The final session of the Utrecht conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) was held in the Janskerk. It was a policy debate on the interplay between science and practice. I welcomed this as it is what I believe the IASC should be promoting.
The most heart-lifting moment was when Miguel Laborda-Pemán of Utrecht University presented the results of a meeting of young scholars the previous evening. Sixty young scholars had attended, the average age was 30 and nearly half of them were affiliated to institutions outside their home country: they are a mobile community.
Here is the slide.
Top of the list, under the heading ‘relevance’, is: To explore and make more visible the connection between research and social impact.
And under ‘communication’: With the general public to increase knowledge and awareness—activism and institutional barriers.
This is encouraging stuff. The young scholars are saying very clearly what they want from IASC.
This was reinforced by Jagdeesh Rao, head of India’s Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), who called for more action on the ground. He said that the divide between researchers and activists is international. ‘If science is going to pour new wisdom into village communities I have trouble. We’ve had four to five thousand years of castism—thinkers and doers have been reduced from humans to lesser humans. There is no method in the madness of the real world, how does science improve on method?’
I asked the platform team how they considered IASC should realise the excellent aspiration of the young scholars to bring together research and social impact and make the connection more visible. Marco Janssen, Professor at the School of Sustainability at Arizona University, chose to answer. He will take on the presidency of IASC in 2019, following John Powell from the Countryside and Communities Research Institute (CCRI) of Gloucestershire University, who is currently president.
Marco said that a lot of universities were not prepared to collaborate with practitioners, or at least were not willing to travel to do so. He said that we need to become less risk averse, we need a long-term strategy and we have to experiment—but he did not suggest that he would lead the IASC council in this activity when he is president.
This was a disappointing response. However, we have another 18 months of John Powell’s presidency and, with the young scholars snapping at council’s heels, I hope that much can be achieved.
Lima here we come!
And we can look forward to the next global conference to be held in Lima, Peru, 1-5 July 2019. It will be organised jointly by universities in Peru and Colombia. I joined the organisers at a breakfast meeting to discuss plans for this conference and was encouraged that practitioners will be at its heart. We are on the right road.