Insight 7: Open up, listen up, join up: The 3S way


The 3S approach is important and unique

The 3S kind of social science is not about following a formula or creating new buzzwords. Instead it involves taking a particular disposition to academic work and broader engagement.

We need new forms of public scholarship – an engaged (social) science undertaken with and for society. To address sustainability we must make constructively critical social science that is theoretically informed, practice-based and empirically-oriented.

In 3S we build on innovative qualitative research methods. That means we can provide better understandings of sustainability issues and empower the voices of multiple societal actors. This helps transform relations between science, society and policy in a fruitful way and help identify solutions and alternatives for sustainability.

This new scholarship requires working in collaboration with multiple actors and across disciplines. We need to be engaged and develop conversations with innovators in science, governments, civil society and business in collective experiments to bring forward responsible innovations for sustainability. We also need to bring together insights from multiple disciplines, including natural sciences, social sciences and humanities and develop transdisciplinary research for sustainability.

The 3S approach has several defining features. We work at the forefront of developing new understandings of sustainability processes and new conceptual frameworks for social sustainability. At the same time we also engage directly with the policy, business and civil society actors who form the focus of our research. We do this to create the new approaches to sustainability and societal engagement we promote. We are already busy helping to create the world we want to see but all of our interventions remain rooted in insights from our academic work.

We can’t put society into sustainability if we just stick to the old formulas

We need new forms of (social) science that are not separate from politics and society. These forms mustn’t conform to a simplistic linear model of impact where science attempts to speak truth to power. As responsible scientists, we need to recognise that impacts are non-linear, often unintended and should be anticipated rather than ignored or downplayed. This is always a two-way street: as engaged scientists we should expect to be impacted on as well as impacting others. We acknowledge this partiality, recognising our own assumptions and position, as well as the social and ethical implications of our research. Humility is a virtue.

We work at the interface between science and technology studies, human geography and political sciences, as well as linking with the natural sciences and humanities. That has enabled us to develop novel conceptual frameworks for understanding the dynamics of societal engagement with sustainability.

3S research has contributed to the development of better practices of societal engagement while helping to transform institutions and systems. Reflexive, transdisciplinary and engaged, that’s the 3S way.