Innovative new research partnership takes aim at large-scale planetary concerns

Innovative new research partnership takes aim at large-scale planetary concerns

RMIT has partnered with Europe-based not-for-profit Dark Matter Labs to tackle interconnected planetary challenges including climate change, AI and human development, migration and biodiversity loss.

With the goal of propelling a sustainable future, the research venture will promote interdisciplinary, research-informed action to tackle urgent environmental and societal challenges that transcend national borders. 

Professor Tim Marshall, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of RMIT’s College of Design and Social Context said moving to global or ‘planetary-scale’ thinking is vital if we are to creatively and equitably address the challenges at hand. 

“The environmental, societal and technological disruption we are witnessing today is inherently planetary in nature,” he said. 

“Planetary-scale thinking is about acknowledging the mutual reliance and interdependence between humanity and the earth’s living systems, and the artificial intelligence systems that are being rapidly developed.” 

The partnership will see the launch of the Planetary Civics Initiative which will bring together interdisciplinary and international researchers, creative practitioners and industry professionals to explore these issues, united by the goal to shift thinking, dialogue, practice and public policy from the national to the planetary. 

“The Planetary Civics Initiative is a call to action in recognition that the current governance systems and policies in place are not sufficient for a sustainable future and require radical yet practical redesign to meet the scale and scope of our challenges,” Marshall said. 

Initial projects 

The initiative will launch with two projects already underway: Planetary Papers and Design Research Studios. 

The Planetary Papers series will consist of commissioned interviews and commentary from leading international experts across a range of professional disciplines, perspectives and backgrounds. 

First in the series are contributions from architect and Founding Director of Dark Matter Labs (Dm), Indy Johar, who will take up the role of Professor of Practice at RMIT in November.  

Research and provocations documented in the Planetary Papers will inform topics of focus for the Design Research Studios. 

Using design-led methods, each Design Research Studio will provide a site for collaborators from different disciplines to speculate on and develop possible futures for real-world challenges. 

The first three Studios are focused on transforming fashion systems, led by Professor Alice Payne, RMIT Dean of Fashion & Textiles; regenerative design practice led by Professor Andrea Siodmok OBE, RMIT Dean of Design; and radical design ecologies with a focus on river networks, led by Professor Julia Gaimster, Dean of Communication & Design at RMIT Vietnam. 

Indy Johar, Naomi Stead and Tim Marshall standing side by side in front of a curtain backdrop Indy Johar, Professor Naomi Stead and Professor Tim Marshall at the launch of the Planetary Civics Initiative, a partnership between RMIT and Dark Matter Labs partnership. Photo by Marie-Luise Skibbe

Developing institutional dark matter 

Johar said that Dm’s focus on establishing new frameworks for collaborative, holistic systems change complements RMIT’s expertise in bringing together practical and creative study in the fields of design, technology and society. 

“Dm is focused on the great transitions our societies need to respond to the technological revolution and climate breakdown we face,” he said. “Our aim is to discover, design and develop the institutional ‘dark matter’ that supports a more democratic, distributed and sustainable future.” 

“The Planetary Civics Initiative is another step towards spurring the wider societal transition needed, and Dm is thrilled to be working with RMIT.” 

Enabling transdisciplinary collaboration 

Professor Naomi Stead, Director of RMIT’s Design and Creative Practice Enabling Impact Platform said the Planetary Civics Initiative harnesses the University’s leading approach to interdisciplinary design, practice and research. 

“The strength of the Planetary Civics Initiative comes not only from RMIT’s partnership with Dm but the multitude of practice-based expertise, research translation and industry relationships we have to draw upon,” she said. 

“The Initiative has been established using strategic design principles to enable and support meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration.” 

“Through exploring the immense challenges of our time with imagination, rigour and practicality, the outcomes of this Initiative will offer possible paths forward for communities and policymakers,” Stead said. 

The Planetary Civics Initiative will be officially launched at a keynote event featuring Indy Johar as part of the City of Melbourne’s Now or Never festival and RMIT’s Wild Hope exhibition and public program series.  


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.