Transition Management (TM) is a long term multi-generational and systemic strategy for reaching sustainable development goals and visions. It engages and empowers diverse stakeholders in a wicked problem area, or what is termed in TM discourse as an ‘Arena’, focused on targeting and engaging key domains or wicked issues. As an approach employed by governments to enact sustainable development goals, a key strategy entails creating a pioneer social innovator group that has political sanction to formulate change initiatives. In this way it draws on a synergy between governmental champions and pioneer social innovator groups or networks (it uses outsiders and insiders as an emerging alliance of change agents). The TM change strategy entails initiating “seeds of change” at a local level that can be scaled up (which serves the dual purpose of mitigating the risks of over generatized policy doctrine and developing experiments that provide long term resilience).
It is quintessentially a strategic foresight approach where global scanning is conducted but applied to local sustainability challenges, and thus it takes advantage of the emerging global knowledge commons for localized applications. It links a long term understanding of alternative futures with shorter term policy and development priorities.
“By building up a broadening network of diverse actors that share the debate, thinking and experimenting, conditions are created for up-scaling breakthroughs in innovations. We will argue that this is at the heart of transition management: by actually implementing transition management in a structured co-production process, new insights emerge, are implemented and reflected upon in a continuing way”. (Loorbach, 2010, p.238)
Transition management makes a distinction between different temporal levels of social change and opportunities for action. At the strategic level, long-term sustainability challenges and alternative futures are explored, connected to complex and wicked social problems – futures studies as an approach for generating new strategic visions, preferred futures and pathways is the methodology par excellence. At the tactical level, TM applies itself toward rethinking key system structures such as “institutions, regulation, physical infrastructures, financial infrastructures” within the context of broader sustainability challenges. At the operational level, TM attempts to generate new activities, decisions and innovations that individuals and groups can generate on a day-to-day basis in order to influence tactical change, but in the context of broader strategic foresight (Loorbach, 2010, p.238). As can be seen from this explanation, TM is unique in its strategy and methodology in terms of linking the very long-term sustainability challenges we face with specific and focused “operational” scale interventions and actions.
The transition management cycle is reminiscent of action learning and action research cycles, but where localized action recurs in the context of the movement toward long-term sustainability goals and visions. Is highly synthetic and its incorporation of elements of the action research cycle works across diverse stakeholder and participant configurations looking for leverage points of change and insight. The formulation of a problem context or “transition arena” may be followed by generating images of sustainability and transition paths, which then flows into transition experiments in the mobilization of transition networks, which is then evaluated and reflected upon, which in turn provides the basis for a new cycle (Loorbach, 2010, p.238).
“The very idea behind transition management is to create a societal movement through new coalitions, partnerships and networks around arenas that allow for building up continuous pressure on the political and market arena to safeguard the long-term orientation and goals of the transition process.” (Loorbach, 2010, p.239)