STEPS begins a new four-year programme


The STEPS Centre at Sussex, part of the Pathways to Sustainability Global Consortium, is beginning a new four-year phase of work. Through a series of events and learning activities linked to research, we will focus on alliances and dialogue between scholarship and activism on sustainability issues.

This new 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 will be 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
Constructing knowledge and policy under conditions of uncertainty – from climate change to epidemics and more – is a challenge in our changing world. Uncertainties are often ignored or treated as simple risks, but a richer view of uncertainty can help to reveal neglected pathways and more flexible ways of responding to surprise.

2020: Natures
Resource politics – how people use, value, understand and come into conflict over natural resources – is an important part of STEPS work, including in our Resource Politics conference in 2015 and working with the POLLEN network on political ecology. A central theme will be the implications of how resources are viewed, valued and conserved, for example through financial mechanisms and conservation projects.

2021: Methods
Addressing 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.



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.

ERPI banner
The Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) will organise its first major event in March 2018.

In March 2018, on the theme of Transformations, we will co-host the event, Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World, to be held at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, and organised by the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative. The event, which explores the appeal of populist politics for rural areas and the potential for more progressive movements for change, will involve around 250 researchers and activists from across the world. The Centre will be centrally involved in documenting and sharing the results of the discussions, and in the follow-up work planned, including events in New Orleans (AAG) and Oslo (POLLEN).

On 14 May, the STEPS Annual Lecture at Sussex will be given by Kate Raworth, who through her ideas on ‘doughnut economics’ is helping to transform debates on economics and development.

In October, the STEPS Africa hub will host a workshop in Nairobi to discuss and share the results of the ISSC-funded Pathways Network, involving all Consortium hubs. This will include a publication sharing what we’ve learned about using innovative participatory methods in tackling complex, intractable problems in which people and other parts of nature are entangled.

Events for 2019, 2020 and 2021 will be announced – as well as a programme of smaller seminars and talks – as more details become available.

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.

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 (

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