"Sort of best friends?" was the title of a conference which took place on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the IÖW and VÖW on 2 November 2015. The Ecological Research Network (Ecornet) – of which Ecologic Institute is a member – along with the civil society players Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), Brot für die Welt and Zivilgesellschaftliche Plattform Forschungswende hosted the event.
The conference was dedicated to the question of "Scientific and Civil Society Research for Sustainable Transformation". Within this framework, a workshop addressed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The central question asked: "How can science and civil society work together to contribute to implementation of the new development agenda?"
Dr. Marianne Beisheim (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik), Dr. Maja Göpel (Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie) and Dr. Klaus Seitz (Brot für die Welt) were panelists with moderation by Dr. Camilla Bausch.
The SDGs were generally regarded as a "reference system" e.g. for sustainability policies. In Germany they will concretely influence the reform of the German sustainability strategy. In this context, Goepel criticized that for political reasons the SDGs did not reference global limits. Beisheim, however, praised the fact that interconnections between topic areas and goals were more prominently highlighted in the SDGs than in the the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The panelist agreed that both science and civil society are needed to support the successful implementation of the SDGs. With a view to cooperation, the divergence of science and civil society forms the basis for the partnership.
Beisheim saw possible cooperation areas when identifying the right research questions and, if applicable, when communicating research results. However, when looking at the research itself, the autonomy of research is of fundamental significance. Seitz formulated this as follows: There are opportunities for cooperation in the context of formation and application; however in the context of grounds and reasons, science shall remain free from the influence of civil society.
It is in the interest of both groups that these limits remain clear. Only in this manner can civil society actors e.g. convincingly refer to scientific findings in order to strengthen and support their own claims. At the same time, civil society groups can try out alternative systems in a practical manner (civil society as change agent) – and thus become sources for research projects. As an example of successful cooperation, Seitz referred to the study "Zukunftsfähiges Deutschland" ("Germany – Fit for the future").
When looking concretely at the SDGs, many ideas for cooperation emerged, e.g. to identify common weaknesses and guide national implementation as well as identify conflicts and synergies between different goals. Goals could be specified (e.g. through meaningful indicators). In view of the soft-law character of the SDGs, the significance of transparency was underlined. Here, civil society could provide a particular role. This could be supported by science by analyzing and developing governance structures conducive to facilitate or alleviate civil society in filling a role of this nature.