SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Four-Year Programme for STEPS Centre

The STEPS Centre, co-hosted by SPRU and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), is beginning an exciting new four-year phase of work. This work is funded by the ESRC and produced in collaboration with partners in the Global Consortium in Africa, China, Europe, Latin America, North America and South Asia. Through a series of events and learning activities linked to research, it will focus on creating alliances and dialogue between scholarship and activism on sustainability issues.

Dr Adrian Ely, who leads the 'Transformative Pathways to Sustainability' network as part of the work of the STEPS Centre's Global Consortium, comments:

"I look forward to continuing to work with our partners throughout the consortium. In a world facing intensifying global challenges, we are grateful for the opportunity to exchange knowledge and practical experience with committed and like-minded colleagues across the globe."


The work will be structured around four themes, one for each year starting in 2018: 

  • 2018: Transformations
    Faced with a series of social and environmental stresses and shocks, there are urgent calls for radical, systemic change. But, as past and present experience shows, this can take many forms. What does it take to make sustainability transformations emancipatory (caring), rather than repressive (controlling)? Ian Scoones, Research Fellow at IDS, explores this issue in an introductory blogpost: Care or control? Four challenges for transformations to sustainability 
  • 2019: Uncertainty
    Constructing knowledge and policy under conditions of uncertainty – from climate change to epidemics and more – is a challenge in our changing world. Uncertainties are often ignored or treated as simple risks, but a richer view of uncertainty can help to reveal neglected pathways and more flexible ways of responding to surprise. 
  • 2020: Natures Resource politics
    How people use, value, understand and come into conflict over natural resources – is an important part of STEPS work, including in the Resource Politics conference in 2015 and working with the POLLEN network on political ecology. A central theme will be the implications of how resources are viewed, valued and conserved, for example through financial mechanisms and conservation projects. 
  • 2021: Methods
    Addressing complex global challenges means challenging the way research is conducted and linked to action - from interdisciplinary to transdisciplinary methods and methodologies. It will explore the epistemic, practical and political challenges involved, focusing on transdisciplinary working and scholar-activist engagements around sustainability issues.

Events and Learning

In addition to various shared learning opportunities, including the annual Summer School on Pathways to Sustainability held at SPRU, the open-access STEPS Learning website will be expanded and developed. Furthermore, each year, the STEPS Centre and the other participants in the Global Consortium will organise one or more international events around the year’s theme.

17-18 March 2018

On the theme of Transformations, the event - Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World - will be held at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, and organised by the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative.

14 May 2018

The STEPS Annual Lecture at Sussex will be given by Kate Raworth, who through her ideas on ‘doughnut economics’ is helping to transform debates on economics and development.

October 2018

The STEPS Africa hub will host a workshop in Nairobi to discuss and share the results of the ISSC-funded Pathways Network, involving all Consortium hubs. This will include a publication sharing what we’ve learned about using innovative participatory methods in tackling complex, intractable problems in which people and other parts of nature are entangled.