My research looks at how social and environmental challenges shape organizations' strategic decision-making and actions. The nature of sustainability challenges is unpredictable and not known ex-ante. Thus, strategic responses to them are based on interpretative actions. Organizations need to make sense of the socio-ecological system they are embedded in before they can act. Therefore, I am interested in aspects related to how organizations address systems issues and define the complexity of the problem and the holism of solutions.
Enabling scaleable impact for complex large-scale issues
Climate change is a grand challenge and a top concern worldwide. During the 2019 federal election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised to bring Canada to zero emissions by 2050, intending to “phase out Alberta’s oil sands” (Levinson King, 2019:5), which contribute 11% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. However, the oil sands industry is the lifeline of the provincial economy, and a major economic driver at the national level. How can Alberta and Canada navigate the transition to a non-oil based future? The answer may lie in the very process that enabled the oil sands to be developed in the first place. Investigating how Alberta addressed the previous grand challenge of energy independence may reveal clues about how governments can tackle the current grand challenge of climate change. Therefore, we investigate the historical case study of the Alberta Oil Sands Research Authority (AOSTRA) and how they addressed the complex large-scale issue of energy interdependence.
Initiating systems change
The world is changing fast. Technology, healthcare, education, climate, business– there is hardly anything in life that is not changing. Some changes are desirable, such as Artificial Intelligence or Shared Economy, while others create fear and anxiety, such as extreme weather periods and the massive loss of biodiversity. It is clear that we can no longer live in the same way we have been living so far. The problems we currently face have been stubbornly resistant to solutions.
One promising approach forward for augmenting our solution-generation capacity is the idea of systems change. Over the last few years, systems change has gained momentum. Despite being an old approach for management, systems thinking has been receiving more attention today due to the increase in complexity of societal challenges. Especially the social sector, including social entrepreneurs and foundations, have embraced a systems lens for positive impact. At the focus are fundamental changes in policies, processes, relationships, and power structure, as well as deeply held values and norms, in order to achieve social gains sustainable at scale.
However, initiating systems change is easier said than done. Therefore, we conducted an organizational ethnography at a social innovation lab in Canada to better understand how different actors enable and inhibit systems change.
Approaches to teaching systems thinking
The worsening and urgency of societal challenges, such as the climate emergency and biodiversity loss, have triggered questioning of the effectiveness of business sustainability teaching and the capabilities business students acquire. Multiple scholars have now called for a systems approach to business sustainability education to provide business students with a more holistic and relational understanding of firms as situated within complex adaptive systems. We develop pedagogical practices and apply them within the settings of Innovation North , a cross-sector collaborative located in Canada.
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