Incubator project: Towards diversity and inclusivity in sustainability governance research and teaching

What does it mean to be inclusive, decolonized, and intersectional in sustainability governance? Our project seeks to foster connections across all four WCSG groups to openly explore experiences of discrimination and produce a shared understanding of what it means to foster genuinely inclusive social, research and teaching communities in sustainability governance, and connect this to concrete cluster-wide actions.

What did we accomplish?

As of April 2022 the incubator project was completed and wrapped up with a final report:

'In this report we provide the results of our activities, divided in education-related outcomes and research-related outcomes. We also reflect on the lessons we learned from our engagement with ‘diversity work’.' (Meesters et al., 2022). Read more about this in detail in the report here.


Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, twelve researchers in WCSG have come together to explore experiences of discrimination in the field of sustainability governance, as well as promising approaches for fostering an inclusive social, research and teaching culture. This initiative grew from earlier work by individual chair groups. For example, a group of Forest and Nature Conservation Policy (FNP) members produced a report in 2020 that reveals discriminatory practices experienced by their student and staff and within WUR broadly. Another WCSG group, Environmental Policy (ENP), is currently undertaking similar efforts. In initiating these conversations within our chair groups, we noted the concerning practices of discrimination that continue today within our institution. While language on “diversity” and “inclusion” is increasingly prevalent in WUR, academia and internationally, we are uneasy that all too often actions can remain superficial and fail to cultivate a sense of belonging for diverse societal groups and even reproduce structural forms of discrimination in academia.

This backdrop drives our motivation to create spaces in WCSG to interrogate our interpretations of core concepts in diversity scholarship and practice. Scholars are increasingly emphasizing the need to develop definitions and practices that fundamentally acknowledge every person’s dignity, freedom and need to “belong”. Such recognition and inclusion of diverse values is increasingly seen as essential for just and effective sustainability governance. Two emerging areas of scholarship provide important contributions: First, decolonization efforts challenge dominant ways of producing knowledge and power relations, opening up space for alternatives. Second, the intersectionality framework reaches across social and political identities to investigate how different modes of discrimination, privilege, inclusion and exclusion intersect. Yet, many questions remain around how to combine these approaches to conceptually and practically enhance diversity in sustainability governance — including our research and education practices, but also social interactions in academia.


This incubator connects members of all WCSG groups to foster a shared understanding of diversity, decolonization and intersectionality in relation to major issues in sustainability governance, and translate this into meaningful, tangible steps forward for individuals, the Chair Groups and the Centre through the following objectives:

  1. Understand (through a survey, focus groups and interviews) how respect for diversity, tolerance of and resistance to discrimination, and efforts for decolonization and intersectionality are experienced in the WCSG groups;
  2. Collaboratively produce a paper that conceptualizes shared language and practice that can support diversity and actively address discrimination in sustainability governance;
  3. Explore these insights via reflective dialogue in a workshop;
  4. Develop concrete steps to decolonize our approach and foster intersectionality in our research and teaching.

Timeline of planned activities

Project duration: May 2021 - Dec 2021.

  1. May 2021: Project planning
  2. June-August 2021: Survey on relevant terms, experiences & and understandings of diversity, decolonization and intersectionality in sustainability governance and possibilities to improve

    • Review of selected courses to identify teaching material and practices and possibilities to improve
    • Review of selected courses to identify teaching material and practices and possibilities to improve
  3. September–October 2021:

    • Interviews & focus groups to explore in further depth the interesting issues that emerge from the survey and review of course materials
  4. October–December 2021:

    • Workshop – dialogues on inclusivity, diversity, decolonization and intersectionality
    • Co-production of conceptual paper on addressing discrimination and fostering inclusivity in our research on and teaching about sustainability governance
    • Development of concrete steps for how we can foster a culture in WCSG that respects diversity in our research, teaching and social community

Expected outputs

  • Survey, interview and focus group data
  • Review of teaching materials for selected courses
  • Reflexive dialogue workshops
  • Collaborative academic paper
  • Structural changes in our research and teaching