BRIDGES Sustainability Science Coalition

UNESCO Management of Social Transformations Programme

Caption: Group Shot BRIDGES Establishment Workshop 2 Sigtuna Oct 2019

BRIDGES is an inclusive coalition of intergovernmental, governmental and non-governmental organisations, institutes and formal networks organized within UNESCO’s international science programme Management of Social Transformations (MOST). The coalition is committed to helping higher education and research institutions, in collaboration with non-academic partners, as together they work to address the greatest challenges facing societies during the UN Decade of Action (2021-2030) to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Caption: Out front of UNESCO Headquarters Paris before BRIDGES Establishment Workshop 2

The Provenance and Establishment of BRIDGES

The establishment of the BRIDGES coalition stems from the project “Broadening the Application of the Sustainability Science Approach,” a two-year project initiated by UNESCO in October 2015 with support of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Japan/MEXT). This project drew upon sustainability experts from around the world to develop policy guidelines intended to help UNESCO Member States harness the potential of sustainability science in their efforts to support and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

One significant output of the project was UNESCO’s policy-guidance document Guidelines for Sustainability Science in Research and Education, which proposed a refined approach to sustainability science, emphasizing inclusive transdisciplinary research, education and societal action to enable more effective integrated responses to global challenges. The other major outcome of this project was a follow-up initiative led by UNESCO, Humanities for the Environment and the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH) to establish a new humanities-led Sustainability Science Coalition within UNESCO’s international science programme Management of Social Transformations.

Extensive multi-stakeholder consultations were carried out over four international workshops in 2019-201 as part of the visioning process leading to the establishment of BRIDGES. The process involved ca. 50 committed partner organisations that now largely make up the founding membership of BRIDGES as it launches in 2021. BRIDGES was approved at the 15th Ordinary Session of the Intergovernmental Council of the MOST Programme on March 31, 2021.

The coalition’s Inaugural General Assembly was held on May 24-25, setting in motion a process to establish an international secretariat for BRIDGES by the end of the year and expand significantly on the coalition’s capacity-building activities and engagement during 2021. The number of member institutions in this global coalition is anticipated to expand significantly during the inception phase of BRIDGES (2022-2023).

Caption: Group shot BRIDGES Establishment Workshop 2 UNESCO Headquarters Paris June 2019

1 These four workshops were: 1. Maçao, Portugal (March 2019); 2. UNESCO Headquarters, Paris (June 2019); 3. Sigtuna, Sweden (October 2019); and 4. Cappadocia, Turkey (July 2020).

Purpose, Vision and Strategic Aims of BRIDGES

The purpose of BRIDGES is to operationalize the UNESCO Guidelines for Sustainability Science in Research and Education in a variety of contexts, by connecting diverse communities of knowledge and action throughout societies in project-based activities. BRIDGES aims to harness the capabilities of higher education and research institutions to serve as vital touchstones in transdisciplinary efforts together with international councils of science, intergovernmental science programmes, research and educational networks, as well as key local and national partners from public and private sectors, and from civil society.

The BRIDGES coalition is innovative in a number of ways, not least by being the first humanities-led international sustainability science initiative within UNESCO. Not limited to the humanities, the coalition works to promote potentially transformative collaborations across cultural, historical, philosophical, and aesthetic disciplines, in meaningful cooperation with social and natural sciences and diverse communities of knowledge and practice. The coalition’s transdisciplinary principles extend to integration of research, education, outreach and applied solutions for sustainability as co-produced together with non-academic partners in society. These partners include local and indigenous communities, stakeholders such as youth and other groups disproportionately experiencing the front-line effects of social and environmental change around the world while also having been historically denied seats at the table, and a proper hearing, in the interfaces of science, policy and governance on questions central to the ambitions of the Global Goals (another name for the SDGs).

BRIDGES acknowledges, first and foremost, that potential solutions and resolutions to global challenges must be part of comprehensive approaches rooted in processes of social, economic, institutional and cultural transformation. These processes must in turn respect the integrity, agency and inherent value of diverse communities of knowledge and practice. Such a meta-perspective requires continuous analysis of prevailing modes of stakeholder participation in knowledge co-production as well as ongoing evaluation of the fora through which distinct domains, traditions and communities of knowledge are invited to come together and interface in mutually enriching ways.

A crucial aim of the BRIDGES Coalition is to enable different epistemic communities and systems of knowledge to enter increasingly into the same conversations–whether in the contexts of knowledge synthesis and assessment, in the science-policy interface or in solutions and governance efforts where knowledge and best practice are applied–without forcing different stakeholder groups to clash or without resorting to false choices among the knowledge systems they (re)present. In its interventions and contributions to the sustainability science community during the present Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs, BRIDGES will work to help shape and open up more spaces for learning, engagement and collaboration that serve these crucial ends.

The BRIDGES Coalition promotes open science, intellectual freedom, cultural diversity, gender equality, respectful collaboration of academic researchers with local and indigenous communities, and equitable, balanced approaches to Global South-Global North knowledge exchange and cooperation in support of sustainable futures.

Over the course of the present decade the coalition, with its scores of member organizations, will work together with a number of educational programmes and scientific organizations leading international efforts to achieve the 17 SDGs, including Future Earth, Humanities for the Environment, the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences, the International Science Council, the Club of Rome, the International Council on Monuments and Sites and several of UNESCO’s international science programmes.

Caption: Shot of discussions with Tairona Heritage Trust and Kogi Representatives following intervention on Sierra Neveda Cultivating Water and Ecosystem Restoration Project

BRIDGES Principles

BRIDGES builds on the refined sustainability science paradigm inaugurated in UNESCO’s Guidelines for Sustainability Science in Research and Education, including the six core principles set out in that key document.

  • Sustainability Science responds specifically to the interdependent, complex and mutually reinforcing character of natural, social and cultural sustainability challenges that are ongoing globally and locally. Sustainable development, as expressed in the United Nations Agenda 2030, is exactly about the interplay of such challenges.
  • Sustainability Science aims at mobilizing, generating, disseminating and implementing knowledge necessary to define and achieve sustainability as a response to such challenges in the concrete contexts of different geographical and temporal scales. Such knowledge includes new technologies and innovative processes.
  • In addition to generating knowledge, Sustainability Science focuses on solving problems, understanding dilemmas and conflicts of goals and interests, with a view to move towards more integrated and coherent policy agendas, policy options and foresight scenarios that take into account both short-term and long-term needs.
  • Sustainability Science is crosscutting science by nature, having as a major goal to seek complementary cooperation between natural and social sciences, the humanities, the arts and, in particular, to ensure the participation of diverse non-academic stakeholders, through a collaborative process of co-design, co-production and co-management.
  • Sustainability Science is based on both academic freedom and academic responsibility towards societal needs.
  • Sustainability Science requires important new capacities of individual scientists for integrated critical analysis and foresight; the ability to cope with systems thinking, changing environments, risks and insecurity; and the capacity to recognize and address diverse values as well as conflicts of goals and interests, to empathize and work responsibly and collectively in diverse partnerships. Such capacities need to be strengthened through all forms of education.

BRIDGES has adopted five additional key principles that help to define the distinctive value and approaches the coalition will bring to sustainability science that are not otherwise programmatically addressed within the field.

  • The BRIDGES Coalition is humanities-centered but not limited to the humanities. We value contextualized and diverse approaches to sustainability and we acknowledge that persistent challenges are often complex, yielding sometimes contradictory responses. We encourage robust debate in efforts to meet these challenges.
  • The BRIDGES partners understand the Earth not solely as a planetary system, nor as a reservoir of resources, but as a web of meanings and interactions that is inherently multilayered and pluralistic.
  • The BRIDGES Coalition is committed to a critical understanding of sustainability that emphasizes the diversity of its subjects, objects and timelines.
  • BRIDGES will work to establish a world of new relationships, based on convergent understandings and co-design among the co-inhabitants of the Earth.
  • The BRIDGES partners are committed to an ethical approach to resource mobilization and use.

Contact

For further information about BRIDGES, or to indicate an interest in possible involvement in the coalition, contact the Management of Social Transformations Bureau (most[at]unesco.org) and/or the Executive Director of BRIDGES, Prof. Steven Hartman (hartman[at]hi.is).