LIFT_C: A New JKU Hub to Support Interdisciplinary Research on Transformative Processes

Climate change, demographic shifts, artificial intelligence: Our society is undergoing rapid change.

F.l.: Patricia Stark, Laura Thäter, Thomas Gegenhuber, Eleni Priglinger, Stephan Pühringer, Stefan Koch; photo credit: JKU
F.l.: Patricia Stark, Laura Thäter, Thomas Gegenhuber, Eleni Priglinger, Stephan Pühringer, Stefan Koch; photo credit: JKU

The Johannes Kepler University Linz laid the cornerstone for the Linz Institute for Transformative Change - LIFT_C for short - back in 2022. This unique, university-wide institute focuses on interdisciplinary education and research relating to the bridging topic of "transformation" and is now beginning to take shape. LIFT_C aims to proactively confront the various challenges and transformational changes we face today and contribute to their resolution.

In times of scarce resources, how might we live more sustainably? How can we better address demographic change? How can artificial intelligence benefit medicine? JKU students and researchers across all institutes and departments are addressing these - and other - questions at the Linz Institute for Transformative Change.

JKU Rector Univ. Prof. Dr. Stefan Koch explains: "Transformation is the issue of the day. We are facing complex challenges and when it comes to addressing and solving these challenges, expertise in one, single scientific discipline is no longer enough. We need a creative space to be able to think across disciplinary divides. The JKU is known for its broad range of academic disciplines and its high degree of specialization. Our university is an ideal hub to tackle change processes across disciplines."

Koch also emphasizes that "… transformation cannot be successful on its own. To bring about any kind of sustainable behavioral changes, academia, science, business and the public need to join forces. This is why LIFT_C is looking to partner with other academic and scientific institutions, administrative services, and interested members of the public."

The cornerstone to fund LIFT_C was outlined in the 2022-2024 Performance Agreement and initial activities have been launched over the past two years. LIFT_C will officially begin operations in education and research operations under its new director, Prof. Dr. Thomas Gegenhuber, in 2024. As a university-wide institute, LIFT_C reports directly to the Rectorate and involves scholars, researchers, and scientists across the JKU. In addition, there will be new (visiting) professorships and tenure-track positions and a significant amount of competitively awarded funding to support various projects and studies at the JKU. LIFT_C is pursuing a three-level interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach in education, research, and supporting the university’s "third mission" (such as effective science communication to the public).

Prof. Dr. Thomas Gegenhuber, head of LIFT_C remarked: "We aim to provide the drive and momentum needed to successfully support collaboration efforts between the university and the broader public. Interdisciplinary education, research, and proactive activities in cooperation with civil society, businesses, and the public sector is at the heart of LIFT_C’s mission. The driving force behind social innovation is bringing different perspectives together. We intend to generate the momentum needed to actively create the kind of social change we can all live with."

Research at LIFT_C
LIFT_C considers itself an internal "service provider" for different academic disciplines at the JKU, focusing primarily on creating space to support and conduct interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research. The focus is not on conducting parallel research but rather supporting a more integrative partnership between different disciplines: LIFT_C will foster interdisciplinary collaboration at the JKU, and outside of campus, by organizing its own research calls. The research topics will focus on and explore new forms of organization, work, social commitment, public health care, and (re)using resources. The current LIFT_C call (submission deadline in March) focuses on "Socio-Ecological Transformational Change". Thomas Gegenhuber explains: "One of the most pressing challenges we face today is climate change. To tackle this transition, we need to take social, technological, and economic aspects into consideration, alongside the ecological perspective." There are currently plans to announce the LIFT_C call annually (in fall/winter) until 2025.

As part of the initial developmental phase, LIFT_C is welcoming applications to fill two full professorship positions (for women), and two tenure-track positions (also for women), which include active involvement at LIFT_C (one position at the Kurt Rothschild School of Economics and Statistics, and one position at the School of Social Sciences and Humanities).

The second phase will involve appointing six Chairs of Excellence by the end of 2024. These visiting professorship positions aim to attract experienced researchers who have an outstanding publication record in areas of transformative change. Four tenure-track positions will also be advertised with the goal to fill the positions by mid-2025. These positions aim to support women in academia and will be open to female applicants, focusing on filling positions junior professors and advanced doctoral candidates. Gegenhuber added: "While interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research is effective, it also very resource-intensive. Each academic discipline speaks its own language, so to say, and communication takes time. We are looking for researchers who have professional backgrounds in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary areas." In addition, two tenure-track positions will be created for women at the Faculty of Medicine in the field of transformative healthcare.

Last but not least, LIFT_C’s own research labs (including the Metaverse Lab, Sustainable Transformation Management Lab) and junior research groups (Socio-Ecological Transformation Research Group, Metaverse Research) will focus on corresponding topics in transformative change.

Education at LIFT_C
LIFT_C aims to drive innovation in educational formats forward by means of experience-based teaching formats that give students opportunities to contribute to addressing and solving social challenges. UpdateSocial is one example that started in April 2023 with an intensive "48-hour idea workshop". The close partnership between academia (JKU), social institutions (Volkshilfe Upper Austria), the public sector (the state of Upper Austrian), and civil society brought 55 experts from various socially critical areas along with 200 participants from the general public together to experience an inspiring weekend. The outcome included 38 approaches aimed at solving pressing social challenges (such as in the areas of healthcare and inclusion). In addition, LIFT_C introduced the elective course "Volunteering in the Social Sector. Learning. Commitment. Responsibility. (L.E.V.)" at the JKU which is open to students in all majors and where students can also earn academic credit. The idea is to expand on one's personal experience by volunteering in the social sector and contributing their skill sets while also acquiring a new set of skills.

Another approach includes encouraging collaborative, cross-disciplinary education that involves, for example, students studying medicine, AI, or law to work together as part of an "AI in Medicine" course. Students address intriguing issues at the crossroads of artificial intelligence and medicine, such as "What benefits can AI bring to medicine?", or "How does AI impact having to make medical decisions?". The overall objective is to identify a common language and demonstrate the potential of cross-disciplinary teamwork from an early stage.

LIFT_C: Open Communication with the Public
Citizen science projects at LIFT_C actively engage the public, proactively involving them in the research process. The department has also introduced participative platforms - such as "Transformation Talks", media partnerships, and joint efforts with the JKU’s Circus of Knowledge - to foster cooperation within civil society and disseminate findings to the general public.

See:, opens an external URL in a new window to learn more about LIFT_C’s activities.