2021. 04. 20.

A Brief Talk with Petra Wagner

Petra Wagner

  • Senior Expert Advisor and Deputy Head of the Center of Innovation Systems and Policy, AIT Austrian Institute of Technology
  • Research interest: responsible research and innovation, theories and practices of social systems change, novel ways of policy and governance designs, catjects
  • Co-Change WP2 leader on building a platform for mutual learning and capacities for transformative change
  • Founding member of the Austrian RRI platform
  • Visit on LinkedIn

The central task of WP2 is to create and run a mutual learning platform for the Co-Change Labs. How did you start building it up?

I always start with both a good theory and lots of good practices. The theory was already in my backpack: a general systemic approach combined with one for building transformative capacities was the “theory of change”. Yet also context matters. In the Co-Change project, we deal with many contexts: the lab which is embedded in the home organization, the innovation ecosystem, and society at large. To make the theory actionable, we developed guidelines which needed to be sensitive to the diversity of contexts and perspectives among the Labs. So, in the beginning we listened very closely to what the lab teams have been experiencing so far in their organizations and what they're aiming for in their change labs. This way we created a sound basis for the first of the four Forums which are the backbone of the platform. Forums are larger-scale events based on active participation and a peer-to-peer focus. Lab teams are at the heart and since they aim at building change coalitions with ecosystem partners, these coalition partners were also invited to the Forums.

Can you mention the phases the project architecture was designed along?

This is a kind of transformation process along four main phases to help to make a deeper change, not just a superficial one, as we really want to make a difference at the system level. The first phase is about better understanding of the system the Labs are part of (system awareness & reflection). What is their ecosystem like in which they are embedded, what is their own personal role and aspiration?) The second phase looks more towards the aspired future (vision & anticipation). Where are you standing and what do you want to achieve in the future? What is the vision you have? And that’s the point where you can involve partners and look at the future together. You may have a common agenda and support each other. The third phase is what we call the experimentation phase. This is where the labs start testing and piloting meaningful new practices, routines, etc. This is where they also gain first experiences what works and what doesn’t work. The last phase is where labs will work on stabilizing around what they have piloted. And what can be actually translated into an innovation – so really new routines, norms, and practices - that could be embedded in their own organization (innovation embedding). That will most frankly be the toughest stretch of the road. This is what we learnt from previous RRI projects. These four phases are not necessarily taking place one after each other, obviously they overlap. Yet taken together and linking them to all RRI process dimensions, this would lead to an institutional change what we are all working on for in the Co-Change Project.

How do you link the labs to exchange their experiences?

We closely collaborate with work package 3 which is really working with them individually. We organize forums (online of course) which is the core element of this platform to learn where the labs are standing, what their needs and expectations are and how to best serve these. And also to provide some kind of novelty and inspiration for their work. Here they learn from and with each other and mutually support each other as a community of practice. Learning and facilitation are the core design and delivery principles of the platform. So, for example, there are different orders of learning - from incremental to transformational – which we translate into methods and so offer to lab teams. The Co-Change Sounding and Advisory Boards plays a vital role as well when they share their experiences as inspiration (and are also inspired themselves by the Labs). With each Forum we try to cater to the different learning styles and needs. With the Covid pandemic and the resulting travel restrictions, however, we had to fast-track the transition from physical facilitation, which relies on participants to be at the same place at the same time, to digital facilitation, where we encourage active conversations and at the same time giving participants time to reflect. And we also had to think how to best make up for social connectivity among participants, which translates into increased motivation and engagement.

The Co-Change Project started a year ago. Can you tell us some results that you achieved in WP2?

In Co-change each research performing and funding organization works on new practices, norms, routines so that ultimately research and innovation becomes better linked with the values, needs and expectations of society. And the design of the platform tries to mirror this ambition. The lack of definitive answers for societal challenges facilitates the process of learning and developing. When it comes the distant future we are equally ignorant. At the same time, it may give purpose to what we are doing. So, in Forum 1, we developed different visions of life in 2035 and beyond which may serve as starting point for creating new meaning and new narratives for societal challenges. These visions of a future society serves as reference if you will for the kinds of topics and solutions the Labs are working on (such as machine learning) or the main stakeholders they are working with (such as academic entrepreneurs or students). And all Labs co-created a roadmap and action plan for their work. Overall, I think that we’ve really succeeded to create a learning space and that the platform is indeed useful for the Labs, and that’s what is all about after all.