In a democracy sustainability challenges can be adequately identified, articulated, and discussed in a way that harnesses the plurality of society to develop solutions. In reality, however, democratic societies have so far failed to promote real change towards sustainability. Fostering transformations towards sustainable development will require democratic reforms and innovations.
The research area on "Democracy & Sustainability" seeks to understand which democratic governance structures and practices are effective in supporting sustainability transformations and to identify the associated challenges. Among other things, the area examines claims to justice and the position of marginalized groups within transformations, and the motives and mindsets of those who oppose democracy and sustainability. Guided by the Institute's transdisciplinary approach, researchers in this area experiment with various democratic innovations, especially participatory and deliberative processes.
The research group "Co-Creation in Democratic Practice" explores the transformative potential of democratic innovations and co-creative processes in fields of practice where different ideas for addressing societal challenges come together, for example in relation to public space and mobility. The group, which includes both process designers and policy analysts, also considers how participatory approaches to citizen involvement can complement political processes. Its activities are organized across three intertwining workstreams: research, prototyping, and communities of practice.
A second research group - "Regional Sustainability Transformations" - investigates political, social, economic, and cultural factors that foster sustainability transformations at the regional level, with a particular focus on regions shaped by carbon-intensive industries. The group's research focuses on sustainability governance and just transitions as well as individual and collective perceptions that foster greater sustainability. It also explores a wide range of participatory and deliberative processes in order to identify success factors and develop prototypes.
The research group "Democratic Governance for Ecopolitical Transformations" analyses the challenges and opportunities presented by democratic governance with a planetary horizon. This research is guided by questions such as: How does our understanding of the Earth system shape political spaces and planetary democratic agendas? What are the conditions for "ecological governance", not only of people but also of ecosystems? Issues such as the role of the commons, Indigenous activism, and populism are among the group's core themes.
The "Franco-German Forum for the Future" supports the efforts of local governments in Germany and France to accelerate socio-ecological transformations. Its thematic focus spans the fields of ecological transformation, resilience and sustainable urban planning. The project takes a bottom-up approach in its research and works closely with municipalities in France and Germany. Building on local knowledge and bringing together experts from academia, civil-society and public administration in co-creative processes, the researchers develop policy recommendations for the respective national governments.
The RIFS focal topic group "Justice in Sustainability" examines the different dimensions of justice and the role of justice claims within transformations towards sustainability. Against the backdrop of a narrative which suggests that concerns about justice are hindering urgent transformations, the group seeks to understand how and under what conditions the various dimensions of justice should be attended to in order to facilitate transformation processes towards sustainability far into the future.