Sustainability research is growing at twice the rate of science in general. But despite this boom in both research and funding, structural support continues to lag, and scholars often find themselves disconnected from sustainability innovation and action communities.
The tools, capacities and knowledge that are needed to support a rapid shift to sustainability require collaboration across a wide range of disciplines and societal partners – from academia to the private sector, government, youth and funders.
In response to this largely unmet need, Belmont Forum together with Future Earth is convening the first Sustainability Research and Innovation congress (SRI2021) which will take place in Brisbane, Australia.
“SRI2021, to me, represents a number of firsts,” said Erica Key, Executive Director, Belmont Forum. “It is the first in an annual series, the first ‘home’ for transdisciplinary engagement, the first to prioritize action in its many forms, and the first to think of itself as a connector in the calendar of science, society, innovation and funding engagements.”
“Connecting across communities and sectors is a critical added value that SRI2021 brings. We have exceptionally strong support for disciplines, but we often lack the boundary spaces that allow cross-sector collaboration,” added Josh Tewksbury, Future Earth Global Hub Director, USA.
In preparation for the inaugural event and reflecting its principle of inclusivity, Belmont Forum and Future Earth convened a Town Hall at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco this month to hear perspectives on what the essential elements are for better support of sustainability science and the key design principles of an event such as SRI2021.
A panel of experts joined Tewksbury and Key on stage to lead the conversation, including Mark Shimamoto of AGU, and Maria Uhle from the National Science Foundation, with Judit Ungvari from AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships acting as the moderator. Panel member discussion was followed by a Q&A with the audience. The session also explored the synergies that can be developed between large, well-established convenings like AGU and the SRI conference series.
“AGU has a huge amount to offer SRI2021 – the earth and space science community is absolutely essential for the global sustainability conversation. The deep experience that AGU has in convening, and in supporting a global community, and their willingness to offer this experience to SRI, has been invaluable,” said Tewksbury.
Looking for synergies between such events in an increasingly crowded calendar is important for shaping the added value that new convenings like SRI2021 can bring.
“One of my top takeaways from the Town Hall is how much competition we have for people’s attention. I think people are reaching maximum bandwidth; so, we really need to focus on the added value that would make an attendee prioritize SRI2021,” said Key.
The other major takeaway for Key was the feeling that people want to connect their piece of the puzzle to something greater – a driver that SRI embraces as it strives to build connectivity across hemispheres, sectors and knowledge systems to spur action towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
“I want attendees to come with a goal and leave with more than they arrived, whether that’s skills, collaborators, partnership mechanisms, or potential solutions to a critical science-based need,” she said.
Originally published by the Belmont Forum.