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An approach to involve municipal leaders into strategic decision-making for sustainability—A case study
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.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3870-5375
2022 (English)In: Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, E-ISSN 2624-9634, Vol. 4, article id 895962Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

To systematically address the sustainability challenge, local and regional government leaders are key actors to facilitate action-oriented dialogues between practitioners from different sectors and disciplines. However, to address sustainability in collaboration is a complex challenge and leaders as well as practitioners need methodological support. This study is an off shot of an Action Research project that tested and developed an implementation model for cross-sector strategic transitions towards sustainability. While the implementation model as such gained appreciation for the scientifically robust overarching approach, our learnings from four years of action research with ten Swedish municipalities and regions point to needs of additional support regarding application guidelines for the methodology to be autonomously viable after introductions and moderated sessions facilitated by the research team. Example needs include support for capacity building for strategic sustainable development (SSD), advise for how to recruit leaders into the process upfront and support for valuing and aligning previous and on-going work for sustainability. This paper presents such support. It is based on a combination of conceptual SSD analyses and dialogue with initiated people within local or regional governments. In the dialogue, participants were supported to identify gaps in terms of capacity for an SSD approach to improve cross-sector strategies towards the full scope of social and ecological sustainability, and to better align existing methods, processes, and routines into cohesive actions. The procedure was designed, tested, and refined through interaction within one municipality. The feedback was that through applying the support, government leaders can better prepare for and prioritize their strategic actions for sustainability and search for good examples and best practices with enhanced precision. Forthcoming research will test and further refine the support.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Frontiers Media S.A., 2022. Vol. 4, article id 895962
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:bth-20578DOI: 10.3389/frsc.2022.895962ISI: 000911597800001Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85137245197OAI: oai:DiVA.org:bth-20578DiVA, id: diva2:1478967
Note

Open access

This research was funded by The National Association of Swedish Eco-municipalities and the municipalities of Hudiksvall, Karlskrona, and Lerum.

Available from: 2020-10-23 Created: 2020-10-23 Last updated: 2023-03-07Bibliographically 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, LisaRobèrt, Karl-HenrikBroman, Göran

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