Merritt Polk

About Merritt Polk

Merritt Polk received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1984. She received her Doctor of Philosophy in Human Ecology from the University of Gothenburg in 1998. She holds a senior lecturer position in Human Ecology and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2010, and then, in 2015, to Professor in Human Ecology. Between 2013–2022, she was head of the Department of Global Studies, at the Faculty of Social Sciences, GU.

Research areas During the 1990s, Merritt did research on gender equality, gender mainstreaming and transport with a focus on travel habits, attitudes and transport policy. She applied her research results to the interactions between gender equality, sustainable transport and climate change in collaboration with practitioners in transport and urban planning. During the 2000s, her research interest was directed to urban planning, here with a focus on civil servant networks, capacity building, and the interpretation and implementation of sustainable development. From 2009–2019, Merritt participated in Mistra Urban Futures (MUF), which was an international and transdisciplinary (TD) research center for sustainable urban development, owned, funded and run by researchers and practitioners together. During the years 2009–2013, Merritt led the research and development work at the center to identify innovative TD methods for sustainable urban development. The goal was to develop an overall TD methodology for joint knowledge production and capacity building between the participating parties, in order to better achieve sustainable urban development. The research orientations within this work concerned, for example: a framework for TD collaboration, prerequisites for TD learning, and evaluations of TD projects. During the Center's final phase (2015–2019), Merritt was involved in the evaluations of the TD project results, and the development of several PhD courses on managing complex societal challenges via TD collaboration, which targeted both PhD students and practitioners.

Ongoing research In her most recent research, Merritt has worked in a number of Formas-funded projects on sustainable urban development and handling of complex social problems within various types of collaboration arenas. With her research colleagues, she has developed a typology of knowledge and applied it, among other things, to different urban development and transport planning conflicts. The analysis focused on tracing the different types of knowledge use practices that occur in different urban planning conflicts in Göteborg within Frihamnen and Västlänken. Her latest research concerns "boundary spaces", or dialogue arenas, for complex societal challenges, where she and colleagues work with identifying the dilemmas that occur within different boundary spaces and how these can be handled more effectively. She is also active in the Just Transitions Research School, a new TD research school with seven PhD students who through close collaboration with practitioners from the local and regional levels focus on governance and management for just climate transitions. The school's interdisciplinary work is based on a in-depth collaboration between five public organizations within Gothenburg, Linköping, Norrköping, and their surrounding regions, together with three universities (GU, LiU and Chalmers).

Expert assignments Merritt has had a large number of expert assignments. Most recently, she has sat on the scientific council of the Volvo Research and Educational Foundation (VREF) between 2013–2021; on the Board of the Urban Futures Center at GMV, 2020–2024; and on the Scientific Council of the Leibniz Institute for Ecological Urban and Regional Development (IOER), 2022–.

Teaching Merritt has taught in Human Ecology since 1992. She has taught and supervised at the undergraduate, advanced and doctoral levels. Examples of courses within GU include: sustainable cities, sustainable development and conflicts, urban planning, as well as interdisciplinary and interdisciplinary methods in human ecology on the Bachelors and Masters levels. At other universities in Sweden, she has taught traffic safety, urban planning and transdisciplinary methods. Her most recent work with course development and teaching concerns TD methods within the Just Transitions Research School (2023–2027).