Climate change, biodiversity loss, the energy crisis and the covid pandemic – we live in a time of multiple and interconnected crises. Research institutions and universities in particular need to make a radical shift in thinking if they are to train the next generation of researchers to deal with the complex challenges of today's world. The ancient philosophers already emphasised the development of resilience, reason and dialogue. These lessons are as relevant as ever and can help researchers today in their work to develop good sustainability solutions despite grim situations and crises.
Practical wisdom is the focus of this article. According to the ancient Greek philosophers, it is the central virtue of citizens involved in public and social life. Practical wisdom is the ability to navigate complex and contentious situations using will and skill. It is the ethical compass that can help guide decision-making and action despite uncertain knowledge and conflicting values. The international group of sustainability scholars and practitioners provides examples from international research of how practical wisdom can help address urgent and real problems, such as food systems in South Africa, biodiversity conservation on indigenous Maori land, climate-adapted green spaces in small German towns, or water pollution in Hungary. They channel the results back to the institutions where personalities are currently educated with values based on competition and productivity. To see themselves as work-ready pioneers committed to serving the common good, research institutions need to invest more and better in creating the conditions for cultivating practical wisdom. Practical wisdom can help universities become influential agents of change in today's world.