Knowledge communication through images

Principles of shaping for social-ecological transformations vividly illustrated

Social-ecological transformations are necessary for sustainable development. But how can society, science, politics and economy jointly initiate successful transformation processes? Scientists of ISOE – Institute for Social-Ecological Research recently stated that a common perception of shaping is required and went on to develop basic principles for social-ecological shaping. ISOE has now developed illustrations that make these principles tangible.

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Gestaltungsprinzip „Widerstandsfähigkeit stärken“ (©
Principle of shaping "Strengthening resilience" (©

In the Anthropocene, the epoch of humanity, the pressure to act is enormous considering the unrestrained environmental changes with all their consequences for nature and society.

Moreover, global critical developments such as climate change or species extinction are complex, and there are various, sometimes competing and irreconcilable ideas about how to deal with them. How can the shaping of social-ecological transformations succeed under these conditions?

One prerequisite for solving complex problems is an understanding of shaping processes. In practice, however, there is a lack of successful concepts for how shaping can be initiated and implemented as a deliberate intervention into already ongoing transformation processes and how a change of direction towards sustainable developments can be set into motion.

Orientation for critical sustainability research 

ISOE researchers developed an approach for the social-ecological shaping of transformation processes and transferred it into six principles. These six principles of shaping provide orientation for critical sustainability research. They also serve as a basis for all those who are both scientifically and practically looking for alternative development processes. 

The illustrations show what the principles of shaping are basically concerned with. They are for example addressing the need to better understand the relationships between society and nature. Because only with this background knowledge is it possible to see climate change or species extinction as an expression of a crisis within these relationships. The other principles emphasize an effective participation of the actors involved in the democratic shaping process and also address complexity and the need to ensure that social-ecological systems are resilient to foreseeable environmental changes and can endure in practice. For the illustrated principles of shaping by Angelika Ullmann please go to  

A detailed elaboration of the principles of shaping is provided in the following publication: 
Jahn, Thomas/Diana Hummel/Lukas Dress/Stefan Liehr/Alexandra Lux/Marion Mehring/Immanuel Stieß/Carolin Völker/Martina Winker/Martin Zimmermann (2020): Shaping social-ecological transformations in the Anthropocene. ISOE-Diskussionspapiere, 45. Frankfurt am Main (originally published in German in GAIA 29/2 (2020): 93–97)

Scientific contact:

Dr. Nicola Schuldt-Baumgart
Tel. +49 69 707 6919-30   

Press contact:

Melanie Neugart
Tel. +49 69 707 6919-51