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What works in sustainability transitions: a developmental evaluation of the contribution of boundary organisations to multi-level behaviour and system change towards a circular economy.
The primary aim of this paper is to advance concepts and methodologies for evaluating and enhancing the societal impact of sustainability transitions research by boundary organisations, through the duel lens of behaviour and system change. We explore an empirical case study of a multi-level system change collaboration seeking to support circular economy transitions with behavioural public policy. This topic recognises a tension in sustainability transitions research between scientifically understanding how and why transitions happen, and a normative agenda for driving rapid change. Research institutions like the IASS and MSDI, conducting research on transitions, and for transitions, exemplify this tension. We argue that better articulating links between system change and behaviour change, and particularly the facilitating and brokering role of boundary bridging organisations in this process, is central to understanding, evaluating and enhancing the impact of sustainability transitions research. This paper addresses that gap by advancing a new framework, informed by behavioural science and developmental evaluation (DE) methods, to the empirical domain of circular economy and sustainable consumption. The empirical case study, an Australian collaboration within and across government, universities, community and industry organisations, aims to apply behavioural public policy tools to support the transition to a circular economy. Our linked strategy and evaluation approach has potential to leverage the strengths of boundary organisations to coordinate evidence informed behaviour change interventions across multiple stakeholders and drive system level change. We present our evaluation framework, insights from literature and practice review engaging with IASS staff, Fellows and partners. We also share some results from trailing the use of ‘rigorous storytelling’ as well as behaviour-based impact forecasting on indicators used in Sustainable Development Goal 12: responsible production and consumption, and indicators used in State of the Environment Reporting, alongside more traditional evaluation methods and evidence, to track simple, complicated and complex aspects, and intended and unintended outcomes and impacts. Comparison between experiences in Australia and Germany allows us to explore how institutes can support behaviour change interventions to shift consumption and production systems towards greater sustainability in parallel contexts. Noting recent disruptions in global recycling flows in 2018, we also explore how disruptions and adaptive and mal-adaptive behaviours of different actors have evolved in both contexts, and discuss the potential of parallel evaluations of the contribution of both IASS and MSDI to sustainability transitions research and practice in the areas of circular economy and sustainable consumption.