Early Career Researchers Network Blog

UNESCO-BRIDGES: Bringing Humanities and Science Together to Meet Sustainability Goals

Dr. Luci Attala, Associate Professor in Social Anthropology, UWTSD

Building Resilience in Defence of Global Environments and Societies

UNESCO-BRIDGES (forthwith BRIDGES) has recently established its UK hub in the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David.

BRIDGES is prioritized programme established officially by UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences sector within the Intergovernmental Council of the Management of Social Transformations (MOST), which is one of UNESCO’s six international science programmes.  It was formed after its founding partners recognised that, despite best intentions, robust evidence-based projects are failing to effectively address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), making them unlikely to be reached by 2030.  Noting that product innovation and technological advances have less success than local, person-centred projects that dissolve the complex into bite-size solutions, UNESCO-MOST resolved to form an organisation able to gather and inspire Humanities-driven transdisciplinary sustainability science education and research that can allow local knowledge to inform national and international policy.

The goal of BRIDGES is to facilitate the creation of collaborative education and research that is focused on solving the social problems highlighted by the SDGs. It champions combining the methods and expertise of the humanities and arts with STEM subjects. UNESCO and MOST maintain that, to precipitate lasting change, solutions that incorporate human cultural and contextual differences must be produced.

Reaching this goal begins with concentrated attention on enabling the Humanities to influence the ways projects are designed and able to drive change but will ultimately require a paradigm shift that fundamentally reshapes the research ecosystem of universities, funding agencies, science communications, policy and decision making.

This paradigm shift is also underpinned by the understanding that knowledge from local non-academics7 is of utmost significance and that, until the diversity of forms of relationships with the environment are grasped in contextual detail, innovation will fail to be effective. Therefore, the first stage of moving towards the goal necessitates a mechanism that enables local voices to be heard. This will allow problems to be locally defined, for solutions to be developed in collaboration with communities, and for knowledge to emerge from vicinities in locally meaningful ways. This will contribute to the creation of new narratives that emerge from the diversity of human-environment relationships and avoid, for example, attempting to provide one-size-fits-all solutions to address environmental degradation.

“What we expect from BRIDGES intellectually is a rich understanding of sustainability as the organising framework for a new kind of science.”

How Does BRIDGES Function?

BRIDGES is comprised of an international coalition network that is embedded into Higher Educational organisations as Hubs that are designed to collaborate, feed and share opportunities across the network. BRIDGES currently has Hubs situated within Arizona State University, Club of Rome, University of Pretoria, UWTSD and a shared Hub between CUNY and Princeton University. Directors meet regularly with the Executive to discuss arising opportunities and locate necessary expertise across the coalition and within UNESCO and BRIDGES’ friends. Recent meetings with ADG Gabriela Ramos have confirmed that UNESCO is keen to support the coalition Hubs, even financially. The Hubs are expected to advertise, support and create communities that produce work that chimes with BRIDGES’ ambitions. This work will then be made known to and used by UNESCO and MOST to encourage policy and practice change. Success in this area is anticipated to change research council funding in a virtuous circle.

  • Sustainability science is concerned with the ways that people and the environment inform each other. Methodologically it relies on objectivity, measurements, data and modelling to make predictions.
  • The Humanities give voice to the influences of culture, perspective and the lessons of history. It uses stories, context and subjective accounts.
  • Humanities-driven sustainability science blends these approaches and values to ensure solutions have impact. HdSS recognises that solutions must understand the human stories underpinning problems if they are to be adopted.

What Benefits Does BRIDGES Provide UWTSD?

BRIDGES is able to source and funnel international research calls, funding and an extensive range of dissemination opportunities to its coalition members and Hub communities. It also offers endorsement to projects and initiatives that chime with their objectives.  Projects and initiatives endorsed by UNESCO-BRIDGES will be disseminated across UNESCO’s network and will be utilised by MOST and IPCC during intergovernmental discussions on sustainability approaches and social transformation policies.

Endorsement provides 4 important benefits:

  • the use of the organisational logo (even prior to funding),
  • opportunities to participate in UNESCO and BRIDGES international events,
  • dissemination through UNESCO’s vast and extensive network,
  • a direct route to inform intergovernmental policy.

BRIDGES established its UK hub in Wales and at UWTSD in association with the ground-breaking work coming out of the humanities in Wales with regards policy, the future, wellbeing, sustainability and the Materialities.   If you are interested in knowing more please visit https://bridges.earth/ and/or contact the hub’s Director, Dr Luci Attala, l.attala@uwtsd.ac.uk.