Project Objectives

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The CONVERGE project has 8 objectives:

To (1) develop the concept of convergence across social, economic and ecological systems in the context of globalisation, (2) test convergence as a framework for holistic indicators, (3) evaluate how national, EU and international policies and agreements conflict or support processes of convergence, and to test the convergence frame with policy communities and stakeholders, (4) investigate how different methods of community engagement can contribute towards building sustainable communities in both North and South, and to test the convergence frame with local stakeholders (5) identify processes of convergence through case studies, (6) use a wide range of disciplines to analyse the results of objectives 1-5, and synthesise new understandings into a multi-scalar conceptual framework, (7) recommend how to integrate convergence into the internal and external policies of the EU, (8) communicate and disseminate the findings of CONVERGE to different end-users through a range of media.

Objective 1: To develop the concept of Convergence across social, economic and ecological systems in the context of globalisation
CONVERGE will identify processes of Contraction and Convergence (C&C) across social, economic and ecological aspects of sustainability, within contemporary globalization. To date, C&C has only been applied to global greenhouse gas emissions.  The project will investigate whether the C&C is applicable in conceptualising other global divisions. CONVERGE will collate the current state-of-the-art regarding research pertaining to C&C. This knowledge will be used as a starting point for the development of an indicator framework and assessment methodology discussed in objective 2, an initial assessment of EU, international and policies (objective 3), and the development of case-studies (objective 5).


Our analysis will investigate existing sustainability frameworks, many of which have already been tested by the partners.  These include The Natural Step (Robert, 2002); the Five Capitals (FFTF, 2000); the Atkisson Group Sustainability Compass (Atkisson, 2008; tested in the US, Sweden and Japan), Interactive World Modelling (King & Schneider, www.crisisplanet.org), and the current national sustainability strategies of the partner countries.  None of the frameworks have C&C built into them.  This project will explore the extent to which the concept of convergence can be integrated into one or a combination of these frameworks.
 
Although many factors in any study of globalisation and sustainable development are not easily measured, we need to base our work in statistical and analytic methodologies that provide evidence from which new thinking can emerge. CONVERGE will explore whether an extended concept of C&C can be used to catalogue and evaluate both quantifiably and qualitatively, the many different factors that describe the ingredients of globalisation, including the natural environment, society and community, economy, governance, and innovation. This will draw upon global data sets retrieved from the various sources outlined under objective 3, and will identify areas where convergence processes are weak or absent.  The indicator framework and assessment methodology will be tested for coherence with different policy communities and stakeholders.
 
In order to understand the processes of divergence and convergence there is a need to understand the degrees of interdependence that exist in the world. Systems thinking will be used to link the indicators and explore their interdependencies.
 
CONVERGE will construct, wherever possible, definitions that are comparable across countries and over time so that measures of convergence are accurate representations of the trends underlying globalisation and the symptomatic trends of unsustainable human activity. It is important to have measures that are consistent and reliable so that country comparisons are valid, and also to help facilitate collaborative global action and understanding. Countries will be ranked and compared to identify the different stages of convergence that countries are displaying.
A key outcome of this objective will be to identify where there is an absence or deficiency of convergent processes. A critical interdisciplinary analysis (objective 6) will review the success of the extension of the convergence concept and explore the opportunities created for supporting or creating new processes of convergence.


Objective 2: To test convergence and divergence as a frame for a holistic indicator framework

Many indices exist to measure development through time and space. CONVERGE will explore indices such as the Human Development Index, The Genuine Progress Indicator, the New Economics Foundations Happy Planet index, Yale’s sustainability index, GDP and GreenGDP, to name a few. Indicator frameworks are typically not multi-dimensional but rather focus on separate pillars of economic, environment and social domains. The CONVERGE indicator framework will require a multi-dimensional indicator analysis. This will require an understanding of upscaling and prioritization of indicators.  CONVERGE will focus on multi-functional domain use, i.e. Domain Functions (DF) based upon operational principles. The measuring of success will be through the so-called sustainable choice space (SCS) (Potschin & Haines-Young, 2008). This will enable real measurement of success against scientific thresholds and policy objectives. The work on objective 2 (WP3) will build on the initial analysis of sustainability frameworks outlined under objective 1 (WP2).
 
The following themes will be addressed through the development of the CONVERGE indicator framework: socio-economic development, sustainable consumption and production, social inclusion, demographic changes, public health, climate change and energy, sustainable transport, natural resources, global partnership and good governance. Special focus will be on analysing current indicator frameworks such as the 136 UN SD indicators and the EC endorsed 155 indicators in 2005 (Eurostat , 2007).
 
In order to achieve these goals, CONVERGE will develop a new methodological tool approach by merging and adapting best practices into a coherent method. Several methodologies have been constructed to describe various forms of environmental degradation and load. All of these methodologies have been constructed to serve certain purposes within specific disciplines. Industry, for example, uses Life Cycle Assessment tools to evaluate and compare different material flow processes, the economists use risk assessments and cost-benefit analysis tools, and the system ecologist uses energy analysis (Odum, 1996) and ecological footprint (Wackernagel & Rees, 1996) interpretations. These are only a few examples of how different disciplines have developed various forms of tools for environmental evaluation. In the proposed research programme, a synthesis of these tools is needed in order to compare different dynamic processes within the urban system. All the tools display advantages and disadvantages in environmental evaluation but certain qualities can be extracted from each tool and combined to form a new one (Finnveden & Moberg, 2004).

Integrating the current DPSIR framework into CONVERGE
 
CONVERGE will enhance the decision support framework of the DPSIR process. This will be achieved by including the technique of backcasting from the principle methodology of the Natural Step Framework (TNS) and by integrating the system dynamic modelling into the DPSIR process, making the indicator framework part of a dynamic adaptable management process.
 
The current DPSIR model is a causality framework for describing the interactions between society and the environment used in planning procedures within the EU, developed by the OECD and the European Environment Agency. The DPSIR is a cyclical approach and is useful in providing information on environmental systems as well as for environmental accounting in economics. However, many of the indicators fail to show clear couplings between strategic planning and multifunctional land use. This can be attributed to the feedback process, from environmental damage to the eventual policy changes and environmental improvement, which is not inherent in the DPSIR approach or vague and difficult to describe one dimensionally.
 
CONVERGE will aim to enhance the robustness of the DPSIR model so it can describe and analyse several environmental dimensions simultaneously and in a dynamical fashion. We aim to incorporate CONVERGE’s new methodological approach that enables backcasting of principles of policies that are reflected in the DPSIR framework and the selected key indicators. Furthermore, it will include a system dynamic modelling approach to create an adaptive management approach.
 
Using the information gathered from current indices, CONVERGE will develop a set of Convergence indicators, both quantitative and qualitative. A convergence system’s diagram to measure convergence through sustainable choice space will be developed that can be used to further CONVERGE’s other objectives. The specific objectives for CONVERGE is as follow:
 
·     Constructing new indices system, which displays several environmental dimensions simultaneously within and between regions through Domain Functions
·     Improving and merging selected environmental tools and methods
·     Enhancing the decision support framework of the DPSIR process by integrating backcasting from principles and system dynamic modelling methods.
 
The DPSIR process is enhanced by incorporating back-casting and including the system dynamic modelling approach. Examples of DPSIR processes that CONVERGE will look at: Drivers – globalisation, prisoner’s dilemma; Pressures – overexploitation, habitat modification, freshwater abstraction; Status – differences between North and South – GDP, well-being, Ecological status; Impacts – (positive and negative) poor health, environmental impacts, socio-economic; Responses – current policies, current processes of convergence.
 
The end result will be a new decision support process aimed at decision makers that need to understand consequences of their policies before implementing them. This will be tested with relevant policy communities and stakeholders, including civil society organisations and business.
 
Objective 3: To evaluate how national, EU, and international policies and agreements conflict or support processes of convergence, and to test the convergence frame with policy communities and stakeholders
CONVERGE will assess how current national, EU and international policies for sustainable and just societies conflict with, or support, convergent processes of globalization, and whether they inadvertently reinforce divergence. This study will evaluate whether current policies are supporting the EU renewed SDS’s goal “to promote sustainable development actively worldwide and ensure that the European Union’s internal and external policies are consistent with global sustainable development and its international commitments” (Eurostat, 2007).
Existing and formative policies that are driving regulation and/or creating incentives for sustainability within the EU will be under consideration, including: Renewed EU Sustainable Development Strategy; Gothenburg declaration; documents of European Climate Change Programmes (ECCP) and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme; White paper on adaptation to climate change; World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg. 2002); Millennium Development Goals (2000); the Kyoto Protocol; and Preparatory work for Copenhagen 2009. The national policies of the four partner countries will be scrutinised to assess the influence of unilateral policies on the processes of convergence and divergence.
 
Systems thinking will be used to evaluate these policies from the perspective of convergence. CONVERGE will assess whether the actions that result from these goals, policies and declarations encourage or prevent processes that would achieve convergence of environmental and social factors.
Also under scrutiny by CONVERGE will be the consistency of policy frameworks with restructuring the relationships between those that are on the opposite sides of diverging processes. For example policies to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger that consist solely of food aid and do not also promote local agriculture demonstrates a dependency relationship, while a long term inquiry through partnership in local development to produce a convergence of quality of life would move towards a more equal relationship.
The policy frame of CONVERGE will be tested for coherence and usefulness by action research-based discussion with a range of actors: civil society organisations; governmental and inter-governmental organisations; and business.
 
Objective 4: To investigate how different methods of community engagement can contribute towards building sustainable communities in the North and South, and to test the convergence frame with local stakeholders.
“Sustainable development will not be brought about by policies only: it must be taken up by society at large as a principle guiding the many choices each citizen makes every day in combination with big political and economic decisions […]This requires profound changes in thinking, in economic and social structures and in consumption and production patterns.” (Renewed SDS, 2005).
The overriding question to which this research will contribute is: how do we make a community/town/city/region sustainable? This is an essential component of Convergence; developed countries must seek ways to reduce their resource use, whereas developing communities must seek to develop in a sustainable manner. CONVERGE will investigate how community engagement in sustainable development can contribute towards convergence. By community engagement, we refer to how we motivate and inspire communities to participate in different programmes towards sustainability/convergence.
 
The views of citizens on sustainability and equality issues addressed by convergence are essential for future EU policy. For example, Europe is criticised for its failure to respond to the expectations of its citizens. Europeans are no longer satisfied with simply being protected against hardship; they want the authorities to give them a means of succeeding. Demand for financial compensation for inequalities as provided by the welfare state has been complemented by demand for truly equal opportunities, offering the hope of an equal future (Strauss-Kahn. 2004).
 
One of the first steps in this area is to tackle the definitional problems; globalisation, communities, sustainable development, citizens, and engagement are all concepts that require careful examination and agreement before conducting comparative evaluations. This study area will provide evidence to support our assertion that citizen engagement is underdeveloped and it will expose the constraints that exist in different geographic and cultural locations.
Completion of this objective will include the identification of communities moving in the direction of convergence. There are already signs of such development around Europe. For example, out of the permaculture movement in Ireland has arisen the framework for “Transition Towns” (Hopkins, 2008). These towns are now actively engaging local citizens in reducing their energy use, growing their own food, sharing skills and resources, and building trusting communities.
Our research will first review sustainability processes and practices already developed around the world, including concepts such as Transition Towns and Sustainable Cities .The research will review planning methods such as the TNS Framework (James &Lahti, 2005), Future Search (www.futuresearch.net) and World Café-type approaches (Brown & Isaak, 2005; ). Case study examples will be collected from the regions in which the partners operate. This will lead to a systemic method to evaluate whether a community is moving towards convergence processes or not and what barriers may be holding back change. The project will look for indicators of success that are consistent across different communities to allow meaningful comparisons.
From these examples the key characteristics of the movements towards convergence can be drawn out and compared for each location. CONVERGE will highlight those characteristics that are replicated across case studies and will seek to create a unifying framework that can be replicated in other places. This framework will be tested with selected communities for coherence and usefulness across a range of stakeholders: local civil society organisations; local government and local businesses.
This study area will employ a systems perspective to discover the national and local frameworks for sustainable development that exist in the three main countries. This will be extended to examine other collaborating countries wherever possible. We aim to discover what form citizen engagement takes in different places, who gets involved, how are differing approaches successful in differing communities and why.
 
 
Objective 5: To identify processes of convergence and divergence through case studies
 Case studies will be undertaken to explore the application of convergence concepts in real world situations. CONVERGE will look at possible top-down interventions, e.g. international mechanisms to create conditions for convergence, and bottom-up actions, such as voluntary community initiatives and creating an enabling environment for building sustainable communities. These case studies will contribute to objectives 6, 7 and 8.
 
Case studies will include examples from/of:
 
·      The voluntary offsets market, e.g., Converging World
·      The certified offsets market
·      EU cap-and-trade system
·      Local government actions, e.g. the Climate Change Aware Local Governments and the Alliance of Energy Efficient Local Governments in Hungary
·      Transition Towns as an effective method for community engagement towards Convergence in a developed country
·      Economic convergence in the form of micro-credit schemes e.g. The Grameen Foundation
·      Social Change and Development’s (SCAD) work towards creating sustainable communities in India
·      Creative communities (such as those described in the FP6-funded EMUDE (Emerging User Demands for Sustainable Solutions) project)
·       ‘Eco-villages’ (in the Central European region) (e.g. commonalities, origins)
·      Participatory micro regional development projects in Hungary/elsewhere?
·      New media technologies as a tool for community engagement (e.g. ecojam.org in Bristol, UK)
·      The global network of communities applying the Framework for strategic sustainable development promoted by TNS
 
 
This activity will catalogue the development of communities from adverse poverty to sustainability via convergence mechanisms, and the ‘contraction’ of developed communities through community engagement methodologies, aiming particularly for the development of best practice within community and business sectors. The resulting guidance will be developed and tested with relevant policy communities and stakeholders at different scales and across the range of civil society organisations, governmental and inter-governmental organisations and business.
 

Objective 6: To use a wide range of disciplines to analyse the results of objectives 1 to 5, synthesise conclusions and develop a conceptual model
CONVERGE will engage in an ongoing reflexive process of interdisciplinary critique and synthesis of the outputs of objectives 1 to 5. The outputs of the project will be discussed and scrutinized by stakeholders throughout the life of the project during a series of interdisciplinary workshops. CONVERGE will create a forum, involving the partner countries and their linked countries in the developing world, for interdisciplinary studies. The twin aims are to develop methodologies for interdisciplinary dialogue and to generate complex robust solutions to the problems surrounding divergent and convergent processes. New innovative research agendas will be identified during this process, and discussed with European universities and research funding bodies.
 
CONVERGE recognises the deep-rooted interconnections of environmental and socio-economic systems. A variety of systems thinking methods will be used to ‘re-conceptualise’ the ingredients and processes that produce the phenomena of globalization, in order to move towards a more sustainable and equitable path for the world’s inhabitants.
 
A well-recognised challenge (EURAB, 2004, COSEPUP, 2004) is that traditional institutional structures in academia and in politics tend to operate in “silos”, i.e. narrow-focused departments that protect themselves and seldom interact.  To apply systems thinking, this analysis will require a removal of these barriers, calling upon the expertise of a variety of disciplines to engage in new dialogues to provide insights to globalisation in the light of convergence. CONVERGE will draw upon a diverse team with specialisations in engineering systems, sustainability, sociology, geochemistry, geography, systems thinking, global change, science policy, philosophy, and education. The project will bring together a variety of experts from research institutes, business and the third sector at open forums. It will also draw on expertise on interdisciplinary dialogues and facilitation.
 
This activity will deliver an overarching concept of convergence within sustainability objectives, refining the guidance and findings delivered by the other work packages.  This inclusive, interdisciplinary and participative examination and testing within academic and policy contexts will ensure that the final conceptual framework produces recommendations that are more robust and acceptable within policy communities.
 
Objective 7: To recommend how to integrate convergence into the internal and external policies of the EU

 CONVERGE will recommend interventions that can support or create convergence processes. These recommendations will facilitate sustainable globalisation by aiding the development of policies that go beyond emissions trading to include a number of other themes, such as economics, energy, food and natural resources.
Importantly, this will include guidance to contribute to the achievement of the renewed SDS.
 
These recommendations will be informed by objectives 1 to 6 including:
·      The improved understanding and indicators of the current processes of convergence (objective 1 and 2);
·      The evaluation of EU policies for sustainability using the criteria of convergence to see where there are weaknesses and opportunities (objective 3); and
·      The lessons learned from case studies (objective 5)
 
We will have a solid foundation of study to inform us about processes at the grassroots level and the acceptability and realities of change towards building sustainable communities. CONVERGE will also seek to coherently link the scales across the study in the policy context – from local, to national, to global-regional and global. This is vital to ensure integration between policies at the different levels and to lead to more global policies that enable convergence and actions for sustainability at national and local levels.
 
Objective 8: To communicate and disseminate the findings of CONVERGE to different end-users through a range of media

CONVERGE aims to establish fast and efficient communication networks within and outside of the project, set-up information pathways to the closer and wider community surrounding the project, and to build awareness amongst stakeholders. This will include structured knowledge management, efficient integration of external knowledge, and communication of CONVERGE findings. The mechanisms for testing the frameworks produced by the project will involve dissemination, stakeholder engagement, and discussion at all stages of the project. This will help to frame communication strategies and pathways suited to the different stakeholders of the project, and at different scales from local to global.
 
CONVERGE will engage various communities within the geographic regions of the partners (national and local), including business, government, local communities and CSOs. The focal points for this engagement will be established through initial scoping by the partners. A database of stakeholders and experts will be created, drawing upon the extensive networks of the partners, including the TNS network (which has offices in eleven countries), the Ecojam.org and Green Capital networks in Bristol (over 500 organisations and businesses), and the academic networks of the participating Universities. This database will be used to establish information pathways to the project’s stakeholders and experts. At the regional and global level CONVERGE will seek expertise from intergovernmental institutions including UNESCO and UNEP.
 
Wherever possible, CONVERGE will make use of new communication technologies, such as teleconferencing, email and a Wiki, to carry out partnership meetings and much of the work. The dissemination of scientific and technological expertise gained from CONVERGE will be undertaken through generic information material, a website, a best practice tool-kit, newsletters, scientific publications, presentations at conferences, workshops and press releases. The target audience for this outcome will be policy communities and stakeholders, RTDs, civil society organisations and business.
 
The conclusions of CONVERGE will be recorded in the form of a booklet to be published in English and other EU languages. There will also be a short documentary about the problems associated with divergent processes and the case studies of convergence (objective 5). CONVERGE discussions and frames will also link in with the on-going UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development led by UNESCO. Through these links, more debates will be initiated about the potential for convergence to act as a global frame for sustainable globalisation. By contributing to the Decade within the UN itself, it will raise the profile of convergence as a possible framework for aiding policy coherence across the UN family of organisations.