Stories of change from the STEPS Centre

Published on 29 June 2022

A set of 11 new ‘stories of change’ charts the journey of the ESRC STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre since 2006 through major debates and movements on sustainability.

© Image: Marcus Mailov (cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

Since being co-founded by IDS Director Professor Melissa Leach, the STEPS Centre was co-hosted by IDS and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex and funded by the UK’s ESRC.  From 2006-2021 the Centre explored pathways to sustainability – showing the important roles that marginalised ideas, knowledge and forms of action could play in responding to complex social, technological and environmental challenges.

Along the way, STEPS was involved in many process of change, from local struggles to high-level international debates. The new Stories of Change explore some key themes from STEPS work, reflecting on what was learned together with partners and collaborators around the world. To find out more, explore the stories below.

  • The story of STEPS – exploring pathways to sustainability: In this introductory story, STEPS co-directors Ian Scoones and Andy Stirling reflect on a 15-year journey, and identify the key events, achievements and relationships that helped to shape the Centre’s work.
  • Pandemic politics: From avian flu and Ebola to the Covid-19 pandemic, STEPS research uncovered the controversies and politics of disease outbreaks and global health.
  • Climate change and low-carbon development: Responding to climate disruption is sometimes seen as a technical and scientific challenge. But achieving climate justice is about much more, as STEPS work on technology, cultures and social transformations shows.
  • Making futures: STEPS work on science, technology and innovation suggested how these could be shaped in more democratic ways. Insights from grassroots innovation movements show the vital role of relationships, values and shared ideas in innovations that point towards more sustainable futures.
  • From land grabs to the Anthropocene: From exposing land grabbing and carbon forestry, to debates about the Anthropocene and ecological crisis, STEPS work explored how people view and interact with the nature(s) around them.
  • Exploring pathways to sustainable agriculture and food systems: From different pathways for maize farmers, to debates around land grabbing, livestock, livelihoods and climate change, STEPS research has explored the complex politics of food around the world.
  • The hidden lives of cities: STEPS work on cities has shown how marginalised zones and excluded groups could play a more central role in sustainable urban futures.
  • Transformations to sustainability: confronting politics and power: To pursue sustainable futures, transformation is needed – not just incremental shifts or policy transitions. STEPS explored what this means in practice, recognising the role of politics, social justice and confronting incumbent power.
  • Why embracing uncertainty means rethinking approaches to sustainability and development: Uncertainty is all around – from climate change and pandemics to financial markets and insurance. But why are some forms of uncertainty often ignored or downplayed, and what difference can it make to recognise and appreciate them?
  • Reshaping development goals: The story of how STEPS intervened in global debates around visions and plans for sustainability, from Rio+20 to the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Navigating a tangled web: From Summer Schools to establishing a global consortium – the story of how we shared insights and learned from networks of researchers and practitioners around the world.

Find out more

To read comments by people the STEPS Centre worked with, visit the Reflections wall compiled in 2021, which includes feedback and memories from partners, collaborators, students and others.

To get an overview of all the stories, visit Stories of Change, and browse the full STEPS website for an archive of publications and projects, as well as methods and teaching resources.



Key contacts

Nathan Oxley

Impact Communications and Engagement Officer

+44 (0)1273 915826


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