Introducing: Theres Konrad

I joined Leuphana University and the EFCA project in October 2016 as a PhD research student. My academic life brought me from Austria to France, from Sweden to Argentina and now to Germany and the US.

Some interesting facts about me:

  • I am a passionate dancer. Currently Tango, Lindy Hop & Electro Swing are favorites, but Salsa is also always a go 😉
  • I am a fresh-air-fanatic. There is no being outside too much.
  • Since the age of maybe 12, I have been making jewelry (https://lindalocurajewellery.wordpress.com) but now as the weather is getting better spring asks me to put some seeds in the soil. That´s why you might meet me in our shared garden.
  • Despite growing up in the countryside, my first real hands-on farm-experience was while working on my Master’s thesis as a volunteer at a biodynamic community-supported farm in El Bolsón, Argentina.
  • The year after finishing my Master’s and before starting this PhD I learned a lot about myself thanks to an Erasmus+ project called “the heArt of change,” cycled from Copenhagen to Paris for the COP 21, moved once more to another country, started to learn a new language, discovered my passion for chess and got more comfortable on a long board.
Among my friends I am known as an idealist and dreamer, but also as a do-er. Before moving to Sweden my mum asked me to get a bit calmer. I ended up being in the board of two local NGOs–which was probably not what she meant! Perhaps Lüneburg, where I currently realize the dream of living in a community, provides the ground of getting “calmer” and more settled – but there are still plenty of ideas that await realization!

Some see me as a wandering proverb-collection, others as a communicative carrot. An idea that evolved over the last years is now taking shape in the form of a blog: https://verbalpollination.wordpress.com/

You can reach me at konrad[at]leuphana.de if you have questions, ideas, proverbs – and, as this is the EFCA blog – professional input. Very much appreciated!

The Future of Sustainability Professionals: report on a transdisciplinary workshop

Examples of job tasks and the key competencies which the participants linked them to (click to enlarge in a new tab)
In the waning weeks of 2016 a diverse and exemplary group of sustainability professionals gathered together in a classroom on the campus of Arizona State University to explore the question of whether the key competencies in sustainability are indeed the framework of what transformational future professionals in sustainability need. Our full report on the day’s event is available for download but we wanted to give you taste of it here.

A previous post summarized our approach from the key research questions to a methodological overview. Here we will briefly present what we learned about these questions.

What are examples of tasks carried out by Sustainability professionals and how can those be linked to the key competencies?

The participants of the workshop were highly knowledgeable about the key competencies in sustainability which made for insightful conversations. While it was agreed that these made a good framework there was a clear in-balance when job-tasks were linked to the specific competencies. As can be seen in the figure values and futures thinking lagged which was attributed by the participants to the fact these are less explicitly important
Count of key competencies linked to job tasks by participants
to specific tasks but are indeed foundationally important to virtually everything.

How did the participants attain their personal level of competence?

The general sentiment was that professional and other experiences outside of the classroom were the most important opportunities for improving one’s level of competence. It was widely agreed that the academic environment needs to change significantly if it is going to be equipping students with sufficient levels of competence in the key competencies for sustainability.

Is there a gap between current sustainability professionals and the requirement for future professionals?

There was a clear sentiment that our education system needs to change in order to yield a crop of professionals equipped to solve our problems for the future but not the specifics we hoped for. In large part this can be attributed to the fact that the use of the key competencies for sustainability as the qualifications for a sustainability professional is already a significant departure from the status quo. And while the participants saw this as a much needed step (for today); it being already a reach made it challenging to think even further beyond the key competencies when looking into the more distant future.

“I think futures thinking is a lot about questioning your values. That’s why people have such a hard time with it. Cause you start to question your values, then you have to question what you did in the past, and that’s a scary thing for people. It really is.”

Does having demonstrated development of the key competencies support the employability of an individual and in what ways?

There was a clear consensus on the importance of the key competencies in the success of a graduate as a change agent but there was little agreement that it would sufficiently support their employability. In large part this was attributed to the fact that universities do not give graduates credibility that they are able to actually do anything because success at a university is measured very differently from how an employer measures it. The key competencies could be the framework that brings this together but as yet it does not translate out in the field.








A Lot to Deal with on One Plate!

This post is part of an on going series examining and reflecting on how to work as an international team on a transdisciplinary research project.

When working on an international, transdisciplinary research project, even a simple meeting with your PhD committee members is not so simple. Finding a time slot that fits 3 people in two different time zones (8 hours difference) can seem an impossible challenge, when all the additional obligations your committee members (who are also the PIs)1)Principal Investigators have are added in (teaching, research, conferences,…). Ultimately, an acceptance of unconventional working hours is critical if you want transatlantic Skype meetings to happen.

Safe is good for sidewalks and swimming pools. Life requires risks if we are to get anywhere.

-Simon Sinek
One PI called me and we had a fruitful conversation. The second PI was supposed to join later, which he did. Or better to say he tried. Our Skype meeting in the 21st century ended up the two PIs skyping with each other and me on the landline phone connected to them. Not as planned – but it worked.

Research projects of a transdisciplinary character

Being part of a research project that spans over several countries is most of all exciting but undoubtedly also challenging. Communication is a critical but complex skill that can be improved but also be complicated by technical inventions. Without it though, projects like ours wouldn´t be possible.

We have already identified and shared some challenges specific to the EFCA project (see the previous Blog entry on the Statussymposium in Hannover). Apart from these, which we anticipated, there will certainly be more to come. What we definitely have had to deal with already is the difficulty to keep everybody on the same page, despite using the key competency framework as the universal foundation, as well as general house-keeping tasks like keeping minutes at meetings, etc. While we, the PhDs, concentrate almost exclusively on the EFCA project, the PIs have several projects going on at the same time which leads to time shortages to dedicate the desired time to each project. This creates risks of cutting into time which should be outside of work.2)Joern Fischer initiated a pertinent discussion of this issue at Leuphana.

Self-care was something we had already talked about during our first field visit at ASU in November. Knowing the theory is a start3)For example: Sinek, Simon (2016) Together is Better. A Little Book of Inspiration. Portfolio Penguin., applying it… well, the short scene at beginning might have demonstrated that there is often a knowledge-to-action-gap. Applying self-care must not fall too short though if we want to conduct this project successfully together. While everybody should take care of her-/his own needs, a transdisciplinary research group also has to look after each other. Meetings in a more informal frame which we often did in Arizona helped us to keep the spirit high, even with the end-of-the-semester-stress and focus-group-preparation.

To conclude, the transdisciplinary, international research path is full of challenges (though finishing the plate pictured above wasn´t one of them – keyword: teamwork). Consider the quote at the beginning: risks need to be taken and challenges seen as opportunities to grow. Because we want to go far indeed.

References   [ + ]

1. Principal Investigators
2. Joern Fischer initiated a pertinent discussion of this issue at Leuphana
3. For example: Sinek, Simon (2016) Together is Better. A Little Book of Inspiration. Portfolio Penguin.

Statussymposium: Science for Sustainable Development

On January 23 and 24th in snowy Hannover, principal investigator Dr. Matthias Barth and post-doctoral researcher Aaron Redman joined researchers, students and members of the public to share results and experiences of sustainability research projects supported by the Volkswagen Foundation and the state government of Lower Saxony. More information about the symposium; including the full program can be found here. The ”Science for sustainable development” fund is supporting fifteen different research projects covering a wide range of topics and diverse methodological approaches. Along with other principal investigators Dr. Barth gave a talk laying out Educating Future Change Agents project as it is planned and so far implemented (see here for a project overview).

The project also shared a poster, “Generalizing from single case studies: Insights in higher education for sustainable development” which focused on the methodological challenges of this project and our strategies for overcoming them (see the graphics below). The poster is available here for download.


All in all it was exciting to be joining such an ambitious group of scientists and important sustainability research projects.

Introducing: Aaron Redman

I joined Leuphana University in September 2016 as part of the Educating Future Change Agents (EFCA) project. I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself. You’ll hear from the rest of the team in the coming months, don’t you worry.

Some interesting facts about me:

  • I grew up a couple blocks from one of the partner universities for EFCA, Arizona State (ASU).
  • I dreamed of being an astronaut up until I was…in college.
  • While in Peace Corps El Salvador I ate raccoon, squirrel and iguana while also discovering that the work of creating a sustainable world was my calling.
  • I co-founded a small business which produced a re-usable produce bag called, FAVE Bags with an innovative production system which enabled over 20 poor rural women in El Salvador to work out of their homes earning money to support their families.
  • I was awarded a research grant based on a proposal I co-wrote entirely in Spanish (while getting no traction with the proposal I had been brought on in part to write).
  • I initially wooed my wife with talk of worm composting and kept her by my side by raising chickens together—sustainability isn’t just a field of study, it is a life.
I am most proud of:

  • My sustainability superstar wife Erin Redman and increasingly our two year old daughter.
  • The scholarship fund I helped to get started and continue to raise funds for, which is successfully graduating poor, rural El Salvadoran youths from university.
  • A master’s thesis on the adoption of improved cookstoves.
  • Bringing sustainability to a whole new audience in Mexico.
  • Launching a website to share blog posts focused on bridging the gap between academia and the public in discussions of Sustainability solutions and how we can achieve them.
But the best is yet to come as part of the Educating Future Change Agents Team!

You can reach me at redman[at]leuphana.de or aaron.redman[at]asu.edu.


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Using Focus Groups of Sustainability Professionals to Validate the Key Competencies—Our Approach

The principal focus of this research project is how the key competencies in sustainability1)Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C. L. (2011). Key competencies in Sustainability: A reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science, 6(2), 203–218. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11625-011-0132-6 can best be attained2)Keeping in mind employability as well., but first we are seeking to validate our competence framework through various dialogues with stakeholders. These dialogues are taking place in parallel between the USA and Germany in line with the overall approach of this project to look at Sustainability programs both at Arizona State University (ASU) and Leuphana University (LUL). Interviews with exemplary Sustainability professionals and alumni of both programs are ongoing but given the format and time limitations do not enable a meaningful discussion of the key competencies in Sustainability with the stakeholders. Therefore, building off of what is being learned from the interviews, we carried out a focus group with a new set of Sustainability professionals and alumni at ASU on December 2, 2016. This effort was guided by the following questions:

  1. What are examples of tasks carried out by Sustainability professionals and how can those be linked to the key competencies?
  2. How was competence attained by the participants in the key competencies?
  3. Is there a gap between current sustainability professionals and the requirement for future professionals?
  4. Does having demonstrated attainment of the key competency support the employability of an individual and in what ways?

What We Did–In Brief

We selected an exemplary sample of Sustainability professionals who lived in the metropolitan area surrounding ASU and ended up with fourteen participants who could speak to the wide range of jobs a Sustainability professional might have to tackle. There was a mix of more senior personnel and fresh graduates, eight of them having gotten some type of degree from ASU’s School of Sustainability. The participants joined us for an hour and a half session on December 2, 2016.

Two groups of seven were created with a balanced mix of experience and job types in each one. Each group was led by a facilitator with a note taker and additional helper on hand. The session began with a welcome and a brief presentation explaining the key competencies in sustainability. Participants also had two page handouts on the key competencies as an additional reference source throughout the day. On a provided worksheet, participants were asked to write their three main Sustainability-related tasks and then to connect them to the key competence most relevant to that task.

From here on out the two groups ran independently, guided by facilitators working from the same script. The participants wrote their tasks on sticky notes and placed them on a poster under the key competence they believed to be most relevant for that particular task. This visual display of the group’s tasks and relevant key competencies was the focus of the first discussion. One or two tasks were picked out for each competence and the person who posted it was asked to explain the tasks and their reason for picking that particular competence. Probing follow-up questions were asked to explore the key competencies a bit deeper. Competencies with fewer tasks were the final discussion point for this first part.

Next participants were asked to pick one competency and describe how they themselves acquired competence in this. Everyone was given a chance to answer and a facilitated discussion among the groups took place afterwards. Finally, a short narrative of a future scenario was read which called for the hiring of a change agent in their community3)Imagine the year is 2030, when the UN sustainable development goals expire. The U.S. still faces sustainability challenges in government, industry, and civil society. Yet, a new grass-roots organization has formed to address them across the country, on the local scale. After much discussion, organizations across the Phoenix metro area have decided to join this organization. The decades-long drought continues to have significant detrimental impacts, and has strained relations between various communities. Likewise, the moratorium on flights brought on by the fuel crisis has resulted in a wide-reaching economic fallout. As representatives of your organizations, this new organization has turned to you to develop a profile for their official representative in your local community – a change agent, so to speak. They are looking for a recent graduate from ASU who can be your contact and get work done on the ground. . Each group was asked to work together to write a job description for this position. The facilitator pushed the participants to think about what would be different about this job description for 2030 versus something that they might advertise for today.

All in all it was a great day. In a future post we analyze the discussions and summarizing the key results.

References   [ + ]

1. Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman, C. L. (2011). Key competencies in Sustainability: A reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science, 6(2), 203–218. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11625-011-0132-6
2. Keeping in mind employability as well.
3. Imagine the year is 2030, when the UN sustainable development goals expire. The U.S. still faces sustainability challenges in government, industry, and civil society. Yet, a new grass-roots organization has formed to address them across the country, on the local scale. After much discussion, organizations across the Phoenix metro area have decided to join this organization. The decades-long drought continues to have significant detrimental impacts, and has strained relations between various communities. Likewise, the moratorium on flights brought on by the fuel crisis has resulted in a wide-reaching economic fallout. As representatives of your organizations, this new organization has turned to you to develop a profile for their official representative in your local community – a change agent, so to speak. They are looking for a recent graduate from ASU who can be your contact and get work done on the ground.

Introducing the Educating Future Change Agents Blog

Welcome to the Educating Future Change Agents (EFCA) Blog!!! The EFCA is an exciting new research project into the question of how students can be best educated to become impactful change agents who drive forward the necessary sustainability transition. Research will be conducted jointly at two of the leading universities in sustainability education, Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany and Arizona State University in the United States.

The project addresses how competence acquisition can best be fostered through novel teaching and learning approaches in individual sustainability courses as well as through an entire sustainability curriculum. Research will focus on the acquisition of sustainability competencies in sustainability programs, teacher education programs, and extra-curricular programs on social entrepreneurship at both universities using a multi-methodological approach, combining in-depth qualitative case studies with a quantitative sample study to generate both detailed as well as generalizable insights.

For more details about the research design and overall project check out the Project Overview webpage.

So we begin

This October 2016 the EFCA project launched with a team of four PhD and two Post-Doctoral researchers joining the existing team of Principal Investigators. For more information about the team see their brief bios here and stay tuned to the blog for more extensive introductions over the next few months.

Focus group discussion with sustainability professionals at ASU. December 2, 2016
Work package 1 is already underway as we seek to validate the key sustainability competencies via interviews and focus groups with sustainability professionals and alumni of both the ASU and Leuphana sustainability degree programs. In November the whole team traveled to ASU for a three week, whirlwind introduction of the university, its sustainability initiatives and the courses and curriculum to be studied in the project and the carried out the first focus group with sustainability professionals on December 2nd (stay tuned here for more details).

Here we blog

We are very excited to be launching this blog along with the EFCA research project. We don´t know what exactly this space will evolve into but we hope to create a space which ultimately fosters conversations around educating for sustainability in higher education and drives forward implementation of evidence based curricular change towards creating future change agents. Specifically we expect to share regularly about progress on our research, describe the methodological approaches we are taking and elaborate early results as they come in.

We welcome your participation and encourage you to reply in the comments or to submit a guest post if interested. Don´t forget to follow the blog in order to not miss any updates.