Faculty Fellow Ralph Hall, assistant professor in the Urban Affairs and Planning program in the School of Public and International Affairs, explores the transdisciplinary approach to solving sustainability problems and its applications in many corners of the world.
Q. What are your main research projects at the present time?
My research interests currently fall into three broad areas that are linked by the theme of sustainability. The first and broadest area relates to identifying ways to transform industrial and emerging economies towards sustainable development. Over the past ten years I have been working with Prof. Nicholas Ashford (at MIT) on a textbook that explores the many dimensions of sustainable development and how national, multinational, and international political and legal mechanisms can be used to further sustainable development. In 2011, we published the textbook – Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development: Transforming the Industrial State (Yale University Press) – and have since been working on articles to further extend this work. I would describe this research area as transdisciplinary, which means that the problems being addressed require solutions that can originate from any discipline. This first research area builds the broad foundation for my other two research interests.
My second research area focuses on sustainable transportation and continues the research I began with my PhD at MIT. I research decision-support frameworks that transportation agencies and practitioners can use to transition their transportation systems towards sustainability. This research also has broader applicability to other sectors of the economy and I hope to expand it into energy systems, agriculture, etc. My most recent work in this area relates to the design of performance measurement frameworks for transportation agencies. In 2011, I was an adviser to a research project that created A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies. This guidebook was informed by best-practice case studies and practitioner interviews and has inspired a second book that I am working on with Dr. Henrik Gudmundsson (Technical University of Denmark), Dr. Greg Marsden (University of Leeds), and Dr. Josias Zietsman (Texas A&M University). This book will provide students and practitioners with a deep understanding of the basic concepts of sustainability as well as a coherent framework for how to apply them consistently in the context of transportation planning, management, and decision making at different levels of an agency. The purpose of the textbook is to outline an approach for measuring the performance of transportation systems against key sustainability principles.
My final research area relates to sustainable water supply and sanitation systems in developing regions. This applied, empirical research began during my postdoc at Stanford University and has since taken me to India, Colombia, Senegal, and Mozambique.