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Transformations Conference 2021: Enabling positive tipping points for sustainability 

Genmetric dots. Illustration.

The theme for the first online Transformations Conference (17 – 18th June 2021), co-organised by LUCSUS, is about enabling positive tipping points for sustainability transformations. In this interview, conveners J. David Tàbara (GCF) and Diego Galafassi (LUCSUS), speak on key aims and hopes for the upcoming conference, and emphasise how a positive framing of the future can replace fear, social closure and exclusion with openness, collaboration and hope. 

What do you hope the conference will achieve?

In their essence, sustainability challenges are engagement challenges. That means that this conference is not just about producing another report or policy brief about impending global threats or growing inequalities. But instead, it focuses more on creating synergies among different types of knowledge and experiences to support deep transformative change. We hope to bring together and learn from diverse practices and ideas from across the world so they can support positive transformation processes in many specific context and communities. 

In this 5th edition, we build upon the legacy of the previous Transformations Conferences of connecting theory and practice to support sustainability learning - which entails doing things differently under a different paradigm. The aim is to help people to connect, learn and explore reflective possibilities for creative and innovative collaborations. In fact, being the first Transformations Conference online, we see it as a unique opportunity for widening the conversation and learning how to develop new forms of engagement to connect with situated insights and transformative knowledge. We hope this can lead the growing Transformations Community to discover and consider new ways of doing transformative science and practice.

Finally, we hope the conference can open up new conversations about issues of justice connected to tipping points. Several contributions will be putting the issues of values and justice as a key dimension in relation to triggering positive tipping points - and hopefully offer ways to address major inequalities among the world’s present and future generations. 

Can you tell me about the choice of theme this year?

Parallel to the 2019 Conference, and based on the insights gained from participatory research carried out in several projects, we felt the need to reframe the dominant discussions of dangerous biophysical tipping points affecting Earth Systems with more insights which could be actually observed in the social systems, even in our everyday lives. Understanding these ‘other kinds’ of tipping points, which can put our societies into fairer, better-off and more resilient development trajectories is precisely a task which is urgently needed to support sustainability transformations. In a nutshell, apparently small strategic actions that thanks to the previous enactment of transformative visions and capacities can deliver large, deliberate and deep systemic effects, are the ones that we can refer to as ‘positive tipping points’. 

Then came 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic, and we found ourselves in a situation where we might indeed be going through a tipping point where each our personal and collective present actions and decisions are likely to affect the configuration of our future lives and societies for decades to come. On an unprecedented scale we see groups and communities mobilising to re-imagine and transform the pre-pandemic systems which led to current vulnerabilities, and collaborating to learn how to deal with many interconnected risks and unsustainable practices. In this challenging but also a very fertile moment, an opportunity space which we cannot miss. We believe it is very timely to gather all we know about how to enact positive tipping points and tipping interventions towards new regenerative development trajectories.

Perhaps it is also worth noting that very often many of the problems and uncertainties that we face today are framed as win-lose problems, whereby individual, community or national solutions and gains can only be achieved at the cost of others losing. Instead, the huge interdependency of global problems requires a completely new framing to address such complexities. A framing that replaces fear, social closure and exclusion, by one of openness, collaboration and hope. In fact, a positive tipping point occurs when we replace fear by hope and show that alternative ways of thinking and acting are possible. So it is not enough to ideologically promote hope, we also need to empirically validate it. 

Anyway, the Transformations community is constantly “seeding hope” so this time we don’t think it will be different. We will continue showing and sharing experiences and visions of alternative futures and learn how develop conditions and capacities for transformative solutions. We are thrilled by the over 200 contributions that have been submitted!

Who would you like to engage at the conference?

We would like to engage not only academics but also people who work in the arts or practitioners who work for just transformations, or with transformative processes in diverse kinds of communities, contexts and organisations, including sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs and business. And the fact that the conference is online and has both a synchronous and asynchronous format enables broad participation from a range of actors who would maybe otherwise be unable to attend.  

J. David Tàbara is senior researcher working on knowledge integration for sustainability at the Global Climate Forum in Berlin where he is the P.I. of the TIPPING + EU project and is also associated to the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Read about him on globalclimateforum.org

Diego Galafassi is a researcher at Lucsus leading the project “Wild Tech” which explores the role of new media in transformations towards sustainability. Member of Guild of Future Architects. 

Read more about the conference on the conference web page, TransformationsCommunty.org