Sustainability challenges threaten the long-term viability and integrity of societies around the world. While the theoretical understanding of these challenges continues to grow, solutions are far less developed. In response, sustainability science has been developing a research agenda that focuses on evidence-based solutions that are scalable and transferable. Yet, there is still a significant gap between understanding complex challenges and contributing to context specific solutions.
This proposal aims to build additional capacity at Leuphana University of Lüneburg to bridge the divide between (i.) modeling and understanding of complex sustainability problems (often on a global scale), and (ii.) developing and evaluating contextualized solution efforts (often on a local scale). Focusing on water, land-use, and climate change challenges, we propose to combine two prominent approaches: high-performance computational modeling and transition experiments. Combining the two approaches and supporting interdisciplinary collaboration across the two academic communities while building on disciplinary excellence defines a future cluster of excellence. This will also be a major leap towards bridging the knowledge-action gap in sustainability science. We will address these questions by adopting an interdisciplinary research framework that structures the knowledge-action loop by linking: (A) data-driven screening for suitable locations and contexts to make transition experiments more effective and efficient; (B) ex-ante testing of transition strategies to improve their performance and impact; (C) generalizing context-specific insights about solutions from transition experiments, including ex-post evaluations, to advance scalability and transferability; and (D) up-scaling findings from transition experiments into high-performance computational models to improve their validity, transferability, and explanatory power. Mobile Solution Workshops will be developed as advanced collaborative settings to facilitate activities and synthesize insights across the loop. A media culture and critical epistemology perspective will allow reflecting on assumptions and implications across the loop. Finally we will train graduate and postgraduate junior researchers in innovative research-teaching settings across the loop, and thereby in bridging the great divide in future sustainability science. The proposed project will be administered by the Center for Global Sustainability and Cultural Transformation, an institutional collaboration between Leuphana University of Lüneburg and Arizona State University. We build upon and expand a network of partner institutions, additional international collaborations are facilitated through the International Network of Programs in Sustainability. All partners have pioneered either high-performance computational modeling or transition experiments or both.