CPT-22306 Communicating for Sustainability and Responsible Innovation


Studiepunten 6.00

Group work6
Independent study0
Course coordinator(s)prof. dr. P Macnaghten
Lecturer(s)dr. AJK Pols
prof. dr. P Macnaghten
prof. dr. ir. AEJ Wals
Examiner(s)prof. dr. P Macnaghten
prof. dr. ir. AEJ Wals

Language of instruction:


Assumed knowledge on:

ESA-10309 and ENP-10806 or FNP-11806. Students who do not take part in one of the environmental sciences programmes or forest and nature conservation are supposed to have knowledge on environmental policy. All students are expected to be able to read and evaluate complex social scientific articles, and to participate in groupwork activities. 


Sustainability is arguably the most important, the most intractable and the most daunting challenge of our generation—for which new answers and ways of thinking must be found. In this course we examine two inextricably inter-connected aspects of the challenge where social science theory and practice can provide insight and pathways to action: how to communicate successfully for sustainability, and how to use science and innovation responsibly.
In Part 1 of the course, we evaluate theories and approaches aimed at communication for sustainability. Why are sustainability issues so difficult to communicate? What strategies have been proposed to change individual and institutional behaviour? How can people be empowered to participate in sustainable futures? Sustainability, as a policy issue, is conceptualised as a ‘wicked’ problem: there is no single solution to the problem, it can legitimately be defined in different ways, and it is shaped by values. Traditional information deficit theories are therefore seen as limited in favour of those that focus on empowerment and emancipation, and forms of two-way dialogue.
In Part 2 of the course, we examine the challenge of using science and innovation responsibly. While science and innovation are needed to develop solutions for sustainability, they also generate new problems, risks and dilemmas. Science does not simply provide solutions to the grand challenges of our times; it also transforms social relations in a process of co-production. This presents a set of profound challenges for science. How can scientists share responsibility for the future impacts of their research? What new skills and capacities are needed to be integrated into the practice and culture of doing science responsibly? Using case studies that include genetically modified foods, synthetic biology, informational technology and geoengineering, we explore how early societal engagement can provide insight on important societal and ethical issues, and how it can be used to communicate for sustainability.
We adopt a ‘learning by doing’ approach. Students are taught how to design a mini-research project on a ‘wicked’ issue of their own choosing, using the anticipatory public engagement methodology. In teams, students choose and develop a researchable question, translate this into a focus group design, recruit, moderate and analyse a focus group with fellow students from outside the course, and develop the analysis into a presentation on a communication strategy for sustainability. In addition, students present a critical review of a piece of social science writing on a topical issue followed by a student-led seminar.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- evaluate social science concepts and theories on communication for sustainability;
- evaluate social science concepts and theories on responsible research and innovation;
- apply social science concepts and theories to the course profile;
- design a public engagement focus group project;
- design a communication strategy using the results of empirical research.


- lectures;
- seminars;
- group work;
- group presentations.


The grade will be based on:
- group work (50%);
- 2 individual papers (50%).
The marks of both have to be at least 5.5 for the student to pass the course.


The literature is provided in Brightspace.

Verplicht voor: BESEnvironmental SciencesBScA: Spec. A - Environmental Policy and Economics2AF
Keuze voor: BBNForest and Nature ConservationBScA: Spec. A - Policy and Society2AF
MESEnvironmental SciencesMSc2AF
Keuze voor: WUNCGBSc Minor Natural Resource Conflict and Governance2AF