Katharina Holscher - Transition Studies
Being passionate about nature and searching for a way she could contribute to a sustainable society, it was while studying for her Bachelor’s degree that Katharina realised she could actually do something about this professionally. For her Master’s degree, she decided to focus on Environmental Governance and Sustainability. She discovered that she wanted to pursue her passion through research, looking at how societal change towards sustainability can be realised and translating her insights into policy practice. In 2014, Katharina joined DRIFT (Dutch Research Institute for Transition). As a PhD researcher there she now studies processes and capacities for transformative climate governance in cities.
Between theory and real-world change
“DRIFT works in both a transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary way and combines research and consultancy, which makes it really innovative and extra interesting,” Katharina says. “We not only analyse change, we also organise settings to enable people to enter social learning processes and think about how they can make change happen by co-creating sustainable futures. DRIFT acts as something that could be considered a social enterprise (Dutch article): the institute invests its profits back into society.”
Holistic governance approaches
Her PhD research conceptualises and analyses capacities for transformative climate governance in cities. “It’s about searching for a holistic governance approach that enables the safeguarding of cities and citizens from shocks while promoting sustainability transitions,” Katharina explains. One way of achieving this is by coordinating actor networks to create synergies between different sectors and scales.
Katharina: “The transition perspective addresses climate change as a transformation challenge, not only looking at climate change in an isolated way but also at its connection to broader issues such as pollution, social equity and health. My focus is on the different actors, the governance processes that these engage in and their roles in achieving a transition towards a more sustainable, resilient society.” Her empirical research focuses on Rotterdam and New York City as examples for understanding what works well, discerning gaps and exploring the building of capacity towards transformative climate governance.
Creating safe spaces
One of the major insights she has gained from her research concerns the importance of creating safe spaces for innovation, sharing knowledge and collaboration. Katharina remembers being surprised by the amount of knowledge being used in cities that comes from research institutes such as DRIFT.
“These institutes play an important role in creating safe spaces where people can come together to openly discuss their issues and see the synergies between their different goals and try to connect these. So far, the successes and positive examples for transformative climate governance often stem from very driven, visionary individuals who bring innovative ideas to the table, try to connect people and seek new funding opportunities.”
Walking the extra mile
Both New York and Rotterdam, for example, have created a lot of green infrastructure projects such as rooftop gardens and storm water management projects. “These projects are great because they offer many benefits for climate adaptation, absorbing water and heat, while enhancing biodiversity, recreation opportunities and health,” Katharina says. “But at the same time, there’s this trend in Rotterdam of paving private gardens, creating impermeable surfaces, which is really detrimental to climate adaptation. It illustrates the importance of also reaching out to citizens.”
The New York case study similarly shows the necessity of a holistic approach to climate governance. Katharina: “It really needs to be considered that everything is connected, because every decision has so many implications on so many different levels.”
“The High Line in New York, for example, is a good green infrastructure project, but it also causes issues in terms of gentrification with the original inhabitants being driven out to make way for luxury apartments. It’s important to think of this connection between doing something good for the environment and the implications it might have for the local population.”
Different types of expertise
Katharina’s research is funded by the IMPRESSIONS-project [www.impressions-project.eu]; an EU-funded project consisting of a consortium of 25 European partner institutes. She also teaches at DRIFT’s Transition Academy and works on a number of other projects. Katharina: “At DRIFT, I get the opportunity to conduct my PhD research and build different types of expertise through working with a wide variety of people from different knowledge institutes on diverse topics.”
At first, it was challenging to get a grasp of the complexity and to connect all the dots. Katharina: “Doing the case studies really helped me link theory to practice. I like the idea that by doing this type of research I can really contribute something to making the world a better place from a holistic perspective.”
“I hope my research will inform policy-making practice and support governance of climate change and sustainability. It’s not, or at least not yet, about providing all the answers, but rather opening up questions in the light of this complexity.”