Sustainability, Governance, and Methods

Since its first public appearance in 2008, Degrowth has become a buzz-word in sustainability research. The respective burgeoning literature already includes many hundreds of scientific journal articles and books. This is not surprising given the fact that empirical and theoretical evidence is mounting against the idea that economic growth is compatible with our sustainability challenges such as climate change. Degrowth research focuses on how to create a just, equal, convivial, joyful and sustainable society that has liberated itself from the need to perpetually grow. It is trying to identify social and political pathways of transition that reduces the societal use of materials and energy, while improving quality of life.

We are specifically looking firstly at biophysical aspects of this transition where we use Input-Output modelling and network analysis in order to identify pathways and vulnerabilities on our way towards a zero-carbon economy. In our new project i-conn for instance we are looking at global critical energy flows taking into account energy quality. Secondly we look at historical links with similar concepts such as the Steady State Economy, in order to clarify such controversial issues as population and migration. For instance how to deal with problematic concepts such as “life boat” ethics and carrying capacity in this context? Thirdly we focus on the role of technology and innovation in a future Degrowth society and on the way towards such a goal: Which technologies are appropriate and how can they be evaluated from a degrowth perspective? Which are the areas that Degrowth and technology research needs to focus on?

Tourism, for many cities and regions, is a propulsive source of economic vitality, and its economic health can profoundly influence the course of regional development and sustainability. In the last few decades there has been a paradigm shift in how society views the relationships among tourism, development, and sustainability. There is now greater emphasis on reducing social disparities, maintaining acceptable levels of quality of life for citizens, and maintaining environmental quality, biodiversity, and the conservation of non-renewable resources. Levels of tourism that negatively impact the environment, the host community and the quality of public services and infrastructure will, over time, erode the appeal of the city or region as a tourist destination as well as the quality of life for its residents and can lead to loss of economic vitality. We address such questions as: How can tourism and regional development strategies be coordinated to achieve sustainable development? What role does social entrepreneurship and social business have in fostering sustainable tourism development? What are the drivers for companies to adopt corporate social responsible strategies and what affects the adoption? What are the consequences of adopting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for a company and how can they be monitored and evaluated? Which external and internal factors challenge, impede, encourage and influence the implementation of sustainability by enterprises. How can consumers be actively involved in the process of adopting sustainability practices? How can we make tourism accessible for all (‘tourism for all’)? How can tourism be used as a tool for poverty reduction? What are the challenges and methods for improving the situation of the tourism labor market? How can stakeholder participation help to foster a sustainable level of tourism? What are the best ways to monitor and benchmark progress on sustainability? What are the implications of exogenous factors such as climate change on regions whose economies depend upon tourism, and what types of regional policies are needed to manage such uncertainty and instability?


Innovation and sustainable development are both highly visible target areas on the political agenda, and demand the appropriate governance structures for their promotion. The central challenge of governance is developing the institutional capacity to design, promote, gain agreement for, implement, and monitor effective strategies. Making progress on both sustainable development and technological innovation requires steering individual behavioral and societal change at the intersections of the social, economic, and ecological realms and often involve managing and solving conflicts at multiple levels of government. The central challenge of governance, hence, is developing the institutional capacity to design, promote, gain agreement for, implement, and monitor effective strategies.

We address such questions as: How can good governance practices contribute to sustainable development? What kinds of governance structures are most effective? Are new forms of cooperation and coordination needed? What are the benefits of the formation of networks and partnerships? What challenges and bottlenecks arise from these new organizational forms of governance?

Research on how mechanisms of one governance regime influence and/or overwhelm the impacts of another are on our research agenda. One strand of our work concentrates on the question of co-existence, interaction and co-evolution of different governance regimes where our empirical investigations detected different types of interactions between the regimes and provide a good basis for future research which should put more emphasis on the mechanisms through which one regime might influence another and how emerging governance regimes initiate and shape transition processes. It would help to evaluate how certain governance arrangements operate, which impacts they have and whose interests they serve.

In the globalized, knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, organizations that produce and disseminate knowledge have a critical role to play in assisting cities, regions, and nations reach and sustain economic competitiveness. How do higher education institutions respond to this recognition, by expanding their activities beyond teaching and basic research to include economic, business, and technology development? Research conducted by MODUL University Vienna’s faculty examine the effectiveness of universities in the stimulation of regional economic development, the emergence of academic entrepreneurship and the problems and opportunities the ‘entrepreneurial turn’ of universities creates, and the analyses of policies and regulations that hinder how universities can become more effective as an engine of regional development. Research on how institutions of higher education have provided leadership is conducted and technical expertise in sustainable development practices will continuously be developed.

In close connection to the international developments regarding social structural indicators, MODUL University Vienna is engaged in fundamental research about the assessment of living conditions, quality of life and subjective well-being. Driven by the report of the Stigliz-Sen-Fitoussi commission, OECD and EU are working on amendments to the system of social indicators that are going far beyond merely economically oriented variables such as GDP or monthly income. However, severe measurement problems raise questions about the validity of many of the proposed indicators (such as subjective ratings of life satisfaction). Therefore, various kinds of measurement approaches are tested and compared on a large-scale basis, including particularly interviewing and survey approaches.

Well-being does not only depend on so-called objective conditions, but on subjective ones as well. Therefore, subjective indicators are involved in official statistics in the meantime (subjective well-being, life satisfaction), e.g. in the Eurobarometer where a quite simple question has to be responded to. Current knowledge states that the reliability/validity of those indicators is sufficient to apply those indicators, but still full of problems. The research activities planned shall improve the quality of satisfaction or well-being-indicators and help to establish them in societal monitoring.

Modul University Vienna has a strong focus on statistical methods and is interested in contributing to the most recent debate in statistics. Several examples are listed here to underline the expertise of the department’s faculty as well as their current research focus. For example, strong knowledge and new methods have been developed by the department’s faculty when it comes to network analysis, or the probabilistic test theory next to the more commonly used, but also highly criticized classical test theory, the latter one being preferred by psychologists especially when it comes to measurement construct developments which is a highly important topic for the socio-empirical sciences. Another focus lies on the tailored development of data mining techniques for text processing tasks being used to answer scientometric research questions, or to automatically detect emotions by means of verbal emotion recognition, so called sentiment detection. But also higher dimensional data that allow one to answer sophisticated questions by adding e.g. a geographical component to discuss spatial questions like the carrying capacity of regions when it comes to overtourism, or the inclusion of an additional time component to observe respondents’ satisfaction and emotions in the research field of quality of life (QOL) and subjective wellbeing (SWB) are used. This first snapshot of statistical methods should present a first insight into the broadness of data mining techniques used.

The expansion and deepening of new forms of governance, particularly for economic development and environmental sustainability, comes with increased demands for accountability regarding the use of public resources. How effective are public and public-private initiatives in achieving their intended outcomes? What types of organizational structures are most suitable under contingent conditions? How effective is the implementation process and how responsive are organizations to diverse needs?

One specific area were Modul University Vienna researchers are active in is evaluating urban/regional climate governance. Environmental problems and issues such as climate change are inherently political in nature, which increases the need for legitimate and transparent democratic processes that allow societies and local communities to choose policies that they see as both equitable and effective. Around the world, cities are experimenting with new forms of governance that include collaboration and partnerships with civil society and business actors, but what are the lessons learned and how can cities and regions learn from each other?