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Understanding and assessing the societal impact of sustainability research: From state of the art to a process-oriented assessment plan

Sophie Peter

Summary: Sustainability research builds upon its mutual relationship with the society to find future oriented solutions to deal with societal challenges. In other words, it is a matter of research to produce societal impact. Furthermore, funders and researchers themselves increasingly desire for accountability, to show if societal impact is achieved. To deal with that, two adaptive questions have to be answered: How can societal impact be understood or defined? And what can be learned from theoretical and methodological approaches, as well as practical examples? Built on the answers through a comprehensive literature review and expert interviews, the third question is asked: How can the assessment of societal impact of sustainability-oriented Projects look in practice? The result is the development of a holistic framework on the project-level and its operationalization. It was tested on three cases of the Wuppertal Institute, which has the mission to be a pulse generator for a sustainable societal transformation. The results show that the tool is implementable and a start of an assessment series. Nevertheless, the lack of consensus about the theoretical background influences the design of practical applications. One significant development is the focus shift of the assessment towards the project process and its productive interactions. This enables to collect data about whether societal impact is produced, but also how. The results suggest that clear assessment boundaries are required to deal with uncontrollable externalities. Furthermore, a practical question of the thesis is, if the integration of directly involved stakeholders into the assessment provide an added value. This can be answered positively. But it should be also observed that financial and human resources are key challenges about the extent, as well as the processing of the results. The analysis indicates that to assess societal impact is a suitable instrument and a key step to deal with societal challenges. The developed holistic framework and its operationalization can be used to inspire future research.

Type: Theses

Theme: Evaluation and Research Methodologies

Contibuted by: Sana Shams, on: 8 Jun 2017

Downloads: 650

Download resource (pdf 3275 KB)

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