… is based at the interface between an experimental mode of innovation oriented towards sustainability and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).


This addresses two virulent problems of the current structure of higher education and knowledge genesis for sustainable development:

  • It addresses the theory-practice gap and the accumulation of inert knowledge. The research-based learning in the Real-world Laboratory motivates people to test knowledge directly and to derive new knowledge from practice.
  • In addition, a more pronounced culture of successful failure is promoted. Deviations from the plan and unforeseen incidents are the rule more likely than the exception.

The Lab is designed to prepare students in their third master’s semester for an experimentally designed master’s thesis in the following fourth semester. The students will be introduced to systemic thinking and working with transdisciplinary approaches and methods in Real-world Laboratories across the lab modules (see illustration). The identification of sustainability-related research questions and their investigation in exchange with partners from practice form a focal point.

Stakeholders perceive students as challenging and dynamic actors and not as competitors (see Holmberg/Larsson 2016). This can form the basis of a confidential starting point that can open doors for sustainability innovations.


The Lab is designed as a modular supplement and an advance development of existing study modules. It comprises several building blocks.


The programme starts with a 4-day kick-off retreat at a non-university learning location. In addition to teaching and reflecting on central research concepts and methods, the focus is on strengthening communicative and self-reflexive skills. In exchange with pioneers of sustainability, participants gain a practical insight into “good” innovation and research practice.

The partly virtual, partly face-to-face settings result in a fruitful interaction of online and hands-on phases in the teaching/learning process of the lab. Sustainability challenges, future trends as well as barriers and solutions that are relevant for the implementation of the SDGs on a societal, institutional and individual level are addressed.

The exchange meetings take place alternately at one of the participating universities. The sessions serve the interdisciplinary exchange of basic research approaches and contents. They also provide input in the form of best practice projects, stakeholder events in hosting format, and field visits to real-world laboratories. These enable students to explore the importance of collaboration and participation in solving concrete sustainability problems.

In the joint pitch seminar, students are supported in identifying and formulating concrete questions related to the intended master’s theses. In methodically guided feedback rounds and reflection units, the participants also learn to present their individual learning process on the way to becoming a Change Agent and to critically question it.

The formation and management of transdisciplinary peer teams as well as the mutual support and learning (social learning) in the groups is an integral part of the lab. In particular, the handling of real-world interventions is trained and the development of relationships with stakeholders in the local peer groups is promoted.

At the two participating universities, a tutoring program is offered within the framework of the lab to accompany the master’s thesis and for exchange in the peer teams. The additional colloquia at Leuphana University of Lüneburg and at Freie Universität Berlin provide a platform for presenting topics and progress of the transdisciplinary Master’s theses.

Within the framework of the event, the graduates will present the transdisciplinary Master’s theses to an interested audience together with their practical partners. The aim is to initiate an exchange of experiences on processes and strategies and to mediate between pioneers from practice and political representatives. The participants of the second Lab pilot will also take part in the event so that the “baton” can be handed over.


Participation is initially limited to students from two leading universities in sustainability research:

For each pilot, 10 students from each of the two university courses will be invited to participate – on the basis of a letter of motivation.

Participation in the Lab does not create any additional obligation beyond the “normal” study programmes. Participation can also be credited directly to the degree.

Informationen zum Datenschutz
für die Tagung am 22.1.2019

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