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UK - Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Narratives for Sustainable Biodemocracy: Bhutan and Beyond

Disclaimer: The data for this page has been produced from IATI data published by UK - Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Please contact them (Show Email Address) if you have any questions about their data.

Programme Data Last Updated: 23/03/2022

IATI Identifier: GB-GOV-13-FUND--GCRF-AH_T00827X_1


In this project, we focus on creating a biodemocratic understanding of Bhutan to locate and strengthen the kinds of narratives that can help the developmental process to be more dynamic, responsive, transparent, accountable, and consultative. We do this through initiating reflection by planners, widening engagement by policymakers, and by fostering creative initiatives by a diverse range of social stakeholders. Bhutan, a low-income Himalayan country on the cusp of major change, can be conceptualised as a 'biodemocracy' in order to bring together political and ecological concerns. Sustainable development understood in terms of biodemocracy requires us to rethink Responsible Consumption and Production (Sustainable Development Goal 12) through an explicit recognition of the interdependence of all life forms. This is crucial for a country like Bhutan that has mindfully pioneered Gross National Happiness (GNH) as its development philosophy; the country is carbon-negative, and constitutionally mandates that 60 percent of its territory remain under forest cover in perpetuity. However, this small, high-altitude, ecologically-diverse, hydropower-rich, low-income country surrounded by populous and power/resource-hungry neighbours India and China is attempting to come to terms with modernisation and urbanisation. In the process, it is faced with rising consumption aspirations and livelihood and employment generation challenges of the twenty-first century. The accelerated pace of change in Bhutan over the last two decades has been remarkable, from the introduction of television and the internet in 1999 to the transition to parliamentary democracy in 2008 initiated voluntarily by its monarch but widely viewed with apprehension by the people. Having consolidated a democratic system of government, there is ever expanding awareness about questions of accountability when it comes to making difficult developmental choices, especially when reconciling the values, policies, and planning needed for enacting GNH. Economic statistics tell us little about development as experienced by different social groups in a society. An alternative way of making sense of development is to understand the overall narrative of development (in the case of Bhutan, GNH) within which planning occurs and specific policy choices are made, and the individual narratives that different people and groups in society draw on in seeing themselves as part of the developmental process. Development narratives constitute the strong links between how we realise our potentialities for organising economies, spaces and societies. Our interdisciplinary, boundary-crossing project, thus, focuses on co-creating knowledge networks in Bhutan through four strands - annual planners' reflection workshop, an annual public engagement conference, a creative conversation idealab, and a festival of value/s. Each of these will specifically target a diverse range of people in different but overlapping communities, including Bhutanese planners, policymakers, parliamentarians, media, academics, civil society organisations, international organisations like the UN in Bhutan, entrepreneurs, artists, students, and youth leaders. Creating such networks is vital to understanding and addressing the role of individual and collective narratives in how ecological, economic, and political consciousness and consent can foster responsible production and consumption. We will expand the network in the UK through a knowledge exchange visit to build scholarly and policy community connexions, and by developing the entrepreneurial and know-how linkages emergent from the creative conversations. The overall concluding conference in the UK will amplify our project learning and establish a firm legacy for continued future work.


Overall: - To work creatively with a range of local stakeholders in Bhutan (Low Income Country) to strengthen narratives of 'biodemocracy' in order to more effectively address development challenges in Bhutan. - To adopt a wide range of approaches to engagement, capacity-building and knowledge exchange relevant to different stakeholder groups, including planners' reflection workshops, public conferences, a creative conversations idealab, a festival of value/s and a concluding conference in the UK. - To contribute to SDG 12 (Sustainable Development Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production) by bringing together key actors from policy-making bodies, civil society organisations, arts, entrepreneurs, media, education to analyse the life-cycle of decision-making in the planning process in light of the Bhutanese development paradigm of Gross National Happiness. - To ensure that all activities engage with and respect diverse identities in terms of gender, age, region, expertise. Specifically: - To generate knowledge resources within the broader policy-making environment in the LIC country Bhutan with a special focus on Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production); this being an underrepresented LIC country and a crosscutting SDG with significant contemporary relevance. - To link the background ecological and political dimensions of Bhutanese policy-making through the concept of 'biodemocracy' which can encompass the uniquely Bhutanese development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which prioritises a holistic and socio-cultural-ecosystem embedded well-being over GDP growth, and the non-traditional transition to democracy, which happened at the time when a referendum on the desirability of such a transition would have failed. - To innovatively approach the developmental challenges in Bhutan through locating the role of narratives in developmental planning, policy-making process, and people's perceptions. - To create an understanding of how the different narratives of a diverse range of people - ranging from developmental planners, civil society actors, youth entrepreneurs, people of different identities in indigenous creative sectors - intersect or diverge on their experience of the Bhutanese developmental trajectory, in order to develop an account of the interrelationships between institutions and processes needed for sustainable development trajectories. - To include multiple stakeholders, adopt an eclectic approach, and use a range of methods for the networking activities over the period of the project. All four strands of the project will be held in LIC Bhutan - an annual planners' reflection workshop, an annual public engagement conference, a creative conversation idealab, a festival of value/s. Further, to ensure equitable collaboration, a capacity-building knowledge exchange visit and a concluding conference in the UK will enable an overall bringing together of the knowledge networks, amplifying the outputs and creating a legacy for future work. - To develop a vibrant creative conversation in a small LIC like Bhutan about the role of arts and communication platforms in amplifying context-appropriate developmental narratives and to build the work by a partnership between Britain and Bhutan to further investigate the wider relevance of such biodemocratic formulations, which are simultaneously focused on the political and ecological, for other small countries. - To ensure that the project is a genuine partnership of equals with appropriate knowledge and skills exchange, and that it addresses issues of gender equalities, diversity and inclusion in development throughout each of its strands and all of its knowledge networking activities.

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