Published 2021-03-10

This post is also available in Swedish

‘Chance to work with great intellectual freedom’

From Leuphana University Lüneburg in Germany to Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. A coronavirus pandemic, a step up in his career and some language barriers. At the same time, important new contacts, and an opportunity to focus on a specific area with great intellectual freedom. Niko Schäpke’s months in the Mistra Fellows Programme were intensive ones.

In 2020, Niko Schäpke spent eight months as a Mistra Fellow in the Mistra Sustainable Consumption research programme. Even before the formal exchange, he had contacts in the programme, and they saw mutual opportunities for skills and network exchange.

Niko Schäpke, Mistra Fellow and Assistant Professor of Environmental Governance at the University of Freiburg.

‘The overall purpose was to develop a conceptual framework with integrated processes for sustainable consumption methods and related governance efforts. I developed a structured overview of conceptual frameworks with the potential to affording an understanding of what governs sustainable consumption, and applied a few selected ones in two case studies, “Max” and “Oatley”. The case studies on frontline initiatives also helped to identify strategies for successful governance of sustainable consumption initiatives,’ Schäpke says.

The preliminary results were presented and discussed in programme workshops, with board members and at international conferences. They are currently in the process of being published.

‘Great intellectual freedom’

Schäpke believes it was a challenge to focus his work and achieve results on a specific topic in a limited and relatively short time. Nevertheless, he thinks that the programme’s internal communication structure, including programme days and monthly discussion meetings, helped to boost efficiency. The fact that the exchange itself was based on creating synergies with the programme’s needs and ongoing activities was also supportive.

‘To some extent, language barriers were also a challenge. Only at the end of my stay did my Swedish become good enough to participate in workshops and meetings held in Swedish. My colleagues at Mistra Sustainable Consumption largely switched to English meetings, but it wasn’t as easy when external stakeholders were involved.’

Despite time and language barriers, the research exchange has been important for Schäpke. He sees working in an exciting research programme in the international research environment represented by Chalmers University of Technology, outside his own home country, as a great opportunity. The same applies to building on contacts already established, and to creating new ones, with various researchers, departments and international experts.

‘The wider network of contacts enabled a greater flow of information and expertise in the programme. And it promoted the academic independence of the exchange. As a researcher, I got the chance to work with great intellectual freedom on a subject of my choice. At the same time, the close connection with Mistra Sustainable Consumption helped my work become both socially and scientifically relevant. The exchange gave me a wonderful opportunity to develop my research, be seen and act with a high degree of flexibility.’

Surprising innovative activities

Schäpke was also pleasantly surprised by his programme colleagues’ commitment and efforts to drive research and applications in sustainable consumption forward.

‘I was surprised by the many innovative and — from my perspective — exciting activities in the interface between science and society that they’re involved in.’

Apart from some travel restrictions and teleworking with no spontaneous corridor meetings, the coronavirus pandemic did not affect Schäpke’s research exchange to any great extent. However, early in the exchange he was offered a position as assistant professor of environmental governance at the University of Freiburg. This meant that he had to reduce his Mistra Fellows term by two months. However, the new position offers valuable opportunities to continue the collaboration with Mistra Sustainable Consumption.

‘My plan is to keep up the cooperation for publications in progress, the potential application of the framework developed for other case studies and, hopefully, as an external adviser to the second phase of the programme that they’ve applied for.’