The Grand Challengers Podcast Episode #29

Grassroots movements, policy instruments and timing for transforming water, biodiversity and underground management

Guest: Katrin Pakizer

May 28th, 2024

Episode Teaser


“…It’s about finding out, what type of policy instrument you need, for what type of actor you are addressing…”

Katrin Pakizer is a research associate at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and postdoctoral research fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science & Technology. As a political scientist with a PhD from ETH Zurich’s Institute for Environmental Decisions, Katrin’s love for nature enabled her to tackle important questions around transitioning our cities towards more sustainable management and governance of natural resources, from water to biodiversity and, more recently, the world and infrastructures beneath our feet. Through her work, she has been identifying the key ingredients that we need, to create transformative change.

On today’s show, Katrin and I touch upon the topics of water, biodiversity and underground resources. We explore how decentralized water infrastructure can make in-roads through grassroots movements, suitable policy instruments and their correct sequencing. We then pivot towards how similar principles should be adopted for governance challenges around biodiversity and our expanding interest in the underground.


Katrin Pakizer is a research associate from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and postdoctoral research fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science & Technology (Eawag). She obtained her Bachelor Degree in Communication and Political Sciences from the University of Erfurt, Germany in 2013 and Masters in Political Science in 2015 from Friedrich-Schiller-University, Jena, Germany in 2015. From 2015 to 2016, she undertook a postgraduate program in Peace and Security Studies at the University of Hamburg before embarking on a PhD from 2018 to 2022 at ETH Zurich’s Institute of Environmental Decisions. Her interests revolve around findings pathways towards more sustainable management of natural resources through better deployment and sequencing of policy instruments.

Katrin has used her unique social science skill sets to embark on projects around sustainable water resources management, good biodiversity governance and, more recently, sustainable underground resources management. In between her studies, she has worked at different reputable institutes including the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, the Heinrich-Böll Foundation and the OHCHR in Geneva and has also participated in exchange programs with the University of Ottawa. Her current role sees her combining her interests in good environmental governance with challenges around natural resources to help policymakers make better-informed decisions to complex problems.

Resources Related to the Episode

  • We refer to social science terminology including actors, regimes and niches in this episode. For a 101 on these concepts, refer to Episodes 8 and 26 of the show with Megan Farelly and Manuel Fischer
  • All about lichen
  • The centralized vs. decentralized water debate was also covered on a previous episode, Episode 22 with Françoise Bichai, check out her episode for some further context.
  • Some of the concepts discussed in this episode also harks back to Episode 8 with Megan Farrelly, check out her episode for some 101s on social science
  • Creating Transformative Change, the three ingredients:
    • Katrin’s Paper on Grassroots Movement: Pakizer, K., Fischer, M. and Lieberherr, E., 2022. Entrepreneurial strategies for transformative change: An application to grassroots movements for sustainable urban water systems. Journal of Cleaner Production375, p.134003. [Open Access Link]
    • Coopérative Equilibre’s official webpage [Link]
    • What is vermicomposting? [Beginner’s Guide]
    • Katrin’s work on policy instrument mixes: Pakizer, K., Fischer, M. and Lieberherr, E., 2020. Policy instrument mixes for operating modular technology within hybrid water systems. Environmental science & policy105, pp.120-133. [Open Access Link]
    • The Carrots, sticks and sermons around policy instruments was published in a 2011 book: Bemelmans-Videc, M.L., Rist, R.C. and Vedung, E.O. eds., 2011. Carrots, sticks, and sermons: Policy instruments and their evaluation (Vol. 1). Transaction Publishers. [Link to Publisher]
    • Katrin’s paper on policy sequencing: Pakizer, K., Lieberherr, E., Farrelly, M., Bach, P.M., Saurí, D., March, H., Hacker, M. and Binz, C., 2023. Policy sequencing for early-stage transition dynamics–A process model and comparative case study in the water sector. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions48, p.100730. [Open Access Link]
    • The Cargo Bike Scandal in The Netherlands
    • Sant Cugat del Vallès in Spain [Wikipedia]
    • San Francisco’s decentralized approach to water recycling [Smart Water Magazine]
  • The silver bullets were prominent in Episode 7 with Abishek Narayan. Over the course of the show, we have also learnt that there simply is no one-size-fits-all approach for any sustainable approach.
  • Some famous quotes by Elinor Ostrom
  • Biodiversity governance
    • Katrin is working on the project led by Manuel Fischer and Janine Bolliger, who have been on the show as well
    • Social-Ecological Systems: Bodin, Ö., Alexander, S.M., Baggio, J., Barnes, M.L., Berardo, R., Cumming, G.S., Dee, L.E., Fischer, A.P., Fischer, M., Mancilla Garcia, M. and Guerrero, A.M., 2019. Improving network approaches to the study of complex social–ecological interdependencies. Nature sustainability2(7), pp.551-559. [Link]
  • Some insights on what is beneath the ground
    • The planning of underground infrastructure of big cities [Link]
    • What is soil biodiversity? [Link]
    • Basics of geothermal energy [Link]
    • Do we know more about space than the oceans? An interesting article
  • Criminal investigation shows from the 1990s and early 2000s – another guest, who watched these shows is Anna Lintern from Episode 19
  • The ivory tower debate: “The old academic in a white ivory tower” – the white ivory tower reference [Wikipedia]
  • Eva Lieberherr from ETH Zurich, Katrin’s PhD supervisor
  • I can highly recommend Cal Newport. 2024. Slow Productivity. Penguin Publishing Group [View on Amazon] as well as his other books, which are great reads and provide plenty of tips for our own productivity and work ethics.
  • Useful productivity apps mentioned:

Episode Chapters

(Chapters are embedded in the episode for quick access, click this to expand and view all chapters and time stamps)
  • 0:00 Intro
  • 1:59 Guest Intro and fascination with Lichen
  • 6:00 What came first, social sciences or nature
  • 7:57 Katrin’s journey to decentralized water systems
  • 14:44 Creating transformative change 1: Grassroots movements
  • 20:30 A 101 on housing cooperatives in Switzerland
  • 23:18 Creating transformative change 2: Policy instrument mixes
  • 28:42 Creating transformative change 3: Timing and sequencing
  • 40:38 Katrin’s current endeavours in biodiversity
  • 45:15 Underground resources governance
  • 52:32 The road ahead for Katrin
  • 54:07 Q&A Start
  • 54:27 What inspires you
  • 56:53 If you had a magic wand
  • 59:20 Key event, person, book
  • 1:01:22 Biggest challenge in career to date
  • 1:07:21 Time management
  • 1:12:08 Advice for young researchers
  • 1:14:30 Where can people reach you
  • 1:14:59 Final message
  • 1:15:20 Outro

Connect with Katrin Pakizer

Related Episodes

Episode #8 – Megan Farrelly
Don’t forget the social – experiments in urban water and energy transitions

(Related Topics: social sciences, governance, qualitative research, water)
Episode #14 – Janine Bolliger
Lights, Camera, GPS and Action around biodiversity enhancement in human-dominated landscapes

(Related Topics: biodiversity, social-ecological systems)
Episode #22 – Françoise Bichai
“God-like technologies in medieval institutions”, discussing paradigm shifts for greener, water-resilient cities

(Related Topics: water, decentralized systems, institutions)
Episode #26 – Manuel Fischer
The Good, the Bad, and the Socio-Political – can science really support collaborative policymaking?
(Related Topics: social sciences, governance, qualitative research, politics, water)