the word for 2022

As the world settles into a new calendar year, that cycle always presents an opportunity to reflect on the past and plan for the future. 2021 was a year of change for the TNL, with the lab assistant Aaron Lucas moving on to his next career opportunity (and a good one at that). And at the end of the year, Associate Director Osonde Osoba started a move to the private sector to work on algorithmic bias in the trenches.

Change is something that humans typically fear, but it is the only constant during the turns in our mortal coil. Change is where opportunities present themselves (if you’re looking), and growth happens in earnest. So as the year changes and personnel change, the lab changes both in response, and in anticipation of new challenges.

Sustainabilty. It has been included in much of the lab’s work over the past few years, but for 2022 it will move to the prime directive. This is in part driven by the realization that sustainability (or lack thereof) is one of the “first principles” of society, and by extension, emerging technology. Just as physical and budgetary limitations are a reality for technology development, so are the less quantifiable factors such as creativity, equity, and ethics. Without a focus on sustainability, all of the other goals begin to fall apart. Increasing wage gaps in society are not long-term sustainable. Racial biases are not long-term sustainable. And as we are realizing, the environment is a finite set of resources and failure to account for sustainability happens at our peril.

So as we lurch into a new year, the TNL will double-down on sustainability writ large. The Pardee RAND graduate program already has cross-cutting themes of ethics, racial justice/social equity, global perspectives, and communication. Sustainability isn’t just another log thrown on the educational fire, but rather a “first principle” that needs to be considered across and throughout the work. While it becomes a complicating factor when trying to solve wicked hard problems, sustainability needs to be at the heart of the conversations and work.

The three pillars of sustainability. Based on “sustainable development” from under Creative Commons licensing, and further adapted from United Nations (1987), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (2005), Makkar (2013), and Makkar and Ankers (2014). 

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