Mitarbeiter:in im Porträt

29. Sep 2023

Tess Landons Arbeitsbereiche umfassen u.a. innovationspolitische Experimente und nachhaltige Transformationsprozesse.

Tess is project manager and researcher at ZSI since 2022. Tess holds a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Mathematical Decision Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master's degree from the Vienna University of Economics and Business (Socio-ecological Economics and Policy). Her work focus is on innovation policy experiments, social innovation and sustainable transformation. In her projects she moderates political development processes with stakeholders up to the implementation of concrete measures.

Tess, what was your professional career like before you started at the ZSI?
How/why did you chose to come to Vienna?

Prior to ZSI, my career was a tasting board of sorts. During my bachelor’s I worked as a data analyst at a small start-up – I loved working with data and developing visualizations for it. It was here that I also learned the power of qualitative data and how enriching it could be for quantitative data analysis (que love of mixed methods).
After earning my MSc, I was inspired to bring a socio-ecological transformation to life and thus began my journey in the policy-research-industry space. I spent a year at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) coordinating a project on promoting sustainable practices in agri-business before moving to the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) where I ran three experiments to strengthen social and sustainable innovation in SMEs. 
What brought me to Vienna was an alternative “career” choice– I worked as an Au Pair as a way to experience a new place and culture, and earn some cash on the side. This led me to the WU where I did my masters in Socio-Ecological Economics and Policy, and well, I’ve been here ever since!

What does your everyday life as a researcher and project manager look like at the moment?
As both a researcher and project manager I wear multiple hats, so my day to day work is fairly diverse. On some days, it’s more conceptual work - reading, writing concept notes or papers, and developing ideas for a project, research initiative, or a policy brief. On other days, it’s more project management work – attending/facilitating meetings, coordination with internal and project teams, budget management.
The nature of all the work is quite computer oriented, but I’d like to move away from this in the future!

What are the projects about and what exactly are you doing in these projects?

Two of my projects are on climate adaptation in climate vulnerable regions across the EU (RESIST and MountResilience). Here we develop strategies in the framework of transformative innovation for a holistic approach to regional adaptation – that ties both technical or nature-based innovations with social innovation. We’ll work with the regions throughout the implementation as well as do M&E to assess the execution.
Another project is focused on the social component of energy transitions in Austrian cities (UrbEnPro, ACRP). Using the Social Quality Approach, we will determine social needs in the urban energy transition and work with governance stakeholders to develop policy recommendations to ensure those needs are being accounted for.
I am also working with the Expert Working Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Energy of the Australia-EU R&I Partnership. I facilitate this WG of over 20 experts from the African Union and the European Union to determine priorities cooperation in R&I to foster climate resilience and renewable energy.

What activities do you like to do (the most) and what motivates you?

What gets me really fired up for the day are collaborative work and testing out new ideas.
 Bringing together many people with different backgrounds, expertise, etc. to develop something, such as through co-creation or co-visioning, is just as much fun to facilitate as it is to participate. And the outcomes generated through these processes are almost always guaranteed to be pertinent and useful.
 I also love getting to create and test out ideas on the ground – whether it be experimenting with innovative policy measures or simply a new workshop format, the opportunity to create something and try it out is a great outlet to flex my creativity as well as challenge the status quo a bit.

Which topics do you find particularly interesting? What is important to you?

As you’ve probably gathered from the projects I’m involved in, topics related to sustainability and climate are rather high in my list of interests. More specifically, I am particularly interested in how innovation at different levels is (or can be) leveraged to achieve just, ecologically-sound futures.
I am also particularly interested in new economic futures beyond the growth-centric paradigm of traditional economic models (e.g. Degrowth, Doughnut Economics, or social economies) and hope to incorporate this into my future work.

What type of project would you like to implement in the future?

I am keen on bridging transformative innovation (a conceptual area underlining a lot of my work) and new economic futures – I see a lot of potential for these two conceptual frameworks to complement one another, especially in policy making. So, implementing a project that allows me to explore these topics jointly would be the goal! For the time being, however, I am happily in the phase of networking, staying afloat on the topic (lots of reading), and jotting down ideas.

What do you think is the significance of social innovations for societal transformation processes and a sustainable development?

I think social innovations are not only necessary but are an inherent part of just societal transformations – especially as we deal with the climate crisis. If we are to achieve a society that can “live and meet their needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” then it requires new social practices and ways of living in many dimensions.
Thank you, Tess and all the best with your projects!