Co-constructing sustainability : insights from TangMa, an inter-municipal learning project between Tangshan, China and Malmö, Sweden

University essay from Lunds universitet/LUCSUS

Abstract: There is an increasing shift of hope from international negotiations to local actors for promoting sustainability by ‘thinking globally while acting locally’. Municipalities are such carriers of hope, taking on increasing responsibility as implementers of sustainability. The problem is that sustainability is a social construction site, and implementing it means ‘making it up as you go’. With this background, this thesis analyzes the story of the partnership between Tangshan, China and Malmö, Sweden and their inter-municipal learning project TangMa as a case of co-construction of sustainability. Initially designed for transferring expertise, strategies and know-how, the project has unintendedly evolved from its original objectives to become something entirely different: a project that trains skills needed to successfully construct sustainability. Accidentally breaking out of its boundaries makes TangMa a case with important implications for learning theory. But it also risks having its outcomes disregarded as unimportant or not worth mentioning, being viewed as a failure to deliver on its promises. Drawing on social and organizational learning theory and literature on inter-municipal learning, two tools are devised to analyze results from a qualitative research approach inspired by journalistic Story-based Inquiry. The result is a story told from two angles, official and ‘behind the scenes’, which reframes the project and its outcomes to uncover hidden insights into learning for sustainability. TangMa ultimately shows that effective learning for sustainability above all consists of processes that train skills like critical thinking, reflective capability and ‘listening’.

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