Supporting change in complex social systems

Written by Dr Vicki Little, Lecturer, School of Business

Supporting transition into a sustainable future, through understanding change processes in complex social systems. I look at two issues supporting the remit of universities as critic and conscience of society. First, working with an international team, I look at how to better configure marketing education practices to support transition to a low carbon society. Using participatory action research (AR), we take a democratic, inclusive and cooperative approach to challenging current academic orthodoxies. Second, I study cases of sustainability-oriented innovation (SOI), in order to understand how they might better diffuse through markets. I am particularly interested in the agrifood sector, drawing on previous experience in life science innovation.

Environmental degradation has created the climate emergency and new hazards such as the coronavirus. Unfortunately, in addition to lifting a billion people out of poverty, traditional B-School logic (growth, globalisation, financialisation, consumerism) has exacerbated social inequality and climate change. As educators, we need to ensure future leaders – our students – are aware of the wider issues, and are open to new socially and environmentally responsible approaches to business. Aligned to that, future food security requires both ‘magic science’ and social adaptability. The SOI project is directed at understanding how we might increase the absorptive capacity of society for new food systems solutions.

This work will support educators and students in thinking critically about what is taught/ learned. More receptive mindsets will support (rather than resist) necessary change to a low carbon society. The SOI work will provide insight into the dynamics of complex social systems, and the drivers and resistance points to change, supporting innovators and policy makers.

The education practice project confronts our collective role as researchers and educators in the climate emergency. The SOI project contributes insight for policy makers.