“With REVIERa, We Want to Achieve Much More Than Just Provide Technological Impetus for Innovation.”

 

Interview with the interdisciplinary core team of the REVIERa transformation platform

This is the interdisciplinary core team of the REVIERa transformation platform, with which RWTH Aachen University seeks to accompany the structural change process in the Rhenish mining area: Professor Agnes Förster, Chair of Planning Theory and Urban Development at the Faculty of Architecture, Professor Stefan Böschen, Chair of Technology and Society at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, and Professor Peter Letmathe, Chair of Management Accounting at the School of Business and Economics.

 

Structural change in the Rhenish mining area: this is one of the key topics of our time. And it raises many questions and issues. Why is it important for a leading university of technology like RWTH to actively help shape these major issues on its own doorstep?

Team REVIERa: There are plenty of important reasons for this. To name just two: For one thing, the role of technology is changing. It is no longer just a matter of developing good technological solutions, this is taken for granted. Importantly, these solutions must have what can be termed a good social and cultural fit.

On the other hand, it is becoming more and more apparent that universities are platforms for discussion, places for debate and the exchange of ideas, with the aim of articulating new ideas about the future and bringing them to the fore, and to discuss what criteria are important in their evaluation.

There were early requests for RWTH to contribute to the discourse from an academic perspective, to point out possible long-term perspectives, and to propose feasible solutions, in short: to get involved.

Team REVIERa: RWTH received such requests, but more importantly, early on, there were many such ideas from within the University, and the range of perspectives was indeed amazing and surprised even us.

When did RWTH decide that it wanted to contribute to structural change in the Rhenish mining area with its own transformation platform, and how did you decide on the platforms’s design and functionality?

Team REVIERa: The idea to set up such a platform was proposed early on, because the Rectorate, as well as a large number of colleagues, realized that this process cannot be about proposing idea for technical innovation alone. Rather, it was considered essential to understand transformation as a joint project in which the various stakeholder groups develop perspectives for change among equals and then work together to implement them.

REVIERa opened the dialogue with numerous stakeholders of the Rhenish Mining District at a kick-off workshop on 10 February 2020. You had invited, among others, representatives from politics, administration, business, and civil society.
We expect the participants came with a lot of expectations, but also anxieties and insecurities?

Team REVIERa: Indeed, there were a lot of expectations – but rightly so! For in such processes, the university is often understood as a place of multip-partiality. A place where different perspectives can be articulated, taken seriously, and reflected upon. The idea of the university is based on rational discourse. And that’s what is attractive to many. We have also been approached with requests to become the platform for clarification of future plans. Admittedly, a university can only do this to a limited extent, but it shows that there is a significant need for serious exchange.

REVIERa aims to strengthen the exchange between science and practice. On the one hand, there is interdisciplinary exchange between researchers at RWTH. on the other hand, you work closely with stakeholders from the Rhenish mining area. You explicitly prefer a process with an open outcome. What has your experience been so far?

Team REVIERa: It has been a very positive experience. It is a process full of productive surprises. For us, this shows how seriously the various groups take this topic of transformation, how challenging such processes are perceived to be, and that such transformative processes are ultimately both unique and truly significant. This great responsibility is tangible to all. 

The Rhenish Mining District can become the first climate-neutral region in Europe. RWTH recognizes that it has a major responsibility to contribute to the development of transformation solutions and to provide long-term perspectives to support the process of structural change. Initially, with REVIERa, you have identified a range of tasks the transformation process.

Team REVIERa: Our role is to moderate the process. For this reason, together with our partners, we have identified transformation tasks which we all consider to be relevant. But much more important than identifying such tasks was the insight that the change process can only succeed if the tasks are tackled in an orchestrated manner. Nothing is more problematic than having a multiplicity of heterogeneous points of view, which results in a patchwork quilt.

What transformation solutions have you helped develop so far?

Team REVIERa: We think that the Transformation Compass particularly important, as it provides guidance to the transformation process. However, significantly, it is not pointing north like a nautical compass: the transformation compass only provides target categories that must be aligned with each other. And this alignment is a social process.

Currently, there are 74 projects, ideas and initiatives for shaping structural change in the Rhenish mining area to which a wide range of faculties, research institutes, and university institutions have contributed. Could you explain to us what these projects are all about?

Team REVIERa: The 74 projects cover a wide range of the research conducted at RWTH. Many are interdisciplinary in nature, and their success is secured by the collaboration between different research institutes. Each project belongs to one of the of seven core innovation areas: Mobility, health, production, materials and cycles, productive landscape, energy, and artificial intelligence and information. However, in order to contribute to the success of the structural change process, we also consider the interaction and overall impact of the projects.

This structural change offers many opportunities for a successful new beginning.

Team REVIERa: Structural change is a very dynamic and risky process. But it is true that we should emphasize the opportunities it provides. To put it in a nutshell, We have the chance to develop a different model of innovation, namely one in which the mutual dependence of, an interplay between, social and technological development is not seen as an irreconcilable opposition, but as an opportunity. It is a model of innovation that is free of Silicon Valley fantasies.

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