Decolonizing Sustainability Research 


In the Global South, ‘coloniality’ has long been associated with political rule over subordinated countries 1. Struggles for ‘decoloniality’ have evolved from the undoing of colonial rule, to the even more fundamental challenge of freeing knowledge, practice, and culture from deeper worldwide concentrations of incumbent power 2. In keeping with the more expansive ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals, a decolonisation framework thus encompasses some of the most profound and pervasive critiques of globalising structures and their conditioning effects in every setting 3. Accordingly, the neglected imperative to ‘decolonise methodologies’ in research and policy appraisal, embodies some of the most important and intractable challenges in sustainability – offering crucial opportunities for thinking, knowing, and doing alike 4. The STEPS Methods Year (SMY) theme on “Decolonising Sustainability Research” aims to frame the methods year through co-production with key STEPS consortium partners, and to draw on the considerable methodological expertise and learning from across the STEPS network. The SMY will involve a series of co-convened smaller regional or local events reflecting on different dimensions of learning/ methodological challenges within particular geographical or conceptual contexts 


The objectives of the SMY is to deconstruct and explore concepts, practices and ideas contributing to decolonising sustainability research methodologies. The SMY will primarily explore five themes derived from a conceptualisation and thematization webinar, however, as the year evolves, other emerging themes may be incorporated. 

  • Power and Methods: This theme is centred around how larger theories about methodologies have been applied to engage, challenge and shift power, and rein in hierarchical authorities (coloniality) associated with methods in the global south (and in Africa more specifically). 
  • Valuing Diversity: This theme will explore how methods have been used to open-up, broaden-out, and let-go. The theme focuses on how concrete methods have been applied in different (geographical, social, political) settings to demonstrate diversity, with a multiple of range inputs, framings, and voices. Central to this, is inviting case-study discussions that demonstrate how methods have contributed to decolonising of methodologies drawing on theories to illuminate practical examples and reflections. 
  • Philosophical Underpinnings around methods in the global south: There are various philosophical underpinnings around methods based on prior commitments where some researchers tend to have a ‘positive view’ in research and a ‘constructivist view’ and while others tend to favour quantitative method over qualitative methods. ThereforeTherefore, this type of research transdisciplinartity – bringing the physical versus social sciences and how they sit together is paramount. This theme will therefore bring in different ontological and epistemological perspectives associated with decolonizing methodologies, for instance the Ubuntu philosophy within the African realities. 
  • Articulating methods: This theme will provide a reflection on how decolonising methodologies would contribute to the transformation to sustainability in the future. The theme focuses on what decoloniality of methods would mean to various actor groups (e.g., academia, policy/practitioners, third party actors, and private/business actors) in the global south, and how they have been able to identify, customize, apply, and learn from dominant methods. 
  • Multidimensionality of methods: Considering that different disciplines have variety in methodological applications,  which are perceived differently among researchers, it follows that aspects such as funding flows, research politics, and the perceived research power dynamics between female and male researcher; is likely to tilt decolonising research into multiple layers of actions. This theme explores these multiple facets of research, and how collectively they promote or undermine decoloniality of methods. 

The SMY will allow stakeholders therefore to explore how methods for informing policy decisions and wider political debates can enable learning, enrich knowledge, enhance practice and nurture more emancipatory outcomes in the Global South. 

Key activities 

The implementation of the SMY will involve conceptualisation and thematization, a book project, webinar series, summer school training sessions, and methods year workshop.

  • Conceptualisation and thematization: The general concepts promoted is on decolonising methodologies. All the activities will incorporate key themes on the concept following the conceptualisation webinar. 
  • The book project: The book will be based on the key themes, and will invite the participation of researchers, practitioners, and policy actors, third party actors, and private sector actors. The project will involve contributions on approaches to change and impact policy and action areas. The proposed title for the book is “Decolonising Methods in Transformation to Sustainability”. 
  • Webinar series: The webinars will be theme specific, but open to participation from various interest groups and stakeholders. The series will allow for a dialogue style of discussions to explore how different kinds of methodologies can challenge power, and how researchers and others can challenge the power or privilege imprinted on particular methodologiesalong the themes of the yearThe contributors in the webinar series will be drawn from the ARIN and ASH’s network, and partner networks, and stakeholders. The participation in the webinars will include authors of the book project as initial (key message) inputs into the discussions, followed by plenary and contributions from the broad set of stakeholders. 
  • Summer School training session: Drawing from the lessons on the webinar series (practices), and book project (theory), the summer school will provide an opportunity for participants to explore how methods have been (can be) used to inform, impact and transform policies, societies and economies. At the end of the training sessions, the participants will participate in the methods year workshop, as part of their post-summer school alumni engagement (practical). The summer school takes into consideration a learner centred approach, allowing for theory, practice, and practical approach. The participants in the summer school will be drawn from multiple stakeholders and sectors, and will cut across various actor groups of interest to decolonisation of methods, and valorisation of next generation of practical methods. 
  • Methods year workshop: The methods year event will be a follow up on the summer school sessions, with the aim of revisiting the key themes of the integration, through having discussions on disruption of the coloniality in methods applicable for transformation to sustainability. The methods year workshop will employ the human centred design approach to propose approaches to decolonising methods, and documentation of policy and research lessons. 

Outcomes of the Steps Method Year 

The SMY will contribute to steps towards decolonizing research that is resourceful in transformation to sustainability, while facilitating multi-sectoral and multistakeholder interactions, that contributes to capability development in the global south (and more importantly in Africa). The lessons from the SMY will be systematically documented, to feed into future discussions. 

  • Decolonising methods in transformation to sustainability: The central concept to the integration is on how different actors perceive methods, and how their perception can be applied in disrupting the approaches to policy, practice, and research. The SMY will involve a series of webinars that explores the various aspects of the decoloniality across actors, while the SS explores the lessons from different actor groups, documented to promote understanding and contexts. 
  • Multisectoral and Multi-stakeholders’ contributions: The sectors contributing to actions for sustainability are myriad, and the integration looks at the methodological contexts across sectors, and how the stakeholders in the various sectors have/could use methods to impact and change perceptions on privileges provided by methodological coloniality.  
  • Capability development: The development of the book project, and its presentation at various webinars, contributes to the potential to build capabilities and provides an opportunities for learning outcomes on critical pedagogies, scholar activism, and transdisciplinarity in the learning. This is reinforced through the summer school, looking at the heuristics and qualities of methods, and how they are applied in a global south context. The SMY event opens up the debates on transdisciplinarity in methods, and epistemologies (nature, justifications, beliefs, knowledge) in the global south, contributing to building the capability of stakeholders. 
  • Documenting Policy & Research Lessons: Through the webinars, the key lessons on decoloniality of methods would be documented for research, policy and practice to illuminate/connect practical examples and reflections, including on ‘qualities’ of methods and how these are used to open up and broaden out pathways to sustainability.

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