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An evening of exchanging dilemmas surrounding sustainability

Why does it turn out to be so complicated to solve sustainability issues if everyone ‘knows’ about these problems? This was the central question in a masterclass on Sustainability for alumni provided by Leiden scientists active in public administration and environmental sciences.

Two sides

The Masterclass emphasizes both the technical as well as the public administration point of view to clarify the contrasts between these approaches. This way, the scientists illustrated the importance of speaking each other’s language and of combining multiple perspectives. Also the lively discussion with the 130 alumni in the audience (and on Twitter #alumniMasterclass) underlined the critical importance of understanding the multiple points of view, which is central to the new MSc Governance of Sustainability of Leiden University.

Maarten Schrama from the Institute of Environmental Sciences


Maarten Schrama of the Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) kicked off by showing that it is already known for 50 years that the widespread manure applications cause major problems to water quality and soil biodiversity. He also made clear that technological solutions do exist. Is the fear of giving up the agricultural export position of the Netherlands the reason we don’t incorporate these solutions? Gerard Breeman of public administration answered this question by explaining the tension between vertical gouvernance and regulation versus horizontal facilitation to create awareness and support. The following discussion with the audience explicitly confirmed this tension.

Various perspectives

Next, Peter van Bodegom of the CML indicated how, thanks to big data, we may increasingly precise calculate the influence of measures to promote green growth within cities. By combining the impacts of measures on a multitude of variables we are able to very accurately –even up to the level of individual households!- determine how cities councils can comply to their own sustainability goals. Shivant Jhagroe of public administration explained how insights in the various perspectives are essential for an appropriate assessment of the measures. For instance, how do we avoid that hyper-efficient technological measures lead to increasing inequalities in society? Which frames (like green growth) can we use for these assessments? Only if we truly understand the various perspectives, combinations of perspectives can be made to steer in this complex practice.

Communication is key

In the following discussion with the audience the importance of appropriate communication was underlined: To achieve effective solutions for sustainability, we need to speak each other’s language. This does not only apply to the scientific disciplines, but also to communication between scientists and societal stakeholders. Through such transdisciplinary skills, integral solutions can be implemented to attain substantial sustainable changes. However, only few people own all these various skills. A conclusion that was reinforced during the discussions over some drinks. Luckily, educating such people is exactly the aim of the MSc Governance of Sustainability of Leiden University.

The Mentimeter app allowed the public to have their say
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