Maine's Sustainability Solutions Initiative is an outgrowth of the Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI), a program started at UMaine in summer 2006.
During the fall semester, 2006, we brought in experienced colleagues from inside and outside Maine to help us understand how universities can transform themselves to be of greater service to society through interdisciplinary applied research and engagement with stakeholders. We discussed the many challenges and opportunities involved in linking knowledge to action. Speakers included David Cash, Bill Schlesinger and Bob Kates.
In spring 2007, we engaged in a series of workshops and panel discussions with stakeholders and knowledge-to-action experts. Governor Angus King joined us for the first of these dialogues about the environmental challenges and opportunities facing Maine. King engaged in a discussion about the findings and recommendations of the Brookings report, and what roles ESI might play in addressing local and regional problems. Following this were several panel discussions with stakeholders involved in initatives affecting the lower Penobscot River watershed and bay, including open space protection, watershed restoration, and riverfront revitalization.
An outcome of these discussions was the initiation of a competitive grant process in summer 2007 which resulted in funding for five interdisciplinary research projects. These projects examined the causes and consequences of land use change and development in the Lower Penobscot region and reflected some of the concerns raised by stakeholders during our spring discussions. Criteria used to rank proposals encouraged development of some of the interdisciplinary team building, stakeholder engagement, and knowledge-to-action processes that were outlined by our colleagues. These included: working in partnership with regional stakeholders; focusing on clearly identified stakeholder needs and concerns; linking the ecosystem and human dimensions of environmental problems; and involving interdisciplinary teams in which faculty and other research partners are committed to working together.