Action research for transformative change

Thami Croeser*, Sarah Clement, Marta Fernandez, Georgia E. Garrard, Ian Mell, Sarah A. Bekessy

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


    As major policy actors (e.g. governments, global organisations) grapple with 'wicked’ sustainability challenges, the use of demonstration projects or ‘living labs’ has promise in showcasing potential solutions. However, these projects can struggle to realise enduring change, with initial experimental deliverables tending not to be replicated and remaining as once-offs. As well as demonstrating solutions, projects also need to overcome the considerable inertia in the complex systems of organisations and institutions that govern (or indeed generate) sustainability problems. Here we argue that demonstration projects, while initially impactful, could be more likely to realise transformative change if they were designed more thoroughly as action research projects, working with partners to not only deliver and measure demonstrations of solutions, but also demonstrate changes to organisations and institutions to remove barriers and facilitate replication. We note the important role of both engaged leadership and explicitly-stated theories of change in maximising the potential of projects designed in this way.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)665-670
    Number of pages6
    JournalSustainability Science
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


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