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Published: 2022-02-22 Updated: 2023-03-21, 13:00

ROBUST portrait: Lucas Haskell

PROFILE PhD student

Text: Maxim Vlasov
Image: Privat

For the past four years, Lucas has been trying to understand how social innovation addresses ecological crises. Social innovations are different from changes in technology - like changing a combustion engine to an electric battery in the car. They include changes in social practices and human values.

– Think of a social innovator as someone who provides a taxi service with an electric moped to inspire people to not take a car and to inspire change. Or a group of villagers who work together to build a community arena for sports and other activities – which would reduce the need to commute to the city, promote high environmental construction standards, and increase local collaboration.

– These are different initiatives that want to create change in society from negative to positive impact on the environment. They are different from the mainstream economy, and my interest is to understand what drives them, what their purpose is, how they can inspire people to change their habits.

Already as a MSc student, Lucas got concerned about the current state of the natural environment. So when he saw an ad for the PhD position, he decided to apply - much to his own surprise.

– People who know me would not think that this guy would do a PhD – that he is the type that spends extra time reading or thinks about deep questions. No one would label me as an academic. Yet things worked out and here I am.

– There is this constructed ideal of an academic that doesn't hold. I have met many PhD students on courses and conferences - people are very different. Of course, I still ask myself if I belong in academia. This is a long learning process - I learn about what I am doing, if I can make people understand my research, and if I can teach students.

It is important to create an agenda for new generation of social innovation that prioritizes nature rather than economic and social aspects

The field of social innovation is growing but it is filled with confusion. It offers many fragmented meanings and definitions. It has also focused mainly on increasing well-being or combating poverty, while ecological problems like climate change are overlooked.

– This is what we discovered in our recent research paper where we go through the current literature and try to bring some clarity to the concept. It is important to create an agenda for new generation of social innovation that prioritizes nature rather than economic and social aspects.

– This paper was an important reminder of why I am doing all this. After my research proposal, there was a two-year period when I was frustrated about not getting anywhere. I was working on a literature review, planning papers, doing interviews, but I had nothing to show for. This was a long low point up until the first publication. Already at the review stage, when we received a "Minor revision", it hit me - "Well, perhaps I am onto something here". It is hard to explain to people that one article can take so long time, and you are also benchmarking yourself against other students - how they are doing timewise with their projects. This whole process has its ups and downs.