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Introductory methodological support for cross-sectoral municipal and regional strategic work for sustainability
Blekinge Institute of Technology, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Strategic Sustainable Development.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9602-4135
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 [en]
Strategic sustainable development, Cross-sector collaboration, Action research, Municipalities and regions, Methodological support
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:bth-20579ISBN: 978-91-7295-411-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:bth-20579DiVA, id: diva2:1478974
Presentation
2020-12-11, Karlskrona, 09:30 (English)
Supervisors
Available from: 2020-10-27 Created: 2020-10-23 Last updated: 2022-09-16Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Understanding governance barriers and enablers for municipal and regional transition towards sustainability—Presenting a comprehensive diagnostic tool based on six case studies in Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Understanding governance barriers and enablers for municipal and regional transition towards sustainability—Presenting a comprehensive diagnostic tool based on six case studies in Sweden
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
Keywords
barriers and enablers, diagnostic tool, municipalities and regions, strategic sustainable development, sustainability transition
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:bth-20577 (URN)10.1002/geo2.118 (DOI)000938138200001 ()2-s2.0-85162155430 (Scopus ID)
Funder
European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
Available from: 2020-10-23 Created: 2020-10-23 Last updated: 2023-06-30Bibliographically approved
2. An overarching model for cross-sector strategic transitions towards sustainability in municipalities and regions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>An overarching model for cross-sector strategic transitions towards sustainability in municipalities and regions
2020 (English)In: Sustainability, E-ISSN 2071-1050, Vol. 12, no 17, article id 7046Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Municipal and regional governments can play a key role in global society's transition towards sustainability. However, municipal leaders often lack a sufficient overview of sustainability and thereby the capacity to coordinate efforts across sectors. Several municipal planning frameworks are available but vary greatly in terms of definitions, scope, and hands-on advice on processes. To complement and unify approaches, the framework for strategic sustainable development (FSSD) has been developed. It utilizes backcasting from operational boundary conditions for the full scope of social and ecological sustainability. This study aims to evaluate a recently developed model for long-term implementation of FSSD across sectors for more cohesive cooperation towards sustainability. This is done through participatory action research (PAR) in ten Swedish municipalities and regions. The evaluation is done to examine if the implementation model (i) lives up to its purpose to help sectors cooperate effectively by using the FSSD as a shared mental model, (ii) aid the handling of previously identified barriers to strategic sustainable development in municipalities and regions, (iii) may contain barriers of its own for appropriate use and (iv) has room for improvement. We used observations, dialogues, and surveys to capture the strengths, weaknesses, enablers, and barriers of the preliminary implementation model. While the compliance of the model varied, our findings show a general appreciation and identified the needs for the approach. From experiencing barriers for the application of the model, practitioners provided several ideas for additional support, such as assessment and alignment support of on-going work and further developed guiding material. In a second phase of the PAR project, application of the implementation model will continue, and such additional support will be developed and evaluated. © 2020 by the authors.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
MDPI AG, 2020
Keywords
Cross-sector collaboration, Evaluation, Municipalities and regions, Participatory action research, Strategic sustainable development, compliance, model, participatory approach, strategic approach, sustainability, sustainable development, Sweden
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:bth-20422 (URN)10.3390/su12177046 (DOI)000571103700001 ()
Note

open access

Available from: 2020-09-21 Created: 2020-09-21 Last updated: 2023-03-07Bibliographically approved
3. An approach to involve municipal leaders into strategic decision-making for sustainability—A case study
Open this publication in new window or tab >>An approach to involve municipal leaders into strategic decision-making for sustainability—A case study
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
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:bth-20578 (URN)10.3389/frsc.2022.895962 (DOI)000911597800001 ()2-s2.0-85137245197 (Scopus ID)
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

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