Ensuring that educational offers on sustainable development have a place in municipalities is key to promoting their full and sustainable development.

Research areas

Research into how this process works helps to improve Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in the municipal education landscape.

We see the establishment of municipal educational landscapes on sustainable development as an essential prerequisite for municipalities’ full and sustainable development. This process can only succeed if citizens can comprehensively learn and educate themselves about sustainability in its various dimensions. Building on a science-led approach, the ESD Competence Centre Education – Sustainability – Municipality has a clear aim: to support 50 committed cities and districts to introduce, establish and promote ESD.

Our accompanying research serves to explore the paths through which ESD is introduced and promoted locally in order to learn more about the keys to its successful implementation, but also the problems, obstacles and challenges faced in the process. The ESD Competence Centre’s facilitation services complement this research, making insights directly available to the participating municipalities.

Specifically, we address the following research questions:

  • What ESD activities and initiatives already exist in the model municipalities?
  • Are these efforts part of an overall municipal policy strategy and, if so, how is ESD integrated into this policy?
  • Who are the relevant local actors, have they built a network, and do they cooperate?
  • Are there programmes in place, and which specific measures have been adopted to promote ESD? Which of these are particularly promising and can be emulated by other municipalities?
  • In terms of progress and milestones: what are the achievements, and how can the process be optimized?


To answer our research questions we build on quantitative and qualitative social research to formulate a variety of interrelated research methods. Research into the establishment of municipal education landscapes for sustainable development in the cooperating municipalities first requires a comprehensive assessment of the objectives, the strategies, the actors that currently are involved and those that need to be involved, and the structures already in place.

On this basis, the research unit of the ESD Competence Centre develops quantitative questionnaires that take into view the ways in which actors cooperate when introducing or establishing ESD as well as the developments and progress achieved in the process.

In this context, relevant local actors (e.g. in the field of local politics and administration, civil society and educational institutions) as well as ESD addressees (e.g. young people and other educational target groups) will be interviewed. In order to be able to analyse in detail the diversity of processes, the successes and obstacles shaping the introduction or integration of ESD, qualitative expert interviews will also be conducted in 15 municipalities. The results of this quantitative and qualitative research will feed into further in-depth studies exploring the introduction and development of ESD in municipal education management structures (municipal case studies).

Identifying the 50 model municipalities

The ESD Competence Centre Education – Sustainability – Municipality wants the 50 model municipalities to reflect all municipalities and districts throughout Germany. For this purpose, a multi-stage selection process was developed in order to include municipalities belonging to districts (Kreise), independent urban municipalities as well as (rural) districts. Further criteria included regional distribution (to ensure that municipalities from across Germany were represented), and progress in implementing ESD. These dimensions enable us to take a diversity of current conditions, solutions and processes as a starting point for our services and scientific analyses.

The following indicators have specifically helped to identify and select the 50 model municipalities:

  • Municipalities with ESD experience, i.e. those with successful ESD structures, offers and programmes as well as structures and activities in the field of sustainability;
  • Municipalities with experience in the field of sustainability, i.e. those that already have experience in the field of sustainability, but without a distinct ESD perspective;
  • Municipalities interested in ESD with little or no experience in ESD or sustainability, but that are keen or determined to take action.

Existing educational and/or municipal coordination structures were also taken into account (e.g. data-based municipal education management, agenda office, etc.), which are essential for municipalities to qualify as ESD model municipalities.

Selection criteria

In a next step, the ESD Competence Centre developed an instrument to record ESD development statuses based on easily obtainable information (criteria catalogue). The goal of this analytical step is to identify eligible municipalities based on the following questions:

Selection process

First, a longlist based on the structural data of municipalities (regional distribution, territorial authority, educational structures) was drawn up for each of the three locations of the ESD Competence Centre. In a second step, this list was checked against the above-mentioned criteria, resulting in a shortlist of eligible model municipalities for each location. Since it was unclear whether the identified municipalities and districts would sign a target agreement, additional municipalities and districts were added to the list of eligible candidates. On this basis, the respective offices of the ESD Competence Centre then approached the selected municipalities and districts to explore potential collaborations.