The Sustainability Experimentation Venture Network (SEVeN) emerged out of work Stephen Zavestoski and Pradip Swarnakar did in organizing a conference on “Environment, Technology and Sustainable Development” in 2014 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India. Papers received for the conference revealed a rich body of case study-derived knowledge that was being underutilized. Conversations with conference participants led us to realize the potential in forming a knowledge network into which researchers, practitioners and lay people could feed examples of small-scale, community-based efforts to engage in experimentation to achieve sustainability.
The vision was shaped by a sense that case studies could be aggregated to advance the field of sustainability transitions research. Much of the existing work on sustainability transitions examines top-down, policy- and technology-driven approaches to sustainability experiments. From this orientation, “big data” means large quantitative data sets structured and populated based on assumptions made from within the dominant institutional perspectives on sustainable development.
We suspect that bottom-up responses to resource shortages, climate change, and other environmental changes–and even local knowledge emerging out of everyday livelihood strategies–can contribute importantly to a vast database of unstructured qualitative data that can be approached from a wide range of perspectives and needs to aggregate and disseminate knowledge that can inform sustainable development strategies at all levels. This is the promise of SEVeN.