His current research focuses on agency and system entrepreneurship, social-ecological innovations, transformations to sustainability, and how to reverse current trends of crossing critical thresholds and tipping points in the Earth system. He has co-authored several book chapters, including one for the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and articles in scientific journals, including Science, PNAS, TREE, Ambio, Global Environmental Change, Environmental Management, and the Annual Review of the Environment and Resources. In 2019 he was recognized by the Web of Science as one of the world's most influential researchers of the past decade. He is an active member of the Resilience Alliance, and a subject editor for the journal Ecology and Society. Olsson maintains an extensive international scientific network, including researchers at the STEPS Centre (UK), Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (Canada), and DRIFT Institute (The Netherlands). Related to this, he also is the hub leader for the ISSC funded Transformation Knowledge Network, and serves on the Advisory Committee to the Future Earth Knowledge Action Network on Transformations to Sustainability.
Recently, Olsson has developed the concept of T-labs (Transformation labs), a new methodology for generating innovative approaches for re-wiring social-ecological systems.
Olsson is a transdisciplinary researcher and has worked in the interface of natural and social sciences and humanities. He has been instrumental in developing the research fields of local ecological knowledge, adaptive co-management, and adaptive governance. This work has involved theoretical development based on field research using both qualitative and quantitative methods for gathering and analyzing data. His work has explored the interactions between actors, institutions and organizations and focused on the emergence of integrated approaches to the management and governance of natural resources. His work has crossed local to global scales, including local water governance to multi-lateral institutional contexts, in the north and south, including Solomon Islands and Australia, and in a wide range of systems, such as marine, water, food, urban, and agriculture. Olsson has served as the course leader for many Masters and PhD courses. Olsson has supervised two postdoctoral researchers, five PhD Students, and more than 20 Masters students.
Olsson is co-leading the Rockefeller Foundation Global Fellowship Program on Social Innovation, which is designed to strengthen the capacity of leaders and change makers in identifying targeted, innovative ways of tackling complex, linked social and environmental problems at their roots. He was the program director for the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s LEAD program on Exponential Technologies, Resilience Thinking and Entrepreneurship. The LEAD program was aimed at future leaders and change makers, and included introducing novel concepts and how they relate to sustainability and human wellbeing.
Olsson has invested heavily in facilitating interactions among scientists, policy makers, artists, businesses, and the public through a variety of initiatives. For example, Olsson is the co-founder of Coral Guardians, which serves as an innovation space for combining music, policy, and science. He was also the co-founder of SHIFT, an accelerator for start-ups and social-ecological entrepreneurship. He served as the scientific advisor to MacGillivray Freeman Films, Incorporated IMAX film Coral Reef Adventure, and was also the national coordinator for the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program in Sweden.
Olsson was a member of the organizing committee for the first Resilience conference in 2008, now a triennial event. He was also instrumental in initiating the Transformations conferences, which is now a biennial event that provides a platform for researchers, practitioners, and others to explore transformations to sustainability. This work involves being a member of the organizing and scientific committee for the Transformation 2013 conference in Oslo, Norway, convener and co-chair of the Transformations 2015 conference in Stockholm, Sweden, and a member of the organizing and scientific committee for the Transformation 2017 in Dundee, Scotland.
Awards and achievements:
Elke Merkley, MSc candidate
Rodrigo Martinez, MSc candidate
Research news | 2020-09-21
A successful transformation goes through phases, and each phase must be navigated carefully
Research news | 2019-11-29
Study assesses what it takes to make good meetings become venues for change
Research news | 2019-11-20
Carl Folke, Johan Rockström, Reinette “Oonsie” Biggs, Stephan Barthel and Per Olsson on exclusive list of world’s most influential researchers
Research news | 2019-04-17
Recognised for their outstanding contributions to ecology
2019 - Journal / article
Creating a just and sustainable planet will require not only small changes, but also systemic transformations in how humans relate to the planet and to each other, i.e., social–ecological transformations. We suggest there is a need for collaborative environments where experimentation with new configurations of social–ecological systems can occur, and we refer to these as transformative spaces. In this paper, we seek a better ...
2019 - Journal / article
Scenario development helps people think about a broad variety of possible futures; however, the global environmental change community has thus far developed few positive scenarios for the future of the planet and humanity. Those that have been developed tend to focus on the role of a few common, large-scale external drivers, such as technology or environmental policy, even though pathways of positive change are often driven by...
2019 - Report
We have entered the urban century and addressing a broad suite of sustainability challenges in urban areas is increasingly key for our chances to transform the entire planet towards sustainability. For example, cities are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions and, at the same time, 90% of urban areas are situated on coastlines, making the majority of the world’s population increasingly vulnerable to climate ch...
2018 - Book chapter
The rapid urbanization associated with the Anthropocene provides an imperative for humans to think diff erently about the future. The “seeds” approach describes how niche experiments can, over time, coalesce to shift the dominant regime onto a more sustainable trajectory. Urban transformations are complex phenomena; the seeds approach is a tool that can help us understand how transformations occur and how to nudge them towards...