The Sustainability Grand Challenge
eBook - ePub

The Sustainability Grand Challenge

A Wicked Learning Workbook

Michael Gibbert,Liisa Välikangas,Marijane Luistro-Jonsson

  1. 178 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

The Sustainability Grand Challenge

A Wicked Learning Workbook

Michael Gibbert,Liisa Välikangas,Marijane Luistro-Jonsson

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About This Book

How do universities tackle wicked sustainability challenges faced by society?

The Wicked Learning Workbook is a toolkit for setting up and running an interdisciplinary master-level course in the context of real-world problems such as food waste and loss. The book offers a new pedagogical approach that we call 'wicked' because it is unorthodox, ambitious, and tackles complex problems that won't go away. The pedagogy is also international at the course level rather than the conventional exchange semester, enabling institutions to embed international approaches to their core teaching.

The Wicked Learning Workbook speaks directly to academics who are looking for solutions that provide stimuli for research and teaching while giving students an innovative, international learning experience. The approach develops student understanding of the UN Sustainable Development Goals as broad-scale societal issues which are difficult, if not impossible, to 'solve'. An important outcome of this approach is the laboratory-style classroom that creates opportunities for faculty, students and companies to co-create solutions that are immediately implementable. The resulting methodology is based on industry–university collaboration (such as IKEA and Nestlé). The methodology is of interest to corporate leaders pursuing sustainability goals and business transformation.

Achieving sustainability requires cross-boundary, cross-disciplinary, experimental approaches that allow for scalability. Wicked problems can only be tackled with wicked solution approaches.

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Setting: Wicked, scarcity,
waste, experimental,
anthropocene, bubbly

Drawing by Inês Costa


Why this course, and why now?

Michael Gibbert, Marijane Luistro-Jonsson and Liisa Välikangas

How did it all start?

We started this course with a straightforward idea in mind: to give master’s students the chance to work on ‘wicked problems’ – messy, ambiguous issues of global magnitude with no clear solution. Examples of wicked problems are migration, climate change, social inclusion, gender equality and food waste, which is what we discuss in some detail in this book. We hoped that students would rejoice in the opportunity to engage in such puzzles, especially if they are connected to sustainability and generally making the world a better place. As university teachers, we have a mandate for forming the next generations of decision makers in business and society. As such, we need to incorporate the changing environments and arising challenges, adapting syllabi and educational offers where possible in order to keep up with evolving demand from students and their future employers (Chapters 24 focus on the implications of the changing environment on tertiary education – including some ideas on how to implement new programmes and secure funding).
How can we tackle the world’s biggest problems? We believe that there is value in confronting students with the inherent wickedness, or solution difficulty, of these issues from two perspectives (Chapters 11, 12 and 13 elaborate specifically on tools for tackling ‘wickedness’). The first is pedagogical. Wicked problems require ‘Wicked Learning’. In this Workbook we describe an indirect approach to problem solving where students learn to ‘tackle’ a problem, addressing the issue indirectly from a broader perspective such as the natural resources or animal rights, learning about it through engagement while involving different stakeholders including expert organisations, corporations, young people or teachers.
We decided to focus on a wicked problem which everyone (including students) will have been confronted with: food waste. Experimenting with ‘starter solutions’ nick away at the problem without trying to take it on all at once. For example, when approaching the problem of food waste in restaurants, one team of students looked at attitudes and behaviours of customers. What do we label as wasted food? Other teams designed an attractive recipe book for leftover food and an Instagram campaign for raising awareness of the amount of food that gets thrown out. They were surprised and delighted by the interest they received from thousands of followers when they launched. Part of the learning is to experience the difficulty in addressing these wicked problems, while increasing the understanding of the urgency and interdependency of the issues for our society. Most often, we need to find indirect solutions since indirect causes and impacts are part and parcel of the problem. A case in point: it is well documented that one-third of the food produced for human consumption (1.3 billion tons per year) is lost or wasted, using immense amounts of water unnecessarily and contributing significantly to global warming (FAO, Global Food Losses and Food Waste – Extent, Causes and Prevention, Rome, 2011
The second objective for Wicked Learning is substantial, i.e. the topic of sustainability as the main common denominator underlying wicked problems. Students, upon graduating, will be confronted with demands of living more sustainably in all spheres of their professional as well as private lives. Sustainability – with wicked, or innovative approaches – will mark the next decade or so, the period where current master’s students make their careers and raise their families. Their strategic decisions need to include innovative sustainability as a core criterion. So, the students – and their teachers – had better be ready.
Engaging in Wicked Learning, as we see it, requires crossing boundaries – disciplinary as well as national and cultural boundaries. As such, a key ingredient in our programme is to make students work in interdisciplinary and international teams (Chapters 7 and 10 provide essential guidance in this regard). To achieve this, we take students out of their comfort zones (away from their universities, core subjects and fellow students) and put them in cross-university teams (see Chapters 7, 8 and 9 for takes on topics such as virtual etiquette, keeping in touch from a distance, IT and other guidance on running such teams). In our case, this means that each team has students from all three partner universities. Since the universities are based in different countries, much of this collaboration must occur virtually as is the case increasingly in most global organisations. The course is open to students from all faculties, thus, these cross-university teams are also cross-disciplinary and students connect virtually with their teams during the semester while experimenting on a practical solution idea with the partner organisation or company. Team building is critical, so before students start collaborating in cyberspace, they meet in real space – each of the three participating universities takes turns hosting a kick-off event.
This virtual, cross-institutional, international and interdisciplinary collaboration has several implications. It mirrors closely what students will have to do in real life once they leave university. Indeed, one of our company partners noted when seeing our way of working: ‘Oh, that is precisely how we work too!’ A geographically dispersed team, with students majoring in disciplines ranging from finance to communications, allows students to experience a realistic work environment that they will likely encounter after graduation, for which conventional pedagogy leaves them utterly unprepared. It is ironic: we often preach the virtues of interdisciplinarity, the importance of working in international teams and the challenges involved in virtual collaboration, yet we rarely find hands-on courses which actually allow students to practise these skills.
To provide a ‘realistic’ environment where future skills can be fostered, we opted to collaborate with partner organisations (companies as well as NGOs, and Chapter 15 gives a candid account of some of the challenges involved). Together we decide on a particular wicked problem for a given course. The idea is to expose students to a hands-on experience where the partner organisation has an actual need to tackle an important sustainability issue that affects their business. In the case of the project we undertook with IKEA, for instance, the objective was to measure and reduce food waste in their store restaurants. The company had already started to work with production waste (i.e. what is wasted in the kitchens of store restaurants) and were beginning to look into plate waste (i.e. what guests leave on their plates after they are sated). Students helped the company by starting this process: collecting data, interviewing customers on site, observing behaviour around the food counters, and experimenting on different solution approaches.
Wicked Learning, therefore, introduces a new type of cross-border student experience which goes beyond traditional exchange and networking programmes (and Chapter 6 provides some insights into how to achieve critical buy-in at your own institution). The typical international exchange experience is based on the idea that students physically leave their ‘home’ universities to spend a period (usually a semester, sometimes a year) abroad, at some partner university. Wicked Learning, by contrast, integrates the international experience on the level and contents of the individual course rather than relegating it to several courses, usually electives, all taken at the partner university. This is no easy feat, especially when working with a multinational partner company. In the IKEA case, this meant that student teams had to figure out a way to collaborate with local IKEA stores, since students in each team came from three different countries and hence had to collect data in three different local IKEA restaurants, in three different languages, coordinating their own efforts with those of the other teams who also needed local presence. IKEA was an excellent partner in supporting the students, connecting them with local contacts, and attending virtual meetings with the cross-institutional student teams.
Thus, this new internationalisation model allows the university to achieve a qualitative, rather than quantitative leap when it comes to internationalisation strategy. The new metrics for measuring internationalisation no longer count how many students go on exchange programmes or how many faculty members carry a foreign passport, but how many courses students can take that are cross-university. Wicked Learning makes being international a core competency. To summarise:
  1. The programme updates the conventional models of internationalisation based on the number of international students or student mobility and offers the international experience as an elective course within an already existing master-level programme.
  2. Its pedagogy reflects the work environment that professionals are required to operate in today; international experience is extended into interdisciplinary teams (different faculties) working cross-institutionally (three partner universities) – both face-to-face and virtually – using collaborative technologies. And field work with a partner organisation is coupled with academics, a scholarly study of the issue-at-hand and its potential solution paths, crossing the final boundary between society and university.
  3. Wicked Learning develops well-rounded future leaders by investigating economic challenges within the context of broader ‘World Challenges’ – developing students’ sensibility to the societal impact of their decisions (e.g. in the context of environmental degradation including climate change, politically motivated or religious violence, nutrition, poverty and population growth).
We believe that Wicked Learning provides the broad educational emphasis coupled with soft skills that result in well-rounded graduates. Students must be ambitious yet humble in addressing these issues critical to our time and well-being. Wickedness demands patience, smarts and determination. At the same time, it avoids easy, superficial, solutions that pretend to address the issue – in vain. Giving up is no option either; thus, the course seeks to maintain a generative attitude in our ability to cross open and closed borders and sometimes divisive boundaries to tackle these pressing challenges of our time. Being wicked also requires an attitude of persistence as the challenges cannot be solved overnight. Humour helps here too, wicked or otherwise.
Wicked Learning also equips students, individually and collectively, with skills that are conspicuously absent, and in our view crucially in demand, from most higher education curricula (and we are not afraid to share student voices and feedback in Chapter 14). We believe that the attitudes, strategies and skills students develop in their early to mid-20s are formative for the rest of their lives. As the famed MIT economist Paul Samuelson is claimed to have said referring to teaching young students: ‘Get them early.’ It is our hope that Wicked Learning will produce responsible decision makers who already have experience working in virtual, international teams, are able to think holistically by considering the broader context in which business decisions are made, and consider the impact of these decisions on key stakeholders and issues. Importantly the students gain the experience of getting engaged in changing the situation, one experimental step and one local or global partner at a time.
That is a wicked mission worth working on.

The (wicked) way forward

At the evening of the kick-off meeting of the 2018 course, we got together with the students over supper and biodynamic wine (with the accompanying story of sustainable wine production; see Chapter 5 for an unusual take on the subject), and the idea of sharing our experiences was born. Hence this book. Our approach to writing this Workbook is to give everyone who made it happen (students, industry partners, instructors, IT specialists, university leaders, as well as accreditation officials) a voice in framing their part of the experience. We believe Wicked Learning requires everyone involved and these are their stories and own Wicked Learning recipes from which others may be guided.
Welcome to the World of the Wicked!

Our approach

When we first had the idea of providing others with some kind of manual, some suggestions of how to do things (and how to not do things), in a nutshell of how to run such a course, we wondered which format such a ‘manual’ should take. We opted for an ‘edited’ book. The reason was simple. There are so many stakeholders necessary to make this course fly that we felt it was wrong to speak ‘for’ them. The edited, or curated, book format here is ideal as individual chapters are authored by those most knowledgeable about a certain topic. And there are many contributors from many different backgrounds, including
  • the university leadership who generously provided the space (curriculum-wise) for this course in the first place;
  • a representative of the funding organisation who provided part of the resources to make this fly;
  • university admin personnel who engaged in internal marketing, making sure the course was on the agenda of the relevant master’s directors, deans’ offices and registrar office;
  • IT professionals from our three universities who provided the infrastructure so that we could talk;
  • PhD students and post docs who were most directly involved in the selection of the students, day-to-day running of the course, collecting student feedback and advising us about sustainable (and enjoyable) consumption habits more generally;
  • and last-not-least even the editors themselves add a thought piece at the begin...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title Page
  3. Title Page
  4. Endorsements
  5. Copyright
  6. Dedication
  7. Contents
  8. List of illustrations
  9. Foreword
  10. Preface
  11. Acknowledgements
  12. List of abbreviations
  13. List of contributors
  14. Part I Setting: Wicked, scarcity, waste, experimental, anthropocene, bubbly
  15. Part II Ingredients: Blender, diversity, learning, international, encounters, broken
  16. Part III Method: Collaboration, tools, creativity, resilience, challenge, salt
  17. Part IV Feedback: Enjoying, sharing, dinner, partnering, scaling, entrepreneurial