Octasynthesis as a systems approach to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals

Sam Poskitt, Cathel de Lima Hutchison, Tony Hodgson, Christopher Lyon,
Nandan Mukherjee, and Ioan Fazey

Following the 2016 Facing the Future conference in Aberdeen, the authors compiled a report explaining the Octasynthesis methodology, pulling together the recommendations we made for the sustainable development goals, and exploring participants’ critical reflections on the Octasynthesis process. The following is a summary of the report. To read the full version click here.

Facing the Future (FtF) is an annual conference for early-career researchers, held by the
University of Dundee’s Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience (CECHR), The James Hutton Institute and the University of Aberdeen. FtF explores transdisciplinary ways of addressing complex human-environmental problems.

FtF 2016 focused on the theme ‘Realising Resilience’ and involved taking a synergic approach to understanding resilience in diverse fields. In FtF 2016 participants engaged in an Octasynthesis exercise, facilitated by Tony Hodgson and David Beatty from the International Futures Forum and H3 University, respectively. The Octasynthesis used an octahedron as a geometric metaphor to help participants identify and explore synergies across six UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Octasynthesis enabled participants to develop eight recommendations for reformulated
SDGs that reflect a more synergic perspective. These were:

  • Design cities that enable people to take responsibility for consumption and energy
    use.
  • Cultivate nature-based well-being at the local level through the creation of
    community-led ‘healthscapes’ that place prevention at the forefront of economic,
    ecological, and climate action.
  • Reduce demand for healthcare services and reduce consumption through equitable
    and responsible access to improved social services and infrastructure.
  • Develop infrastructure that enables community-led, bottom-up actions, supported
    by top-down mechanisms to integrate energy and life in order address climate
    impact.
  • Promote responsible consumption for healthy people and a healthy planet.
  • Design for proactive community ownership of energy, ensuring equitable
    distribution and support of multiple benefits to thrive not just survive.
  • Reinvent how we use our land, recognising our spatial limits: consume less energy
    and foster more life.
  • Design cities that support responsible households to reduce their ecological
    footprint; and foster healthy eating and mobility in cities.

Overall, the recommendations highlight the inadequacy of approaching the SDGs from a
‘siloed’ perspective, and point towards a need for a multi-perspective approach with a focus on collaborative action. The SDGs should be reformulated as mindful design principles that balance nature with the benign, aesthetic and creative aspects of society and culture, including careful consideration of intergenerational and spatial variations. They should emphasise the importance of smart, sustainable design for enhancing resilience, and should be underpinned by an ecological ethic to human-environmental interactions.  Approaches to meeting the SDGs should be collaborative, creative and care-based. Policy is therefore needed that acts as an enabler of collaborative action, rather than a controlling mechanism.

Participants were largely enthusiastic about the value of Octasynthesis as a tool for stepping out of disciplinary silos and exploring synergies across complex human and environmental issues. Participants were particularly enthusiastic about the focus on making ‘offers’ for collaboration. However, many participants felt the process failed to produce detailed recommendations for practical action.

To read the full report, click here.

Or for more information, contact Sam Poskitt: s.p.poskitt@pgr.reading.ac.uk

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