creating sustainable visions and effective governance towards these is a complex challenge and decision-makers often lack an overarching systems perspective. This can lead to solutions in one area causing problems in another, unnecessary goal conflicts, and slow progress. Despite some progress in addressing sustainability issues, capacity to coordinate efforts across sectors to address the full scope of the challenge is often missing. 

The primary aim of this work was to explore how leaders in municipalities and regions can be sufficiently supported in their missions to enhance cross-sectoral strategic sustainable development (SSD) work. This was pursued together with eight Swedish municipalities, two Swedish regions, one Finnish region, and the Swedish eco-municipalities network. An action research project was carried out in two phases over a total of seven years. 

The first phase involved investigating, through focus group discussions, practitioners’ perspectives on what hinders and enables effective sustainability transitions. This revealed a reductionist view also on barriers and enablers and confirmed the need for a more holistic systems perspective. 

The action research included testing of a preliminary model for implementation of the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD) in support of long-term SSD work across sectors. The model was evaluated through observations, dialogues, round-table discussions and a survey, regarding strengths, weaknesses, barriers, and enablers, and was found to be helpful as an illustration of how such work could ideally play out in municipal and regional contexts. However, without external expert facilitators, the work with the model was seen to fade out and needs for complementary tools to avoid that were identified, developed, and combined with the implementation model into a support portfolio. A key asked-for support was ways to involve and engage top leaders into active participation upfront and an approach to achieve this was explored together with one of the participating municipalities. Furthermore, a vagueness in how social sustainability is approached was frequently observed, which called for a study to build a nuanced understanding of municipal social sustainability work.

The second phase of the action research project included a deepened case study of the Finnish region. Despite advanced collaboration platforms and structures, parts of the SSD approach still seemed to have eroded somewhat over time. This circumstance, and other observations, lead to a study of what is required for long-term continuation of SSD work in municipalities and regions, resulting in eight conditions for continuity to be regularly considered.

The combination of the FSSD as core, its implementation model, complementary tools, and the eight conditions for continuity constitutes a support portfolio for SSD work in municipalities and regions as a final collective contribution of this thesis work. This will be further tested and refined in new contextual settings.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Karlskrona: Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, 2023
Series
Blekinge Institute of Technology Doctoral Dissertation Series, ISSN 1653-2090 ; 3
Keywords
sustainability, strategic sustainable development, cross-sectoral collaboration, action research, municipalities and regions, methodological support
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Research subject
Strategic Sustainable Development
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:bth-24352 (URN)978-91-7295-452-6 (ISBN)
Public defence
2023-05-05, J1630 + Zoom, Campus Karlskrona, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2023-03-21 Created: 2023-03-07 Last updated: 2023-04-14Bibliographically approved

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Wälitalo, LisaCallaghan, EdithRobèrt, Karl-HenrikBroman, Göran

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