Interview with Pia Laborgne

by Ashley Colby/ SCORAI, Oct 2023

Overview of the Co-SFSC project: transdisciplinary, transformational, co-creative

Pia Laborgne of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) sat down with the project’s communications lead, Ashley Colby of SCORAI, to discuss the Co-SFSC Belmont Forum funded project, what it is, how it is designed, and the ways you can follow along.

Co-SFSC stands for Co-creating Sustainable Food Supply Chains, and it is a project that combines both research and transformation across five hubs: Germany, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey. The project has a unique contribution e.g. because the research on sustainable food supply chains includes a focus on cooperatives and the roles they might play along the supply chain and for its transdisciplinary approach and transformative ambition.

In each case, the hubs have a specific focus on one aspect of the supply chain in their local context, and work with local practice partners to do a sustainability assessment and identify a goal for transformation that is specific to their context. Pia explains that transdisciplinary means to work with practice, and integrate different kinds of knowledge into the project from the start on, really define the goals, the questions with practice partners, and having at each step somehow this cooperation, co-creation.” 

This transdisciplinary approach includes practitioners in the research process so that the work not only makes a substantive impact in the real world, the practitioners are an active component of the agenda and direction of the project at all stages, including initial design and development.

The project is also transformational. In the interview Pia explains, that the project is designed to make real world changes during the implementation,

[There are] “three kinds of knowledge of transformative research:

  • system knowledge
  • target knowledge, and
  • transformative knowledge.

We also want to have some pilot experiments locally with the practice partner. So really realizing something, initiating something, some change locally, together.

This differs from many research projects that can in some ways be extractive – of not only data, but resources and time – from local practitioners. In this way a transdisciplinary, transformational, co-creative project has a social justice component and also a bent toward action.

One challenge Pia foresees is the ability to remain organized and to communicate across languages (including disciplinary ones) and contexts. In some ways this project requires a deep empathy, that ability to not only translate across languages, but also different understandings of sustainability research language and then the practice language of the partners.

One way to combat potential misunderstandings and foster learning is to use a community of practice model in this research which, Pia suggests, recognizes that “each of us has different specialties and different expertise, [which] we can share with the others.” Throughout the project, all the various actors will “need to reflect together on what happens in the hubs, to transfer learnings, and to create a very good frame on project level. I think we have the chance to realize this.

Overall, the project with its emphasis on co-creating and transformation with the specific focus on cooperatives in sustainable food systems has a chance to provide a model for future research projects looking to not only advance our understanding of sustainability, but to play a role in bringing more sustainable practices into the world. Pia explains:

“It is very inspiring to see what at different places of the world is already happening, what is transforming. It's really, really exciting. Then also, I like very much also to work on here in the region, really concretely changing something to work with practice partners to think of how we, as researchers can contribute to sustainability, sustainability transformation. That's something I like very much.”