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Facing the Future 2016 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

Centre for Human Resilience and Environmental Change (CECHR)

Summary 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.

Acknowledgements Thank you to: Prof. Ioan Fazey for initiating and supporting the Facing the Future conference every year; Henri De Ruiter and Karolina Gombert for coordinating an excellent Facing the Future conference in 2016; Tony Hodgson and David Beatty for facilitating the Octasynthesis and allowing us to use your material in this report; our funders, the Postgraduate School at the James Hutton Institute, Scottish Food Security Alliance – Crops, Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience; and finally, all the delegates who attended Facing the Future 2016, and to those who contributed their reflections to this report.


Table of Contents 1 Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 8

2 Octasynthesis Methodology............................................................................ 9

3 Key Outcomes from Octasynthesis................................................................ 16

4 Participant Reflections .................................................................................. 21

5 Conclusions ................................................................................................... 24

6 Appendix: List of Delegates ........................................................................... 25

Table of Acronyms FtF 2016

Facing the Future 2016


Sustainable Development Goals


1 Introduction The University of Dundee’s Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience (CECHR), The James Hutton Institute and the University of Aberdeen hold an annual conference for early career researchers entitled ‘Facing the Future’. Facing the Future 2016 (FtF 2016) was held from 30 th May – 1st June, with the theme ‘Realising Resilience’. The conference provided a platform to explore ‘interdisciplinarity’, ‘interconnections’ and ‘syntheses’ in resilience and transformations research; and also a space for networking. One of the main components of FtF 2016 involved the attendees participating in a ‘collective experiment’ to trial an ‘Octasynthesis’ (Hodgson and Beatty, 2016), a framework for guiding interdisciplinary exchange to improve the integration of interconnected but often siloed bodies of knowledge and practice. This framework was used to explore convergences and synergies in the context of six Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The objectives of this report are to (1) outline the new method used to explore synergies between SDGs; (2) report on the outcomes of exploring these synergies; and (3) reflect on the methodology used and how this can be employed for further integration work around the SDGs and for other contexts and issues. It is organised into the following sections: the first section introduces the Octasynthesis framework and summarises its origins and methodology; the next section highlights key outcomes that emerged from group interaction during the Octasynthesis; following this, participants reflections on the Octasynthesis are provided; and, finally, key findings are highlighted in the Conclusion.


2 Octasynthesis Methodology 2.1 Basis of the Project The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has seventeen goals and over 150 detailed sub-goals. Although the equality of priority of all these goals is affirmed and partnership is emphasised, there is little explicit recognition of the highly interactive and systemic nature of the global problematique. For example, a review published by the International Council for Science1 points out that the approach suffers from a ‘silo’ mentality that has not taken a systems science approach. A key theme of the Facing the Future 2016 (FtF 2016) conference was resilience, which is a property of life and society that requires cultivation through a whole systems approach. As a contribution to filling this gap, the practice session of the conference introduced a method through which an interdisciplinary research group can rapidly investigate and gain insight into some of the crucial patterns of interaction implicit in combinations of development goals. From these interactions new insights and syntheses are possible that can provide a basis for more effective action. This requires the design of methods of collaborative working that are not common in either policy or academia and yet are increasingly being pioneered in other contexts. The new method involved all delegates participating in a structured dialogue based around a geometry of interaction, that ensures significant patterns of connection between the goals are highlighted and propositions for integrative strategies for action recommended.


‘The goals are presented using a ‘silo approach’, that is, they are addressed as separate elements, mostly in isolation from each other. However, it is clear from systems science that goal areas overlap, that many targets might contribute to several goals, and that some goals may conflict. The goals are also addressed without reference to possible links with other goals. Since the SDG framework does not reflect interlinkages and cannot ensure that development takes place within sustainable levels of resource use at either the global or regional scale, it is possible that the framework as a whole might not be internally consistent – and as a result not be sustainable.’ Page 9 ICSU, ISSC (2015): Review of the Sustainable Development Goals: The Science Perspective. Paris: International Council for Science (ICSU).


Figure 1: Tony Hodgson presenting the Octasynthesis

2.2 Antecedents of the Octasynthesis Method FtF 2016 involved developing and applying a new integrative methodology, called ‘Octasynthesis’. The method is based on other approaches and understandings of systems, particularly as promoted by Stafford Beer, an eminent theorist, who developed a method named ‘Team Syntegrity’ in his quest for improving the effectiveness of organisations in the context of the Viable Systems Model. This had a novel structure based on using the three dimensional geometry of the icosahedron to structure a series of dialogues with a groups to 30 people (See Figure 2). The aim was to enable diverse viewpoints to be integrated into a synthesis, whilst still maintaining the variety of the group’s perspectives - an essential cybernetic requirement. This method demonstrated the effectiveness of using the power of geometric connection as a means of stimulating cognitive synthesis.

Figure 2: The icosahedron model has no hierarchy, no top, no bottom and no sideways and is a highly innovative tool for knowledge sharing, consensus building and conflict resolution whenever a large number of people is involved: in business, in politics and in every societal body, panel or committee.

Team Syntegrity was also inspired by systems theorist, Buckminster Fuller’s understanding of the power of the geometry of thinking. Fuller defined synergy as ‘behaviour of a whole system unpredicted by the behaviour of their parts taken separately’. It is clear that the list of 10

seventeen sustainable development goals provides limited insights into the behaviour of the whole planetary socio-ecological system and consequently attempts to achieve isolated targets that may have counterproductive effects arising from their seemingly specialised success. Local success is likely to be followed by failure of the whole. However, Team Syntegrity is complex and requires much more time than available in FtF 2016. The available time over two days was roughly the equivalent of one working day, hence the more compact design of Octasynthesis.

2.3 The Structure of Octasynthesis The octahedron model also has no hierarchy, no top, no bottom and no sideways. It is therefore an innovative tool for seeking synthesis between a cluster of six topics which represent the complexity of a wicked problem or problematique, integrating science knowledge and transformational practice. The encoding of topics to the structure is different from that in Team Syntegrity in that they are assigned to points (nodes) of the octahedron. This enables a selection of six of the SDGs to be brought into strong relationship and the implications for systemic synthesis explored. How the selection was arrived at will be described in the next section. Ahead of FtF 2016, participants were asked to complete a survey of which SDGs were most relevant to their individual research. Based on the results of this survey, a selection of six SDGs were selected, which best matched the researchers’ interests and represented a reasonable approximation of a socio-ecological system: 

SDG#3 Good Health and Wellbeing: Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all.

SDG#7 Renewable Energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

SDG#11 Sustainable Cities and Communities: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

SDG#12 Responsible Consumption: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

SDG#13 Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

SDG#15 Life on Land: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.


Each participant was allocated an SDG linked to their research interests, which they subsequently represented in the process. Each SDG was colour-coded and represented by a node on the octahedron, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Sustainable Development Goals as Nodes on the Octahedron

Octasynthesis involves four phases, as shown in Figure 4: 1. Familiarise participants with content of the SDGs. 2. Explore eight different combinations of three SDGs (rounds); to produce eight triangles (see Figure 4). 3. Gather the eight triadic perspectives. 4. Reflect on the overall synthesis in search of a holistic perspective.


Figure 4: The Four Phases of Octasynthesis

Phase 1 The 30 participants were divided into six groups of five, with each group taking responsibility for one SDG, based on their preferences from the survey. Each group familiarised themselves with their SDG and selected three sub-goals to focus on. Each then subsequently modified their three sub-goals to reflect a more synergistic perspective. Phase 2 Phase 2 consisted of four rounds of three complementary groups exploring synergies across their respective SDGs. Initially, two groups developed new sub-goals that focused on synergies across their respective SDGs. For example, the group representing Life on Land explored synergies with the group representing Good Health and Wellbeing. Once the two original groups had come to an agreement, a third group introduced their sub-goals to the synergy. The two original groups then had to make an ‘offer’ to the third node that incorporated the sub-goals of all three nodes. For example, the groups representing Life on Land and Good Health and Wellbeing, had to make an offer that incorporated the sub-goals of Climate Action. The resulting offer was: ‘develop ‘healthscapes’ which combine universality of healthcare and environmental health, with a focus on prevention’. Phase 3 At the end of each round, the offers were presented and the groups developed a recommendation for a new SDG, which reflected a more synergistic perspective. For example, the recommended SDG representing the synergy of Life on Land, Good Health and Wellbeing, and Climate Action was: ‘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’. In this way, eight triangular perspectives were constructed over four rounds, that each represented synergies between three nodes. The pattern of interactions between different SDGs is represented in Figure 5, where each node represents an SDG, each triangle represents the synergy of three nodes, and the fourth node represents the recommended, synergic SDG.





Figure 5: Pattern of Interactions between different SDGs

Phase 4 Once the rounds had been completed, all groups came together in a plenary session to reflect on the synergic patterns that had emerged from the process. The recommendations that resulted from each round were presented to the entire group. The participants reflected on each recommendation in turn and then highlighted general themes for how a more synergic perspective could be taken to the SDGs. The overall pattern of work for the Octasynthesis is represented in Figure 6.


Figure 6: Overall pattern of work for Octosynthesis

3 Key Outcomes from Octasynthesis The facilitated Octasynthesis, drawing on the six SDG nodes, involved two rounds of group




combination clusters of three of the SDGs. Each node was split in two, with each tasked with engaging with another half-node, so that they might cooperate to synthesise the relationships and objectives between their SDGs, and provide an innovative offer to a third SDG. These syntheses

were then

distilled into eight final recommendations focused on how to address the six SDGs in a more joined-up way. The items below are the recommendations that emerged from this process. For example, 1A is the result of synthesis of issues that emerged in the three following SDGs: Renewable Energy, Responsible Consumption, and Sustainable Cities. Through the Octasynthesis process, a more nuanced and integrated perspective emerged, that proposed that the emergence of ecologically sustainable and economically equitable cities, is contingent on the pillars of smart and ethical design, with particular emphasis on resource efficient economic relations and the need to transition to renewable sources of energy as rapidly as possible; empowering citizens to enjoy equitable access to urban infrastructure and the many benefits that come with aggregating human resource; promoting and, where appropriate, regulating for responsible consumption. In the recommendations below, the first line details the overall recommendation, and the remaining three points are the ways in which different combinations of two of these SDGs can support the third. 1A Energy – Consumption – Cities Design cities that enable people to take responsibility for consumption and energy use. (1) Provide equitable access to energy infrastructures, including creating back-up energy buffers and renewable energy sources; (2) Position sustainable cities in a circular economy that will reduce energy demand and thus decarbonise the energy system; (3) All infrastructure, from conception to completion, should be built to ensure responsible consumption along the entire value chain.

1B Life – Climate – Health 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. (1) Protect and develop inclusive/accessible nature-based solutions; (2) Cultivate community-led policy making and implementation in relation to climate change, health and the environment; (3) Develop ‘healthscapes’ which combine universality of healthcare and environmental health, with a focus on prevention. 2A Consumption – Cities – Health Reduce demand for healthcare services and reduce consumption through equitable and responsible access to improved social services and infrastructure. (1) People should be empowered to take responsibility for consumption and health, thus making cities and communities more resilient; (2) Design sustainable or better health and less demand for services; (3) Facilitate equitable access to well-being infrastructures building responsible and locally appropriate services for risk reduction and considered consolidation. 2B Energy – Climate – Life Develop infrastructure that enables community-led, bottom-up actions, supported by topdown mechanisms to integrate energy and life in order address climate impact. (1) Leverage corporate and community interests for climate action on energy and ecosystems services; (2) Include access to clean energy in capacity building through, and for, nature-based solutions to maximise multiple benefits; (3) Encourage community-led, decentralised, renewable energy generation with highlevel strategic support for bottom up approaches and knowledge sharing for a transitional grid back-up. 3A Consumption – Health – LIfe Promote responsible consumption for healthy people and a healthy planet: ‘A little less conversation and a little more action’ (1) Enable a cycle of positive reinforcement where less consumption and waste leads to more sustainable environmental relationships  which leads to healthy ecosystems  which leads to healthy people with a greater sense of environmental responsibility  which, in turn leads to less consumption…;


(2) Promote healthy and sustainable consumption that creates more space for nature; (3) Promote a cultural shift to a ‘less = more’ ethic 3B Cities – Climate – Energy Design for proactive community ownership of energy, ensuring equitable distribution and support of multiple benefits to thrive not just survive. (1) Design cities that facilitate community-led actions to harness renewable energy as part of a strategic package of mitigation/adaptation reforms (scales, sectors thrive); (2) Promote equitable access in cities to renewable energy technology and design for multiple benefits; (3) Develop decentralised renewable energy and community energy infrastructure in order to facilitate community-led design. 4A Life – Consumption – Energy Reinvent how we use our land, recognising our spatial limits: consume less energy and foster more life. (1) Plant trees and facilitate healthy ecosystems as part of a nature-based solution to energy and material production and consumption; (2) Promote lower meat consumption to create space for clean energy production; (3) Promote reuse and recycling and reduce energy consumption, in order to improve energy efficiency and reduce impacts on ecosystems: ‘a little less generation and a little more storage’ 4B Health – Climate – Cities Design cities that support responsible households to reduce their ecological footprint; and foster healthy eating and driving in cities. (1) Reduce footprint associated with food chains, safeguarding and promoting equal access to healthy diets and social enterprise in urban areas; (2) Design and implement community-led climate actions across city-scale, to maximise multiple benefits from ecosystems and to public health; (3) Create sustainable cities for healthy people and responsible decision-making towards more effective climate change prevention.


3.1 Synthesis These recommendations were synthesised into a series of thematic observations that together articulate a way of thinking about the SDGs that points towards developing effective policy and smart design, underpinned by an ecological ethic. 3.1.1 Effective Policy These recommendations are meant to facilitate ways of thinking through the relationships between different SDGs in order to contribute to more nuanced policy and practice. In doing so, it is necessary to understand policy as an enabler rather than a controlling mechanism, so that different SDGs can be effectively engaged through the same kinds of initiative. Policy should therefore be enacted to create a window for transformation that allows for collaborative, creative, and care-based approaches to meeting the SDGs. Intergenerational and spatial dimensions are part of this, and ought to be incorporated into design principles that balance nature with the benign, aesthetic and creative aspects of society and culture. In practice, this likely means deliberately taking a multiple perspective approach to any issue and developing collaborative ways of effectively moving from knowing to doing. 3.1.2 Smart Design During the course of FtF 2016, the importance of smart design in enhancing resilience and facilitating social-ecological transformations, emerged as a key theme laced through all the syntheses generated during the Octasynthesis. Here, sustainable design was conceptualised as a process for empowering localised human and non-human communities to create more sustainable futures; a process which nevertheless requires high-level support – incentives and regulations where appropriate – and the accessible provision of affordable green technologies, to enable genuine transformations to occur at the necessary planetary scale. 3.1.3 Ecological Ethic Analysing the SDGs through a process of interdisciplinary exchange, enabled participants to perceive the interconnections that exist across time and space between areas of production and consumption, supply and demand. This led to insights that true sustainability is best reflected in an ecological footprinting approach, in which following ecological ethics is considered every bit as important as pursuing economic growth and technological development. Here, cities, and urbanisation in general, emerged as a key sustainability challenge of the 21st century. Cities need to reduce their ecological footprints and citizens need to become responsible and sustainably-minded consumers. For the former, renewable energy, circular economies and ethical supply chains, hyper-dense urban developments, mass transport systems, and urban farming are some avenues for achieving sustainability at the city-scale. For the latter, equitable access to affordable and sustainable housing, healthcare,


transport, and food is key. This means putting in place mechanisms to encourage a ‘less=more’ ethic amongst those who already have the means to use these services in a sustainable manner; and empower those who do not, through targeted efforts such as encouraging the creation of well-paying jobs (and perhaps leverage mechanisms such as a national basic income) and making sure urban regeneration developments prioritise improving the lot of those with the greatest needs, rather than subsiding into gentrification and inflated house prices.


4 Participant Reflections After Facing the Future 2016, attendees were asked to write a short reflection on their experiences of Octasynthesis. We received a total of sixteen reflective paragraphs. We conducted a qualitative thematic analysis on the data from these paragraphs using NVivo software. This involved coding the reflections to identify




participants found interesting, what they found challenging, and what impact the octasynthesis had on them and on how they viewed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The findings are categorised into six themes: greater awareness of complexity in resilience, importance of transdisciplinary collaboration, the value of Octasynthesis, implications for the participants, implications for the SDGs, and weaknesses of Octasynthesis.

4.1 Greater awareness of complexity in resilience One participant expressed how, for her, the conference highlighted how resilience can have multiple interpretations and mean different things in different contexts. Octasynthesis encouraged participants to view the world ‘through various systems and interactions’, which enabled them to identify new solutions, connections and creations between different contexts of resilience. For example, one participant came away as an advocate of sustainable cities, despite not having considered this subject before. Another emphasised how Octasynthesis particularly encouraged a greater awareness of complexity, through the introduction of the third node (the ‘offer’) just when the initial two nodes had come to an agreement.

4.2 Importance of transdisciplinary collaboration Participants’ reflections were unanimously underpinned by a sentiment that disciplinary approaches to resilience are no longer fit for purpose in a highly complex and dynamic world. This was vividly articulated in the statement: ‘we can only face

‘Bringing people together like Facing the Future does, creates space for being able to be resilient towards each other; and in a way, we realised we need to adapt with our discipline to the work of others; and informed negotiation helps to do so.’

the future with all minds and hands on deck.’ For one participant, Octasynthesis promoted the need to be transdisciplinary, rather than just interdisciplinary, such that multiple knowledges and approaches for realising resilience are incorporated from the outset. Many participants expressed that Octasynthesis encouraged a


proactive consideration of how transdisciplinary approaches can reap multiple benefits through the involvement of actors from different sectors, or as one participant stated, Octasynthesis enabled participants to become ‘conscious together of the competency in our connection’.

4.3 Value of Octasynthesis Several participants were enthusiastic about the focus on dialogue and compromise in Octasynthesis. One group member was taken by the emphasis on: ‘cooperation, negotiation and

‘I can confidently say that it was the most stimulating and worthwhile interaction I have been engaged in since I started my PhD.’

synthesis, rather than dialectics and prioritisation’. Another reflected that synthesis was made easier by the centrality of the question ‘how can we help you?’ rather than the vice-versa, and the emphasis on the edges and centres of the octahedron rather than the specialist nodes. Two participants described how they found the importance of compromise and making offers helpful. Similarly, one group member was interested in how the process of making ‘offers’ to the third node forced people to step outside their comfort zones and balance different perspectives. Octasynthesis enabled participants to identify common ground between different fields and concepts. For example, realising that ‘nature is technology’, rather than necessarily contradictory to it. Three participants expressed how this focus on synergies created a positive mindset that enabled a greater willingness to explore alternative futures.

4.4 Implications for participants Most participants reflected on how they had developed a greater awareness of different perspectives. One participant described how the diversity of perspectives in attendance created an ‘enlightening’ experience. Another experienced

‘The main benefit for me was that by exploring synergies and facilitating collaboration a more positive mind-set was created and that helped to imagine what kind of future is possible if we work together.’

particular moments where ‘new concepts and language emerged which may help a more systemic view of human beings in a non-separate world’. In particular, he gave the example of ‘healthscapes’, a concept which emphasises the interconnectedness between human and ecological health. Several participants were encouraged by the realisation that when researchers emerge from their comfort zones, they can generate genuine innovation through transdisciplinary work. However, for one group member, the process also highlighted a need to be open and honest about trade-offs in the pursuit of resilience and sustainability.

4.5 Implications for SDGs 11

Some participants reflected on a number of implications for how they thought about the SDGs. One group member suggested that Octasynthesis created a new space in which to explore the SDGs. Another observed how Octasynthesis revealed an ecological ethic connecting the SDGs. Working with the SDGs in Octasynthesis provided insights into the difficulties of formulating policy across different fields and interests and how fragile agreements in policy work can be. One participant summarised the implications for the SDGs, suggesting they should be viewed as ‘mindful design principles’, and used to think about ‘local implications and implementation of a set of global goals’.

4.6 Weaknesses Although participants’ reflections on Octasynthesis were largely positive, some participants highlighted areas in where the process could be improved. One highlighted that there are an infinite amount of things to know in the world, and it is therefore impossible to achieve a complete understanding through any amount of synthesis. Others highlighted that the process of working out the right wording for synthetic statements was time-consuming, exhaustive and resulted in a loss of detail. In the same vein, one participant viewed the synthesis as a ‘glued-together collection of conceptual bits and bobs rather than a transformative idea’. Another felt this sometimes led to ‘tepid consensus’ and pursuit of the easiest goals, rather than engaging in the messy process of real transformation. Several participants asserted that Octasynthesis did not bridge the gap between thinking resilience and doing resilience, and argued that the SDGs still require linking

‘It was questionable whether the synthesizing exercise made the SDGs any more legible or translatable into workable policy and practice.’

to real-world, localised and practical solutions in order to be successful. Similarly, one participant suggested that the process would benefit from a ‘reality check’, by trying out transdisciplinary thought in a real world context, and working through all the obstacles it would face. In contrast, however, another group member emphasised that the embodied process of Octasynthesis did enable participants to ‘problematize in a real world context’. It was suggested that the next conference could focus on a particular design problem to make the outcomes more practice-oriented.


5 Conclusions Integrating diverse bodies of knowledge and practice is vital to the performance of interdisciplinary research and for effectively informing policymaking in a highly complex world, characterised by dynamism, uncertainty and contingency. The Octasynthesis, trialled during Facing the Future 2016 (FtF 2016), was designed to rise to the challenge of creating a framework fit for the purpose of negotiation, collaboration and synthesis in interdisciplinary exchange. During the trial, participants reflected that the framework was effective in enhancing awareness of the complexities around the pursuit of resilience and in operationalising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The emphasis on areas of convergence between SDGs and on making ‘offers’, was viewed as an effective avenue for creating transdisciplinary understanding and aligning interests, as well as helping researchers take the necessary step outside their disciplinary silos. There was, however, a sense that time was a key limiting factor in refining the syntheses and that broadening the number of SDGs included in the exercises would have provided further insights. The recommendations produced in the Octasynthesis are means of facilitating ways of thinking about the synergies between different SDGs in order to inform development of more nuanced policy and practice. In doing so, policy needs to be understood as an enabler rather than a controlling mechanism, so that different SDGs can be effectively engaged through the similar initiatives. A key theme that emerged from the Octasynthesis was the importance of smart design for empowering localised human and non-human communities to create more sustainable futures. The Octasynthesis also revealed the interconnections that exist across time and space, between areas of production and consumption, supply and demand. This led to the insight that real sustainability is best reflected through an ecological footprinting approach, in which the importance of following ecological ethics is considered equal to that of pursuing economic growth and technological development. While suggestions for high level objectives and innovations, in keeping with the spirit of the SDGs, burgeoned, many participants expressed some frustration at both a lesser engagement with the reality of trade-offs when pursuing resilience, and also more concrete examples of how interdisciplinary approaches are being used to effectively transform sustainability challenges. As such, it was proposed that Facing the Future 2017 should include a strong focus on exploring the pursuit of ‘resilience in practice’ with attendees tasked with bringing examples from their own research to include in a follow-up to the Octasynthesis; forming a seamless link into the Transformations 2017: Transformations in Practice conference occurring in Dundee at the immediate aftermath.


6 Appendix: List of Delegates Name


Annette Moir

University of Aberdeen

Aster de Vries Lentsch

University of Edinburgh

Bridget Menyeh

University of Dundee

Cathel Hutchison

University of Dundee

Chris Lyon

University of Dundee

Daniel Leybourne

University of Dundee

David Beatty

H3 University

Eleanor Murtagh

University of Strathclyde

Emma Bryder

University of Dundee

Erica Dello Jacovo

James Hutton Institute

Esther Carmen

University of Dundee

Georgia Newmarch

Lancaster University

Glenn Page

University of Dundee

Hannah Kent

University of Leeds

Henri de Ruiter

University of Aberdeen; James Hutton Institute

Ioan Fazey

University of Dundee, CECHR

Jane Page


Jennifer williams

University of Dundee

Joshua Miska

James Hutton Institute

Karolina Gombert

University of Aberdeen

Kate Crinion

University of Ulster

Lorenzo Gangitano

Anglia Ruskin University

Louise Henderson

University of Dundee; CECHR

Marcus Lange

University College Cork

Michela Faccioli

James Hutton Institute

Mike Bonaventura

Crichton Carbon Centre, University of Glasgow

Misan Afinotan

University of Dundee

Nandan Mukherjee

University of Dundee

Natasha Falconer

University of Aberdeen

Nora Morocza

University of Glasgow

Ralph Throp

Scottish Government

Samuel Poskitt

University of Reading; James Hutton Institute

Santosh Gaihre

University of Aberdeen

Shaun Moran

University of Dundee

Suraj Paneru

Robert Gordon University

Tony Hodgson

International Futures Forum; Decision Intergity


Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience Research Report 2015-1 University of Dundee Dundee DD1 4HN, UK Tel: +44 (0)1382 388692 Email: Web: Twitter: @cechr_uod Facebook:


Facing the Future 2016 Report  

Poskitt et al 2016 Octasynthesis as a systems approach to the U N Sustainable Development Goals

Facing the Future 2016 Report  

Poskitt et al 2016 Octasynthesis as a systems approach to the U N Sustainable Development Goals