We are living in unprecedented times. A global economy based upon unlimited growth and consumption, and powered by fossil fuels, with little concern for ecological and social impacts, is creating ever greater crises – ecological, economic and social. The path we are on is unsustainable. The challenge of climate change in particular requires urgent action, including profound reductions in our use of fossil fuels and significant changes in how we organize our lives and communities to adapt to the new circumstances that are evolving. The means to make these changes largely exist, with new successful approaches emerging all the time. What remains uncertain is whether we can effectively adapt and scale up the essence of successful innovations in particular contexts to a wider range of contexts rapidly enough to achieve the broad scale of change required to avert catastrophe. The Scaling Innovation for Sustainability Project is grounded in a sense of the possibilities.
BALTA’s earlier research and the work of others reveals the strategic importance of the social economy or third sector in advancing sustainability and meeting basic needs on a more local-regional basis through locally defined and controlled initiatives. This research identifies important sustainability related innovations emerging from the social economy in a number of sectors – agri-food, energy, housing and finance – that are enabling synergistic benefits in greenhouse gas emission reductions, increased self-reliance and resilience at household, community and region levels, and enhanced economic democracy. Social and economic vitality and ecological integrity characterize what is an incredible array of inspiring and instructive examples. Running throughout them are certain core ingredients that feed and sustain the innovation process; innovative financing of transition pathways to sustainability; reclaiming the commons through innovative land tenures, and increasing local and democratic ownership.
Replication and scaling up and scaling out of proven innovations is absolutely critical to addressing effectively the sustainability challenges facing the World and Canadian communities. This requires broad-based collaboration amongst the social economy, public and private sectors in order to build the social and physical infrastructure that would enable wide-spread transformative change to a low carbon and sustainable economy.
BALTA’s Scaling Innovation for Sustainability (SIS) project is a new initiative that builds on BALTA’s earlier sustainability related research and education. It is intended to investigate the challenge of how we can more effectively adapt and scale up/out successful innovations that are already contributing to sustainability in one locale and that can achieve much wider impact through scaling. What supports and thwarts scaling? How do we ensure that the essence of successful innovations are retained even while they are being adapted to new contexts? What kinds of policies and support frameworks can enhance the successful scaling of innovations? These are some of the questions we will be investigating.
The SIS Project is intended to be a multi-year research initiative. The initial phase of this initiative is a two year development process, which began in August 2012, to develop the partnerships and research framework that will support the longer term research program. This developmental phase will also include significant dissemination and mobilization of existing sustainability research to new audiences.
A very important output of this development phase will be a funding proposal by February 2014 that can be submitted to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and other potential funders. Between October 2012 and the end of 2013 we will be engaging both existing BALTA partners and potential new partners in knowledge mobilization and design related to developing the long term, strategic, action oriented research program.
The ultimate goal is to develop, fund and implement a 5-7 year multi-pronged and partnered research program based in Canada but with international partners. This would begin in 2015. Among the envisaged components are scaling innovation labs at the community/regional level and priority research projects focused on systems change and policy research related to better understanding what is supporting and what is thwarting transition.
The Scaling Innovation for Sustainability Project’s development phase (2012-2014) is being supported by a partnership development grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).