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Transition management: its origin,evolution and critique. Jan Rotmans, Derk Loorbach, Ren é Kemp Berlin, 19-09-2007. NMP4 –TM basic. a long-term orientation as framework for short-term policies. dealing with uncertainties keep options open multi-domain and multi-actor approach

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transition management its origin evolution and critique

Transition management:its origin,evolution and critique

Jan Rotmans, Derk Loorbach, René Kemp

Berlin, 19-09-2007

nmp4 tm basic
NMP4 –TM basic
  • a long-term orientation as framework for short-term policies.
  • dealing with uncertainties
  • keep options open
  • multi-domain and multi-actor approach
  • focus on learning and innovation
  • a specific role for government





Energy Valley










theoretical basis
Theoretical basis
  • Governance approach
    • Insights from
      • Complexity theory: dynamics of CAS
      • Sociology: social dynamics of change
      • Governance: patterns and practices of actors in networks
    • Applied to ’transitions’ (in social CAS) and sustainable development
  • Governance framework
    • Multi-level meta-governance approach
    • Set of systemic instruments
governance framework

Problem structuring, envisioning and organizing transition-arenas


(emphasis on system



(emphasis on system



(emphasis on system


Developing sustainability images, coalitions and joint transition-agendas

Monitoring, evaluating and adapting

Mobilizing actors and developing transition-experiments

Governance framework
tm 2 0
TM – 2.0
  • complex systems’ and transitions’ thinking as analytical basis
  • long-term envisioning as framework for short-term action
  • multiple futures, images and pathways
  • multi-actor approaches
  • taking multi-level dynamics into account
  • creating protected (governance) niches for innovation
  • developing strategies to deal with the regime
  • focus on learning, experiment and innovation
misconception 1
Misconception 1

transition management is social engineering

“transition management is not about designing a route planner,

using a Tom-Tom to achieve a fixed place of determination”

searching, learning, experimenting

exploring new pathways in a reflexive manner

misconception 2
Misconception 2

management means command & control

“transition management is not a form of planning to steer

actors towards predefined, normative goals”

management here means creating space for frontrunners

space for: envisioning

joint agenda

financial incentives

small-scale experiments

empowering niche-players

scaling up experiments

misconception 3
Misconception 3

socio-technical systems vs social systems

“transition management has not been applied to socio-technical

systems but to societal sectors or regions”

no sailship but mobility sector; no biotechnology but agriculture

not exploring the role of technologies

but exploring the role of individuals and institutions


A typology of transitions

Energy transition


Agricultural intensification (’60’s)

Water transition

Health insurance

High aggregation

From coal to gas

Nuclear energy supply

Biomass energy supply

From sailboat to steamship

High Coordination

Low aggregation


Low aggregation


Low Coordination

Solar Energy supply

Biological Agriculture

Wind Energy supply

High aggregation


Demographic Transition

Transition to Sustainable Agriculture

Economic Transition





  • Degree of purposiveness
  • Degree of coordination
  • Level of scale (high: society / low: subsystem of society)
shove walker caution 1
Shove & Walker Caution 1

who are managing a transition and on whose behalf?

what are the everyday politics of transition management?

  • transition managers do not really exist
  • variety of transition players dealing with:

strategy, new coalitions, experiments, arrangements,

bureaucratic matters, guidelines for practitioners

‘tangled ball’

  • government mostly initiator but not necessarily
caution 2
Caution 2

what is to be monitored and how frequently?

how to identify early warning signals?

  • different stages of a transition
  • patterns and underlying mechanisms
  • emergent properties of complex system
  • thresholds versus tipping points
  • reflexive monitoring
    • shared problem perception
    • sustainability visions
    • social learning
    • emerging networks
    • behaviour of frontrunners
caution 3
Caution 3

how to respond to ‘unsustainable’ transitions?

how to deal with the ‘death’ of undesirable systems?

  • persistent problems are symptoms of unsustainability
  • persistent problems are deeply rooted in our society
  • persistent problems require radical system innovations
  • transition involves building up new structures and

decay of existing structures

caution 4
Caution 4

overly focus on technical systems and infrastructures,

is a narrow slice of a wider social systemic change

  • socio-technical case studies are different from

transition management case studies

  • co-evolution of institutional, cultural, demographic,

economic, ecological and technological determinants

  • transition management was developed as an answer

to the ‘narrow’ focus of the socio-technical approach


abstract level of social systems as angle for tm

and precise orientation of those systems

  • persistency of system requires integrated systems

approach at the highest system level

  • transition definition needs to be ambitious, challenging and concrete

[ not ‘from carbon emitting to carbon neutral ]

  • divide overall theme in sub-themes
  • acute political struggle partly recognized

transition management is not synonymous with

governance for sustainable development

  • political machinery around sustainable development
  • Intergovernmental process [UN]
  • transition management not part of this
  • scope of transition management is limited
  • but it can be applied to regions and cities

how to deal with lock-in and two-way options

  • core of transition management is to experiment on

a small-scale to reduce large-scale risk

  • ‘manage’ transition experiments
    • deepening
    • broadening
    • scaling up
  • transition experiments not around technology only
carbon capture and storage
Carbon capture and storage

‘offers no permanent solution to the climate problem

but complementary to energy conservation and

sustainable energy policies’

Platform ‘New Gas’ with working group ‘clean fossils’

positive advice on supporting ‘clean fossils’

four project types:

  • CO2 capture and storage with coal/gas-fired electricity
  • storing CO2 from pure point sources such as industry
  • CO2-storage of energy generation based on coal/biomass
  • CO2-storage of natural gas extracted offshore

first ‘clean fossils’ experiment will start soon

carbon capture and storage19
Carbon capture and storage
  • SEC: Zero Emission Power Plant
  • NAM: CO2-storage in a nearby natural gas field
  • NUON: CO2-separation and use in coal/biomass power plant
  • Gaz de France: CO2-storage in natural gas field in North sea

provisional scenarios have been developed

from ‘the Netherlands as CO2-hub’ till ‘clean fossils

remain marginal’

international context
International context

is transition management typical Dutch?


because the underlying principles are generic

because it is ad odds with the Dutch ‘polder model’

and the consensus democracy


Its application is context-specific and culturally bound


TM is not a megalomaniac attempt to remake society

TM is a new governance model for interactions

between market, state and civil society to work

towards a sustainability transition

‘perspective incrementalism’ for sustainability

results are encouraging but no evidence that it works