The STEPS Centre’s programme: 2018-2021

The ESRC STEPS Centre, part of the Pathways to Sustainability Global Consortium, is working on four annual themes from 2018-2021. Through a series of events and learning activities linked to research, we are focusing on alliances and dialogue between scholarship and activism on sustainability issues.

The four-year phase is made possible by the funding of the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), by our host institutions in the UK (the Institute of Development Studies and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex), and with the collaboration of our partners in the Global Consortium in Africa, China, Europe, Latin America, North America and South Asia.


Our work is structured around four themes, one for each year starting in 2018.

2018: Transformations

Animated image with dots swirling to make the letters of the word 'Transformations'

Faced with a series of social and environmental stresses and shocks, there are urgent calls for radical, systemic change. But, as past and present experience show, this can take many forms. What does it take to make sustainability transformations emancipatory (caring), rather than repressive (controlling)?

Read the introductory blogpost by Ian Scoones: Care or control? Four challenges for transformations to sustainability

Browse a collection of papers, articles and videos on the Transformations theme

2019: Uncertainty


Uncertainties can make it hard to plan ahead. But recognising them can help to reveal new questions and choices. What kinds of uncertainty are there, why do they matter for sustainability, and what ideas, approaches and methods can help us to respond to them?

Read the introductory blogpost by Ian Scoones: Embracing uncertainty: what are the implications for sustainability and development?

Browse a collection of resources on the Uncertainty theme.

2020: Natures

Nature is all around us, but there are many ways of seeing different kinds of ‘natures’, and many efforts to involve it in forms of control or domination. How is talk of crisis shaping nature and people’s views of it? How can colonial forms of knowledge, technology and power be challenged, and what might it mean to decolonize the study of environmental change? What do alternatives look like, and how can we explore, nurture, imagine and live the relationships we might want for the future?

Browse a collection of resources on Natures.

2021: Methods

methodsAddressing complex global challenges means challenging the way research is conducted and linked to action – from interdisciplinary to transdisciplinary methods and methodologies. We will explore the epistemic, practical and political challenges involved, focusing on transdisciplinary working and scholar-activist engagements around sustainability issues.

Visit the Methods theme.



Each year, the STEPS Centre and the other participants in the Global Consortium will organise one or more international events around the year’s theme.

Browse our events

Sharing learning

A group of people in a circle hold a group discussion outside
Summer School participants in 2014 stop during a ‘walkshop’. Photo: STEPS

Our annual Summer School on Pathways to Sustainability will continue to be held on the campus of the University of Sussex. The Summer School brings together a diverse group of highly-motivated doctoral and postdoctoral researchers working across disciplines, countries and cultures on sustainability issues. It is also an important point of contact between the six hubs in our Global Consortium.

The alumni association, which includes past Summer School participants and many researchers working with the Global Consortium, continues to grow and will be invited to contribute ideas and questions to debates around the four annual themes.

We’ll also be expanding and developing our open-access STEPS Learning website, which currently includes a course with lectures and readings on Pathways to Sustainability and a guide to research-activism links, created with the help of Summer School participants.


hand-drawn chart with maps, music, a heart and a farm
A participant-generated map of ‘values’ related to wetlands near Mexico City. Photo: Beatriz Ruizpalacio

STEPS is a platform for a number of ongoing research projects carried out by the Global Consortium and its partners.

Through the STEPS website and other channels, we will showcase more research as projects emerge, and continue to invite comment and debate from diverse voices on our blog.

View current projects

Get involved

We want to work with others interested in strengthening links between research and action on sustainability. If you have an idea or suggestion that you want to discuss, email Nathan Oxley ([email protected]).

You can also stay informed about STEPS by joining our mailing list and following us on Facebook or Twitter.