Institutional Innovation, Behavior and System Transformations

Sustainable development entails institutional change and technological change. Actually, institutional and technical innovations are partly endogenous to expected scarcities of resources. Institutional change research addresses governance and the opportunities for transforming socio-economic systems. Behavioral research is of great interest to clarify responses of actors to information and incentives. To enable efficient use of resources people have to be motivated to change their behavior towards more sustainable choices.

Research themes here are:

  • Research to address behavioral changes supporting sustainability: Investigating mechanisms of decisionmaking and approaches to support behavioral change in domains like food and financial choices. Innovative approaches, using insights from neuroscience, psychology and behavioral economics helps to create more efficient behavioral interventions supporting sustainable decisions by consumers and other actors in domains like health, nutrition or energy use. Innovative experiments, incl. on “nudging” may provide new insights in addition to testing regulations and the role of information about external effects provided to consumers. Besides research on current behaviors and their change, also economic and social history research may be helpful in this respect. This includes new research for the analysis of market failures and public policy to support sustainability, taking into account recent advancements in economic theory, behavioral economics and empirical methods. Also research with respect to trust and resilience find attention here in interdisciplinary research.

  • Research on sustainable bio-economy: transforming socio-economic systems requires institutional and behavioral change, such as shifting toward a more bio-based economy (bioeconomy) in a post-fossil fuel age, and circular economic systems with low waste. More than 40 countries including Germany have recently formulated national bioeconomy strategies. Bioeconomy is the sustainable production and use of biological resources, processes and principles to provide products and services in all economic sectors, in order to transform the economy toward sustainability. Research on Bioeconomy at Bonn University with BioSC and ZEF will concentrate on the assessment of bioeconomy-specific technology development in terms of social and environmental impacts in the developing world. The analysis and identification of governance gaps related to international biomass trade and innovation transfer, as well as the development of regulatory frameworks for sustainability governance in the bioeconomy at national, regional, and international levels are also part of this agenda. Moreover, biodiversity research and innovations based on it (such as bionics) is a promising field in a more bio-based and bio-intelligent system.

  • Transformation and resilience of urban and rural systems: in view of urbanization, and demographic change, the drivers of urbanization need to be better understood and determinants of resilient urban and rural systems be identified. Research into economic, social, institutional and governance aspects of is needed and promising. Developing new approaches, such as participatory research into “everyday life” becomes an object of regional planning. Research into citizens’ involvement, regional identity and regional networks are themes here, too. With a focus on urban change in Asia and Africa, research especially on middle cities seems promising. Due to a current concentration on mega-cities, the important developmental role of secondary cities, such as provincial capitals or regional cities is under-researched. Consequence for social-ecological transformation, and drivers and actors of change with regard to their visions and practices are also a focus of this theme, combining expertise from social sciences, agriculture, economics, medicine and environmental sciences (“Future-making”, especially in Africa).

  • Research on governance and international security: social and political conflicts are key issues undermining sustainable development. Collective decision-making and governance as well as the absence of appropriate governance structures have tremendous impact on development processes. The assessment of centralized as well as decentralized, functional, and organizational forms of governance arrangements are pivotal in addressing natural resources management challenges including the prevention and management of conflicts. Research in Bonn on international security and on political conflicts (CSIG, BICC) is providing important insights. Political and resource conflicts are often interrelated. The refugee crises are to be studied in a broad framework and this is also a theme of collaborative researched with UNU.
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