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MAGIC “Moving Towards Adaptive Governance in Complexity: Informing Nexus Security"

A word cloud of text taken from the MAGIC description of work
Can we improve our understanding and management of complex sustainability challenges?

MAGIC takes a fresh look at the Europe’s goals for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and the policies and instruments intended to support these goals. Many issues – including water, energy and food security - are interconnected in complex systems. This is the idea of the ‘nexus’. Improving how we manage the nexus requires us to use methods that help decision-makers consider and connect multiple issues and goals.

To achieve this, the project uses an innovative societal metabolism model called ‘MuSIASEM’ to analyse and demonstrate patterns in society’s use of natural resources and the subsequent environmental impacts. The application of this MuSIASEM model will reflect input and questions from policy-makers, whilst its outputs will be used to help stimulate discussion about the interconnecting and consequences of different expectations and aspirations.  MuSIASEM has already been developed and proven in other situations. The website, arising from a project for the FAO, gives a good overview of how the model works and the type of questions plus examples of the cases to which has been applied.

MAGIC is a four-year project, starting June 2016, and funded by the Horizon 2020, the European Commission programme for research and innovation. It is a collaborative research project of ten research organisations, led by the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) together with The James Hutton Institute, Wageningen University, University of Twente, Climate Analytics, University of Bergen, the EC-Joint Research Centre, University of Naples Federico II, the Technological Institute of Canary Islands, with Yale University as an external partner.  The James Hutton Institute’s role in the project is as leader of ‘work-package 5’, which focuses on eliciting and discussing the framings or narratives that shape key environmental policies.  The policies that WP5 covers relate to Water, Energy, Biodiversity, Agriculture and the Circular Economy.

For more information about the Hutton's role in the project, contact Keith Matthews or Kirsty Blackstock

The main website of the MAGIC project is available at: You can follow the MAGIC project’s twitter feed at @MAGIC_NEXUS and its Facebook page at


News, Outputs and Events


  • On the 30th September over 100 participants enjoyed learning about ‘Uncomfortable Knowledge in WEF Nexus Governance: Results from the H2020 MAGIC project’ via a webinar by Kirsty Blackstock at MAGIC’s final policy event. With this presentation Kirsty reflected on the lessons learnt about working with policy actors when conducting transdisciplinary science for sustainability. At this event, which marked the end of four years of the project, participants were invited to discuss the challenges of using uncomfortable knowledge. More information about the event can be found here, a recording of the event can be viewed here and the presentation slides can be downloaded here.
  • Also in September 2020 the MAGIC consortium published the book ‘The Nexus Times’, a collection of short opinion pieces that critically reflect on sustainability, energy production, water management, climate and the economy. More information and a PDF version of the book can be found here.
  • On the 22nd September Kerry Waylen presented a webinar on ‘Questioning the role of academic experts in science-policy interfaces: Reflections from engagement on sustainable agriculture’ at MAGIC’S final scientific event, ‘Post-Normal Science in Practice: Lessons Learned from the MAGIC project’. In this talk Kerry reflected on the production and use of knowledge and on what it means to be a post-normal expert in a non post-normal world. A recording of the presentation can be viewed here, and more information about the event can be found here.
  • In September we published a series of 2-page policy briefs of some of our findings as well as on the methods we used in MAGIC. These include briefings on the challenges of implementing the SDGs, insights on the EU Farm to Fork Strategy and its reliance on imports, lessons learnt from MAGIC for a new Farm Sustainability Data Network, as well as a briefing summarising Quantitative Story Telling as the methodology we used. These an all other policy briefs produced throughout the project can be found on the MAGIC project website.
  • In July 2020 we completed our report on EU sustainability goals. This report offers a pan-EU socio-ecological assessment of the EU agricultural and agri-food system, appraising the implications for progress towards Europe’s own policy goals and the UN Agenda 2030, especially Sustainable Development Goal 2, to End Hunger. The analysis presented combines a quantitative analysis with policy research and engagement, in a transdisciplinary process called ‘Quantitative Story-Telling’, which builds on the insights of Post-Normal Science. The report demonstrates how many aspects of European agricultural systems are not sustainable long-term considering planetary boundaries, both in environmental and socio-economic terms. Findings also highlight the significant consequences arising from European agriculture’s connections with the wider world. The report reinforces the calls for radical changes in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and other policies, beyond those recently proposed, and also suggests that specific plans to achieve Agenda 2030 objectives are necessary, challenging assumptions that existing policy instruments will be sufficient by themselves. This report can be downloaded from the MAGIC project’s website, or by clicking here.
  • On the 2nd of June we ran an online seminar for the European Environment Agency on 'A new perspective on Water-Energy-Food Systems, in support of Sustainable Development Goal 2'. We explained the principles of 'Societal Metabolism Analysis' used in MAGIC, and illustrated its application to European agri-food systems. This was followed by a discussion with the attendees on the method and its application to policy making. A summary of the presentations and discussion can be found here, and the slides presented can be downloaded here.
  • European ParliamentOn 4-6th March 2020, Kirsty Blackstock, Keith Matthews and Kerry Waylen attended the final progress meeting in Barcelona.  The focus of this event was largely how to colloborate to disseminate and discuss our methods and materials with stakeholders.
  • On 30th January, the MEP Sheila Ritchie hosted a 'MAGIC' European Parliament breakfast on sustainable agri-food systems. The seminar was presented by Keith Matthews and Kerry Waylen,together with the project coordinator Mario Giampietro (UAB).  Attendees included other MEPs and their staff, including members of the EP Agri committee. The concept of the event is summarised here and the slides are available here. This prompted an interesting and wide-ranging discussion, a useful spur to reflection for MAGIC staff and also - we hope - the attendees.


  • In November, Keith Matthews, Kerry Waylen and Alba Juarez-Bourke ran a seminar at Scotland House, Brussels, where they focused on explaining Societal Metabolism analysis via MuSIASEM, and demonstrating application of this approach to examine the extent to which agri-food systems within Europe may or may not be supporting SDG2. A 2-page memo from that event is available here, and the slides shown at the seminar are available here.
  • Also in November we published a MAGIC briefing 'Introducing Societal Metabolism Analysis via MuSIASEM' which is available here or via
  • In October Kirsty Blackstock was in Brussels for the the Nexus Cluster Workshop, where she presented MAGIC’s social metabolism methodology, and shared social metabolism insights with European policy makers. She highlighted how the water-energy-food nexus is not just a technical problem; it requires attention to how problems are framed, to whether the solutions are feasible, viable and desirable, and to transforming institutions and governance processes. A policy brief summarising these insights can be downloaded here, and her presentation slides can be downloaded here and here.
  • In August 2019 we published a 2-page policy briefing, ‘Europe’s contribution to the SDGs via Sustainable Agriculture’. Click here to download a copy.
  • In May 2019, Kerry Waylen attended Brussels for the EU Green Week conference, and presented on the MAGIC project as part of a joint presentation with Hutton colleague Richard Allan, about research to support a 'joined up approach to the water environment'. We highlighted the need to promote connections between different natural resource domains (e.g. the idea of the energy-water-food nexus), between places and cases, between different academic disciplines, and between research and different stakeholder groups. A copy of the presentation is available here.
  • Also in May 2019, on the 22-24th, members from Hutton attended the third project meeting, in Twente, the Netherlands. There was a strong focus on further developing work in WP5 and WP6 but also disseminating and discussing existing work.
  • In April 2019 we published a 2-page briefing 'European Agriculture: Is it possible to promote both competitiveness and environmental sustainability?'. This derives from the longer project report published in the previous November, and is available from


  • In November 2018 we completed our report which 'quality tested' a prevailing narrative used to justify the Common Agricultural Policy around the joint delivery of farm competitiveness and public goods. This is an output of an EU Horizon 2020 project (MAGIC) being conducted to better understand how EU water, food, energy, waste and biodiversity policies are linked together and to EU climate and sustainability goals. It is one of five deliverables looking at narratives underpinning key EU water, energy and food (WEF) nexus policies. The narrative chosen with policy stakeholders was “CAP aims to ensure European agricultural competitiveness in the world market and aims to deliver public goods such as biodiversity conservation, water quality and climate change mitigation. These aims are in opposition”.   Analysis of international trade in agricultural products highlighted the dependence of EU agriculture on external resources, e.g. feedstocks. These increase the competitiveness of EU agriculture, but their production can undermine public good provision beyond the borders of the EU. The analyses of productivity across agricultural sectors, illustrated the role of subsidies in keeping farming viable, but noted significant windfalls for sectors, viable without subsidy. Despite some opportunities for increases in efficiency of resource use, the magnitude of outputs from farming systems are still largely driven by the level of inputs. Any significant overall reduction in the intensity of input use improve the provision of public goods would seem to require an acceptance of less output. This suggests that if CAP is intended to achieve a more sustainable balance of competitiveness and provision of public goods, then it may need to support measures to reduce the demands being placed on the farmed areas of the EU. The Deliverable can be found within the project document repository ( or by clicking here.
  • In October 2018 we hosted a seminar-workshop at DG Agri of the European Commision. The purpose of this meeting was to debate the nature of the linkages between competitiveness and delivery of public good by EU farming and how this can be influenced by the CAP, informed by a fresh perspective on existing data; for the MAGIC team to receive feedback on their work, and shape the next steps of their research. A brief memo arising from this meeting is available here.
  • In summer 2018 we were busy promoting the project and discussing its progress at a variety of events including the International Sustainable Transitions conference in June 2018; the RGS-IBG conference in August 2018 and workshops with the European Environment Agency. 
  • The second progress meeting was held in Naples (4-6th June 2018) where we discussed how the MAGIC approach could be used to influence the delivery of public policy and for global objectives such as the Sustainable Development Goals.


  • Throughout 2017 we conducted interviews and meetings with policy makers that are connected with the development and implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy. Based on analysis of interviews and policy documents, and after discussing our conclusions with stakeholders, we selected a narrative to explore using the quantitative story telling approach; we decided to explore the basis of EU farm competitiveness and its wider consequences, including if there is a trade-off between competiveness and delivery of public goods. Click here to read the November 2017 Milestone Report that describes the narrative selected (pp. 19-23).
  • On 8-10th May 2017, MAGIC held its first progress meeting. Members of the Hutton team, together with other partners travelled to Wageningen to review progress and plan our next steps. The first day of the meeting was attended by the three General advisors from our project Advisory Board, who gave us some useful feedback to inform our future plans.
  • On 2-4th May 2017, Kerry Waylen from the Hutton attended the 2017 Alter-Net conference.  The theme of this international conference was "Synergies, conflicts and trade-offs in the relationship between nature and society" so there was a strong connection with the work of MAGIC.  Kerry presented "How do European policies shape nature-society interactions? Introducing the MAGIC Approach" and the presentation is available from
  • On 29-31th March 2017, members of the Hutton team travelled to Wageningen, where the  Wageningen University partners hosted a meeting with ourselves, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and Twente University. The focus of this meeting was developing the application of MuSIASEM, the MAGIC-project engine, to the pilot cases considered within WP4 of MAGIC.
  • It is challenging to consider how to take account of the role of Climate Change in MAGIC, as it impacts on - and is influenced by - nearly every societal process and policy.  On 15-16th March, the MAGIC partner 'Climate Analytics' hosted a meeting on the role of climate change in the project in Berlin on 15-16 March, attended by Mike Rivington from the Hutton, together with remote participation by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Joint Research Council.
  • In early February 2017, members of the Hutton team travelled to Brussels to meet and interview contacts in DG Agriculture.  These interviews supported the work to build a 'Nexus Dialogue Space' which is led by the JRC (Joint Research Centre). These interviews will also inform the future activities of WP5, which is managed by Hutton.
  • On November 3rd, Kerry Waylen and Kirsty Blackstock travelled to Schipol airport to meet with other social scientists working in MAGIC. We didn't see much daylight but this intense one-day meeting was a valuable opportunity for planning the social science interactions and framings to be used by the project.


  • On 5-9th September 2016, several members from the Hutton team travelled to Barcelona to collaborate with the other MAGIC partners in a training session to develop the methods that will be used for 'Quantitative Story-Telling',  The meeting was an excellent opportunity to deepen our understanding of various modelling and social science requirements.
  • Several presentations about MAGIC were delivered by Kirsty Blackstock at the 2016 Annual International Conference of the Royal Geographical Society (30th August - 2nd September, London).  This large conference gave a great opportunity to share ideas with several other researchers and projects working on the water-energy-food nexus.  Each talk focused on different aspects of the project, e.g. introducing QST, considering post-normal science. Following the conference, Kirsty wrote this blog post for the Sustainability Currents website.
  • Partners from across Europe at the first meeting for the MAGIC project

    On 13-15th June 2016, The Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA- UAB) hosted the kick-off meeting for the MAGIC project. The innovative and environmentally sustainable building was a good setting for stimulating discussion!


Project Information
Project Type: 
Archived Project


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.