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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Collaboration networks as a critical factor for sustainable organisations: five years of the the Nexus24 programme at UPC-BarcelonaTech on collaborative communities.

Collaboration networks as a critical factor for sustainable organizations: five years of the the Nexus24 programme at UPC-BarcelonaTech on collaborative communities.

Didac Ferrer-Balas, Ginevra Lazzerini, Martí Rosas

Innovation and Community Unit, UPC-BarcelonaTech Research Institute on Sustainability Science and Technology, UPC-BarcelonaTech

The program presented in this paper shows a novel focus to the sustainability in/of universities. The reflection on organizational models have generally not been a topic in this field. The paper presents the five first years of development of a program that aims to create a collaborative culture among the management staff of UPC-BarcelonaTech.

Sustainability efforts in universities have generally focused on curriculum, research, operations or outreach. As many other universities, it has also been the case at UPC (Ferrer-Balas et al. 2004, 2008, 2010). In 2011, the economic crisis brought drastic reductions of the resources available, what contributed to dismantle some interdisciplinary and institutional structures and initiatives, which revealed not resilient enough. The economic cuts were at the root of an energy efficiency Plan carried out between the years 2011 and 2014. As a result, in 2014, the energy consumption of the UPC campuses had been reduced 27% compared to 2010, saving around 4M€ to the University. Without any available budget, the main success factors were (i) urgency and focus on a specific issue (energy), (ii) transparency and access to data and (iii) collaborative work among administrative staff.

After this successful experience, efforts were put to build a new operative system to manage the university on a collaborative mode, by creating an internal Programme called Nexus24, which has the purpose of “making collaborative work normal by 2024” thus overcoming organizational fragmentation and enhancing collaborative communities across UPC. The potential is not only to change the culture, but the operating system through creating a complementary working structure to the hierarchic one. This network-type structure would be organic, based on self-managed teams and would produce value through innovative projects.

Especially among the administrative staff, the working culture is bureaucratic and the organization highly compartmentalized. Legal framework and other restrictions have brought it to operate traditionally in a hierarchic mode. Resources are more and more limited while needs always growing, provoking the frustration of many of the staff and bringing low levels of motivation. The program is based on learning by doing method through projects proposed by university staff, with the participation thus far of more than 350 people and 30 projects aimed at improve the university.

An crisis generally stimulates two types of opposed responses: on one hand, fear-related as competition, fragmentation, control through strong hierarchy, etc; on the other, collaboration, flexibility, openness, sharing power and resources, etc. The Nexus24 program aims to be an example of the “second type” of responses to crisis suggested above (collaborative not competitive), and aims to change the working culture at the university in ten years.

The main originality of this approach is that instead of searching sustainability as an explicit goal, we expect to obtain it more as a consequence by enabling deep changes in the “way we work” and modifying the working relationships in the organization. This program is conceptually rooted on the integration of Communities of practice (Wenger et al. 2002), Dual Organizations (Kotter XXX), Living-systems (Capra, 2002), Diversity and Complexity (Page, 2011), Agile methodologies , collaborative networking (Figueroa 2016), Design thinking (Brown 2009), Teal organizational models (Laloux, 2015), Beta Codex (Pflaeging, 2014), Theory U (Scharmer, 2016), among other inspiring frameworks. . The paper will describe the functional components of the programme, its KPIs, process map, new operational roles and collaborative tools, as well as the outcomes of the research project “Collaboscopi” which aims at monitoring the impact of the Nexus24 program.


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Didac Ferrer-Balas

Ginevra Lazzerini

Pere Losantos

Martí Rosas


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