“Global, regional and local challenges have to be mastered at municipal level, right outside our front doors and in our everyday lives.”

by Ulrike Aschoff /

Dr. Susanne Bieker coordinates the interdisciplinary research field “Transformation and innovation systems for urban areas” at Fraunhofer ISI. In this interview, she gives us a general introduction to the new topic.

What does the new interdisciplinary topic “Transformation and innovation systems for urban areas” stand for?

In 2012, Ban Ki-Moon, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, said: “Cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost.”

This quote sums it all up: cities are places of action. Global, regional, and local challenges have to be mastered at municipal level, right outside our front doors, and in our everyday lives, starting from climate protection and climate adaptation, through the transformation of our energy and mobility systems, to housing and digitalization. And all of this must be financed and still be affordable for people, for all of us.

These are complex requirements – to which the Fraunhofer ISI can provide answers that address both technical breadth and very specific details.

The new interdisciplinary topic “Transformation and innovation systems for urban areas” bundles the expertise of all seven Competence Centers at Fraunhofer ISI. The group focuses on the complex, interdisciplinary challenges of urban areas and develops solutions to them through the eyes of the city. We are able to apply the entire range of methods and competences at Fraunhofer ISI to projects, quickly and comprehensively.

Who is this topic aimed at – who can benefit from this new unit?

We are aiming to address multiple levels. On the one hand, we address the towns and cities faced with complex questions and challenges in one of our main areas that are looking for scientific support and /or advice. Financially, this can be realized mainly through funding that focuses on research questions as well as on implementation.

At the same time, we offer research and project partners across the entire field of transformation processes of urban areas a common point of contact for the entire institute and are therefore able to act faster and more efficiently. This applies to both (inter)national networks of cities looking for a contact for the wide range of municipal issues, and to internationally active research and development organizations.

We focus not only on Germany, but address challenges in urban areas worldwide. Fraunhofer ISI is experienced and internationally active in many fields, and the interdisciplinary topic provides a point of access and contacts for interested researchers as well as for municipal authorities.

We also deal with technical and financial development cooperation, which is increasingly addressing the topic of sustainable urban development under changing framework conditions and the growing pressure to act.

What is your professional background and what does coordinating this interdisciplinary topic at Fraunhofer ISI mean to you?

I studied spatial planning and got to know many facets of the challenges in cities. After my degree, I worked on options of regional governance structures under demographic change and the development of adaptable technical infrastructures in rapidly growing urban areas, among other things. During my PhD in civil engineering, I worked in a very interdisciplinary research group, which I found challenging but very rewarding.

Before coming to Fraunhofer ISI, I also worked in development cooperation. This expanded my view to include the global diversity of challenges.

I want to integrate all these experiences, the knowledge gained and the networks into coordinating the interdisciplinary topic. I believe that curiosity and an eagerness to learn are two major factors in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary cooperation. My team combines the expertise of seven Competence Centers; its members are from engineering, social sciences, economics and political science, and together they have decades of experience in science, research and policy consultation. Each person has the opportunity to learn new things when working together as a team, and to inspire their colleagues and partners.

Our work creates tangible value added for sustainable development by focusing on the challenges facing urban areas right here and now, by cooperating with municipal authorities based on their real problems and by our orientation towards implementation.

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