A Conference… and also a support group

Which conference provides a pre-event for networking, with a treasure hunt, deep listening and an exercise of prototyping joint superpowers? And welcomes you with a personalized and personal postcard? And where can you hear Karen O’Brien talking about quantum social change and Gogo Ndlanzi, African healer, putting everyone dancing around the beat of our ancestors? Which research meeting provides world cafe sessions, granting most of the presenters with 40 minutes of meaningful discussions with the audience? That restricts to vegan food and provides games for playing with leverage points? That explores theatre and
promotes coproduction of knowledge through timelines and fishbowl conversations? That creates pleasant atmospheres with live music during breaks and assures child care? That makes an astonishing effort of live visual harvesting of every insight that could help us to navigate complexity?

The Leverage Points 2019 – International conference on sustainability research and transformation (http://leveragepoints2019.leuphana.de) – took place in Lüneburg, Germany, organized by the Faculty of Sustainability of Leuphana University. Almost 500 students and researchers joined in the early days of February 2019 from across the world, daring to be an active facilitator of transformative change towards sustainability” and no mere “passive chronicler of the challenges of our times”. The last discussion in the conference ended with tears… how can we avoid them?! We are sitting “at a crossroad between tragedy and transformation” and this is not only an intellectual journey, it is mostly a personal challenge… One that can only be faced with better connections. Probably that’s why the treasure in the early hunt was “relationships”. Could all the conferences be as fruitful as this one, and no crisis will stand.

It is true that sometimes it looked like we were just juggling with words – when we tried to summarize the panel on sustainability transformations, the word that came was “dubidubidu”! Yes, in the end we are still capable of laughing on our own powerless efforts to find “the” leverage that could magically lead to fundamental changes in the world. As Ioan Fazey told us, maybe we need more “practical knowledge” on how to promote change. Or maybe we should be inspired by the choir that magnificently closed the event: could we make a difference if we direct some of the efforts of making original science into simply trying to be more attuned as sustainability scientists? Maybe it is not only about where to push, it is about pushing together.

Practical knowledge on how to foster interdependencies that might lead to a synchronization on the local efforts towards sustainability is exactly what our project – Municipalities in Transition – is trying to achieve. And it was an honor and a great opportunity to present it in the Leverage Conference. We also had the opportunity of chairing a session on “the role of local initiatives in leveraging change”. A very sensitive leverage point… that so many times we push on the wrong direction, as in the story shared by Donella Meadows in her inspiring essay (“Leverage Points Places to intervene in a system”). This conference was (also) a tribute to her work. And I am pretty sure she would be proud of seeing us (literally) dancing with paradigms.