Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Look to the High North for inspiration on fourth mission of co-creation

Friday 24 Nov 23

There is currently a movement within the literature that calls for far more academic engagement with sustainability as a topic. Universities, it is argued, should be going beyond their conventional missions of teaching, researching and disseminating and aiming to introduce a fourth mission of co-creation into their operations. Going forward, we can benefit from looking to the High North for inspiration, as co-creation as an academic mission already exists widely throughout the Arctic region.

The above is how Martin Mohr Olsen hopes his finding from his PhD project "Fourth Mission and Post-Sustainability Oriented Innovation in the Arctic" could benefit scholars, managers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and society in general.

We also asked Martin the following questions:

Give us an elevator pitch of your project

Based on my own professional experiences from the University of the Faroe Islands and work done there in conjunction with attempts to introduce sustainability within the university, and my extensive work with and within the Arctic region, I question definitions of sustainability in terms of local contexts and search for actionable frameworks that can aid in sustainability adoption and implementation.

I find that academic institutions within the Arctic often play an outsized role in identity creation within communities and are symbols of progress and autonomy. They are perceived as custodians of culture, history and language. Due to how tightly they are woven into the fabric of the identity and aspirations of these communities, they can be slow to change. 

I introduce a burgeoning paradigm of post-sustainability as a means to come to terms with how sustainability can be better understood contextually within the Arctic. It is also explained that an emerging global trend exists that rejects current operational modes to escape the confines and restrictions of conventional academia. This move beyond historically established academic missions takes the form of co-creation with local stakeholders. 

What problem does this work aim to solve?

Initially, the project was concerned with coming to terms with why the implementation of sustainability within Arctic higher education seemed to be falling behind compared to continental Europe. After a time, it became apparent that this was not necessarily the case and that small Arctic institutions of higher learning often struggled to adhere to external definitions of sustainability. 

What are the main findings of your research?

I point to how sustainability within the Arctic is often perceived in terms that differ markedly from how it is defined elsewhere. I note that it is often political and contingent on time, place and identity. I further argue that we can better understand sustainability within a local context by using a novel paradigm that I refer to as post-sustainability. I go on to conclude that small Arctic institutions of higher learning have, in many cases, already adopted the recently emerging paradigm of a fourth academic mission–one of co-creation for sustainability. 

How could this research impact the future?

As mainland institutions of higher learning move towards greater involvement with sustainability or change how they engage with sustainability to accommodate better solutions to pressing challenges–it would be beneficial to consider involving some of the many Arctic universities and institutions of higher learning that have many years of experience in local and regional co-creation for sustainability. .

PhD defence

Martin Mohr Olsen defended his PhD project on 1 December 2023.

See more about Martins PhD defence
Reach out to Martin on LinkedIn

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