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Global leadership for social design: theoretical and educational perspectives

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Abstract

The rapid change of technological, social, and cultural structures is challenging universities to offer new educational programs. The Global Leader Program for Social Design and Management (GSDM) of the University of Tokyo can be seen as a forerunner in this field. The paper provides definitions of social design as well as of global leadership and provides a proposal for the definition of the objective of the GSDM program, i.e., multi-level resilient human–environment system. These subjects are embedded in the framework of human–environment systems (HES). We identified the different types of knowledge integration that ‘global leaders for social design’ should master. The core of a sustainable social design is to (1) properly conceptualize and manage “resilient coupled human-environment systems” and to (2) integrate or relate different systems, epistemics, interests, cultures, and knowledge systems. The specific challenge in this context is to cope with conflicting cultural–religious systems or to understand how the vulnerability of different human systems with respect to digital environments. Social design is conceived as all rules, mechanisms, and preferences that govern the interaction of humans with material, biophysical, technological, and socio-cultural epistemic environments. The goal of education for global leadership for social design may have to progress from the T-shaped skills profile (i.e., being specialized in one discipline and having the capability to collaborate with other disciplines) to the π-profile. Students for leadership in global designs must be qualified in a social and an engineering/natural science and literate and capable to know, relate, and govern different disciplines, cultures, or systems which have to be included in the sustainable transitioning of cultural and socio-technological systems. The paper elaborates in what way transdisciplinarity is needed and why resilience management should be seen as a proper objective of GSDM. The challenges of the new educational program for the science system and institutions as well as for students and professors are discussed.

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(modified and extended from Scholz and Tietje 2002)

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Correspondence to Roland W. Scholz.

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Handled by Osamu Saito, United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS), Japan.

Appendix

Appendix

The global leader program for social design and management (GSDM) of the University of Tokyo

GSDM, with 9 graduate schools including those of public policy and engineering and 21 departments involved, has students coming from diverse academic backgrounds, covering natural sciences, engineering, social science, and humanities. As of April 2016, the total number of the students who participate in this program was 105, which includes 62 students majoring in engineering, 14 students in social sciences including economics, political science, and public policy, and others in agricultural and life sciences, medicine, and informatics. Each doctoral student belongs to one of the schools and departments in the university with a focus on a specific academic area and works on a sub-topic concerning societal dimensions related to his or her doctoral research. Student whose major is engineering would consider implications of his/her main research topic for society. If a student is working on robotics for medical operation, e.g., a potential sub-topic could be an examination of the policy process of approving new robots for medical operation, a review of the technical standards for designing and developing new robots, or an evaluation of economic and social aspects of new robots. In conducting a sub-theme research, each student receives advices and support from two co-advisers who have different backgrounds, in addition to close consultation with the main supervisor. The result of the work on the sub-theme is expected to be published as an academic paper or included as a chapter in the doctoral dissertation.

The curriculum of the program provides the students with comprehensive coursework, research design workshop, and international projects. In the comprehensive coursework students are expected to acquire more than one special field and cross-cutting strong knowledge base. Three core courses are offered to the students in the comprehensive coursework in the fields of global society and public policy, advanced science and technologies, and issue solving through lectures as well as problem-based learning. The research design workshop is organized at the end of the first year of the doctoral program. Students report the status of their doctoral research and demonstrate the ability to design solutions to tackle societal challenges, based on the courses they have taken and the competencies they have acquired through the program. The international project is aimed at cultivating the ability to handle diversity, think globally, and act independently. Each student plans and carries out an internship at an international organization, private company, or research organization overseas. In addition, student initiative projects are organized by groups of students with diverse backgrounds covering natural sciences and engineering as well as social sciences and policy studies to analyze the structure of pressing issues and to propose solutions to them in the key areas identified by the program.

There still remain many challenges in moving towards achieving the objectives of the program, particularly the integration of knowledge on natural sciences and social sciences. While the difficulty for students majoring social sciences to understand scientific or technological details involved in social issues is relatively well recognized, the fact that engineering students as well are struggling hard to acquire basic knowledge about social sciences asks for special attention. Engineering students do not necessarily have a sufficient level of understanding of the concepts and frameworks used in social sciences. It is hard for them even to think about societal dimensions or implications of their own research. Therefore, when they are asked to consider the relevant stakeholders involved in societal issues and to propose policies to address them, they would not be able to construct convincing arguments utilizing social scientific concepts, theories, and frameworks. It is of critical importance to navigate natural science and engineering students for learning and understanding social scientific ways of approaching diverse phenomena in society.

Addressing this challenge, the curriculum of GSDM is designed so that the students can learn basic knowledge and skills for social design and management in class and gain practical experiences through project-based learning. Approximately 150 courses have been offered in the core courses in the fields of global society and public policy, advanced science and technology, and issue solving. Many of the courses concerning specific aspects of social sciences, however, are often provided separately by faculty members belonging to different departments, and their contents might not be well-coordinated with each other or refer to issues such as resilience or HES. Presumably, the student initiative projects are a good platform for students and scientists to relate natural and social sciences by jointly identifying and tackling the common problems. Through collaborating closely with the stakeholders involved in these problems, the students can obtain actual experiences of integrating knowledge in science and practice. Only with strong academic foundations of social sciences gained in systematic manners, students would be able to benefit fully from project-based exercises.

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Scholz, R.W., Yarime, M. & Shiroyama, H. Global leadership for social design: theoretical and educational perspectives. Sustain Sci 13, 447–464 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-017-0454-0

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