Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre

The ESRC STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre carried out interdisciplinary global research uniting development studies with science and technology studies.

Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability Centre logo

The Centre’s mission was to highlight, reveal and contribute to just and democratic pathways to sustainability that include the needs, knowledge and perspectives of poor and marginalised people. The STEPS Pathways Approach linked theory, research methods and practice to highlight and open up the politics of sustainability.

The STEPS Centre’s work highlighted different responses to complex challenges like climate change, food systems, urbanisation and technology in which society and ecologies are entangled. STEPS research explored how poor and marginalised people can be involved in identifying and diagnosing problems, as well as deciding what to do. This often involves challenging power and assumptions, and exploring many different values, perspectives and possible futures through diverse methodologies.

The STEPS Centre was hosted in the UK by the Institute of Development Studies and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex. Its main funding was from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

STEPS worked as part of a Global Consortium with hubs in Africa, China, Europe, Latin America, North America and South Asia. Our research projects, in many countries, engaged with local problems and linked them to wider concerns.

The STEPS Centre’s Co-Directors were Prof Ian Scoones (IDS) and Prof Andy Stirling (SPRU). It is a partner in the Green Economy Coalition and Future Earth.

Current focus

From 2018-2021 the STEPS Centre and Global Consortium focused on four annual themes.

2018: 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)?

2019: Uncertainty

Uncertainties can make it hard to plan ahead. But recognising them can help to reveal new questions and choices. What kinds of uncertainty are there, why do they matter for sustainability, and what ideas, approaches and methods can help us to respond to them?

2020: Natures

Nature is all around us, but there are many ways of seeing different kinds of ‘natures’, and many efforts to involve it in forms of control or domination. How is talk of crisis shaping nature and people’s views of it? How can colonial forms of knowledge, technology and power be challenged, and what might it mean to ‘decolonize’ the study of environmental change? What do alternatives look like, and how can we explore, nurture, imagine and live the relationships we might want for the future?

2021: Methods

Many methods offer ways to link knowledge and action for sustainability. But there are intense pressures to close down and narrow the way knowledge is produced and used for instrumental ends. What methodological assemblages, frameworks, tools and associated ways of being could help challenge these pressures, open up to more perspectives and participation in research, and allow us to pursue more plural pathways to sustainability?

Find out more

Media enquiries

Nathan Oxley, Communications & Impact Manager, STEPS Centre E: [email protected] T: +44 (0)1273 915826 M: +44 (0)7702 884039


Amber Huff

Resource Politics and Environmental Change Cluster Lead

Dominic Glover

Rural Futures Cluster Lead

Hayley MacGregor

Research Fellow

Ian Scoones

Professorial Fellow

Jeremy Allouche

Professorial Fellow

John Thompson

Research Fellow

Lyla Mehta

Professorial Fellow

Andrew Stirling
Adrian Ely
Rose Cairns



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Recent work

Past Event

Sussex Development Lectures

Crisis, development and ecologies of the new commons

In response to acute crises and complex, long-term systemic challenges, structural violence, austerity and neglect, people around the world are coming together in commons. Communities of ‘commoners’ are reconfiguring relationships between society, technology and the non-human environment,...

7 December 2022


Stories of change from the STEPS Centre

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...

29 June 2022


What methods can help reveal more sustainable futures?

Many sustainability problems are serious and require urgent attention, but what to do about them is not always clear. The ESRC STEPS Centre’s new Methods portal includes a wealth of examples, case studies and resources to help guide researchers and others in using methods for pathways to...

1 June 2022


Five books on sustainability now fully open access

Five titles from the STEPS Centre’s Pathways to Sustainability book series have been made open access for the first time, making them freely available to download, read and share. The new open access titles include the first comprehensive discussion of the pathways approach, Dynamic...

30 March 2022