Public defence in Design, M.Sc Satu Lähteenoja

Public defence from the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Department of Design: New methods of co-design can be used to address sustainability challenges, increasing the understanding of systemic change among civil servants and policy makers and helping to think further into the future
Arrows describing future pathways reach towards the sustainable development goals.
Image: Annukka Mäkijärvi

Futures thinking and co-design needed to advance sustainability transformations in governance and politics 

To address major sustainability challenges such as mitigating climate change, halting biodiversity loss and tackling inequality, rapid policy and governance action is needed, and at the same time there is a need to look further ahead. However, the current political debate is often dominated by short-term economic interests. When looking only to the near future, it can be difficult to see the future price tag for not investing now to addressing sustainability challenges. 

Satu Lähteenoja's doctoral thesis "Advancing sustainability transformations – Co-design for sustainable development policies" focuses on sustainable development policies and promoting them through co-design at both national and city level. Forward-looking co-design methods have been developed and studied, but they have been mostly used separate from formal policy processes. In her doctoral thesis, Lähteenoja developed the transition arena method further. It allows ministries, cities and policy makers to identify systemic changes related to sustainable development in the medium term, around 10–15 years. 

The methodology was developed and tested as part of several strategic change processes, including the preparation of the National Sustainable Development Strategy led by the Prime Minister's Office Finland. The strategy aims at Finland achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The members of the Sustainable Development Commission who prepared the strategy co-created positive future visions and mid-range change pathways. As a result, they gained a better understanding of the complex systemic changes and the roles of different actors in sustainability transitions. 

The results show that the method can provide a space for facilitated discussions on also difficult topics such as conflicts of interest. For example, Finland's sustainable development strategy raises the conflict between the economy and the biodiversity loss, although it does not offer ready-made solutions. The study recommends the integration of forward-looking co-design methods into policy processes related to sustainability topics.

Title of thesis: Advancing sustainability transformations – Co-design for sustainable development policies

Doctoral student: Satu Lähteenoja
Opponent: Professor Per Mickwitz, University of Lund
Custos: Professor Sampsa Hyysalo, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, Department of Design

Thesis available for public display 10 days prior to the defence at:


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