The Transformations to Sustainability Project is the first project conducted by the North American Hub, a collaboration between Arizona State University (ASU), National Autonomous University of Mexico City (UNAM) and the STEPS Centre.  The primary goal of the project is to facilitate social transformation through the use of “Transformation Labs” (T-Labs) in Xochimilco, Mexico City. As part of this project, the lab in Mexico City will be linked to a series of parallel T-Lab activities around the world.

Xochimilco is a wetland within the Federal District of Mexico City. During the 20th century, rapid urbanization of the city has affected the wetland’s water resources and the livelihoods of people living there. The wetland provides important ecosystem services, such as flood regulation. It also has an important cultural value as home to one of the most diverse and productive agricultural systems – the chinampas (little islands of land maintained in shallow lake beds). Yet, despite decades of public policy and international recognition regarding the issues in Xochimilco, there is still no effective strategy for addressing the urbanization of the wetland.

We hypothesized that the problem itself is a function of the way it is framed by different actors. If so, one of our challenges was to open up the possibility of reframing the problem in order to collectively find novel strategies or pathways for addressing wetland degradation. We also posited that possible pathways and strategies are dependent on the agency of actors within the social-ecological system. This agency is associated with 1) the actors’ sense of responsibility and attribution, 2) their social networks (influence, connections, social capital), and 3) their knowledge, interests, values and beliefs. We proposed that the T-labs could create a collaborative arena where participants could discover and mobilize new forms of agency to address ‘rampant’ urbanization.

[image: Xochi1 Caption: Navigating the canals of the Xochimilco Wetland located within the Federal District of Mexico City. Credit: Lakshmi Charli-Joseph

We conducted the first T-lab in Xochimilco in February 2017. Participants included representatives from within Xochimilco, academics concerned with Xochimilco, people from Xochimilco or socially connected to Xochimilco, NGOs and one government representative. At the end of the first T-lab there seemed to be a general enthusiasm among the group members to continue working together and we have connected participants via a facebook group. In an attempt to make the T-labs truly co-owned and produced we are planning to base the second T-lab around participants’ suggestions. It is planned for June 2017.

Funding and timescale

This project, as part of the Transformative Pathways to Sustainability program, is funded by the International Social Science Council (ISSC). It began in 2016 and will continue until 2019.


Arizona State University (ASU)
National Autonomous University of Mexico City (UNAM)


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