Dancing on the shoulders of giants: an action inquiry into the navigation of organisational transformation for sustainability in the university

Alexander R.W. Baker-Friesen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisInternal

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For this dissertation, a deep investigation was conducted of how to change complex organisations from the inside to ensure they achieve their ambitious sustainability goals in the long term, rather than rely on attractive pledges, reports and websites. This research drew from five disciplines to build an overarching model of transforming the university towards sustainability. The model has been tried and tested four times: on three frontrunner international case study universities and on Maastricht University itself. Through numerous interventions over seven years, together with the Green Office, MSI, and other change-makers, the study discovered shared qualities and common patterns of systemic change that teams employ to navigate transformation; in effect, they ‘dance’ through the complexity, high stakes, and power games whilst pushing for robust sustainability performance in their own organisations. These patterns and qualities are built on the results of the three case studies and are recognised as latent and in need of further appreciation in UM. The university itself can be redesigned to act as a more proactive steward of planetary health rather than as an ‘a-political observer’. The researcher stands behind this more nuanced and necessary view in light of the pandemic crises of climate, capitalism and corona that we face.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Maastricht University
  • Martens, Pim, Supervisor
  • van Zeijl - Rozema, Annemarie, Co-Supervisor
Award date27 Oct 2021
Place of PublicationMaastricht
Print ISBNs9789083180427
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • systemic change
  • sustainability in higher education
  • organisational transformation
  • action research

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