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SUS-RURI Reflections

Published onDec 24, 2019
SUS-RURI Reflections
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A few insights gleaned from our discussions suggest we need to create a “Confluence of Institutions” to address water challenges across the city and rural gradients of the Mississippi River Watershed. This coming together across scales to address the complexity of the social and ecological system should not forget the critical linkage with rural landscapes and rural communities. As one participant reflected, “Cities need to be connected to rural areas.” To recognize and realize this connection, we will need a fundamental transformation (re-design) of the interactions and the actors. As another participant imagined, to get there, we will need “mudlarking”. For me, this sounds like fun, and yet I will need tolerance for messiness and moments of blindness. Where does this happen?

One Path forward

Where to start in order to transform the institutions that hold us in place, repeating practices that do not address anticipated future challenges? I wonder from a blending of multiple literatures and experiences what the role of three key components could be: aligned expectations, reflexive learning, and the function of practice.

Articulated expectations for the change and future outcomes must exist across scales, and for institutional transformation, these need to become aligned expectations in order to transform a system.

Social learning occurs by listening to ‘the other’, whether the other is a farmer, scientist, homeless person, youth, decision-maker, or designer. Learning should be uncomfortable at moments. It should push toward reflexive learning: Learning that causes us to think beyond the known, to challenge our version of the truth, to recognize the diverse perspectives on a problem and hopes for the future. Reflexive learning occurs through vibrant, essential discussions among practitioner, public, and scientist networks with multiple nodes that create exchanges with ‘the other’ and across scales.

Moments of perturbation challenge the status quo and our assumptions that “this is the way we do it” or “this is the way it is.” Through cross-scalar networks, we need to capture these moments of perturbation (e.g., extreme rain events, rapidly-rising housing costs), to explore and experiment together, or even to cause perturbation at the mico-scale and use the function of practice together to imagine and experiment with the future. To imagine through creation, a different way of doing things will emerge at different scales.


This event is supported by the National Science Foundation, Award #1929601. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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