Leading transformative change collectively: an inquiry into ways of stewarding co-evolutionary 'Patterns of Aliveness' for global sustainability transformation

Petra Kuenkel

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

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This dissertation looks at globally sustainable development as a collective leadership challenge. Taking a leadership practice model, derived from multi-stakeholder collaboration initiatives, as a departure for the research, it enquires into how a systems view of life could advance the conceptualization and practice of leadership as the capacity of collectives of actors. It investigates, in particular, what this means for leading transformative change collectively in large systems, as required by the challenges captured in the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It argues that a conceptual transdisciplinary deep dive into systems theory approaches, which advance patterns as constitutional for life processes to emerge, needs to inform approaches to transformative change for sustainability. Building on systemic insights from cognition theory, resilience concepts, design patterns and biosemiotics, it develops an emerging theory that suggests, under which systemic conditions ‘aliveness’ is enhanced in living systems. This results in a conceptual framework explaining how organizing principles of life processes interact to enhance aliveness in living systems. The research shows how these principles can be translated into the human realm and can be related to human competencies in leading change for sustainability. The dissertation illustrates the role of enhancing system aliveness in societal and global change initiatives with two case examples from complex multi-actor collaboration processes. It transfers the insights into the realm of large-systems change around global sustainability by identifying six enablers for sustainability transformation based on recent transformation discourses in science and practitioner communities. Using the emerging ‘patterns of aliveness’ theory as a lens, it shows how these enablers can be related to the aliveness enhancing principles and to the human competency dimensions of collective leadership reflected in the leadership practice model. This results in the development of a conceptual architecture for transformative change designs. The research concludes that leading transformative change collectively needs to be conceptualized as a way of stewarding co-evolutionary ‘patterns of aliveness’ in socio-ecological systems. It shows how using the conceptual architecture could improve strategies and initiatives for transformations to sustainability.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Wilderom, Celeste P.M., Supervisor
  • Belden-Charles, G., Co-Supervisor, External person
Award date22 Dec 2017
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-90-365-4442-9
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


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