The Eve of Transition - Themes and Challenges to Understand and Induce Transitions
Boelie Elzen, "University of Twente, CSTS/BBT", Netherlands

Sustainable development requires an encompassing set of transformations, described in this paper as a transition. Loosely defined, a transition denotes a long term change process in an encompassing system that serves a basic societal function (e.g. food production and consumption, mobility, energy supply and use, communication, etc.).

To stimulate the occurrence of transitions towards sustainability we face two major challenges, notably (1) to improve insights in the dynamic of transition processes and (2) to use these insights to develop strategies and policies to induce and stimulate the occurrence of transitions (also called transition management or transition policy).

These challenges define a research agenda and this paper identifies some of the main elements of such an agenda. The first section discusses ‘understanding transitions’ while the second addresses ‘inducing transitions’.

As a starting point the paper identifies three main characteristics of transitions, notably:

* they occur in encompasing regimes or systems;

* they imply a co-evolution of technical and societal / behavioural change;

* they are long-term processes (of the order of decades).

On the basis of these characteristics the paper identifies a variety of challenges for research to improve our understanding of transition processes.

This understanding should subsequently be used to inform strategies to induce transitions. The paper argues that transition policy should at least have the following main characteristics:

* it is in its very essence an interactive endeavour;

* it is a cyclic process of long-term visionmaking, defining near term steps, learning, monitoring progress and adaptation of strategies when needed;

* it is a long-term endeavour that implies the need for long-term commitment from the various actors involved.

With these starting points the paper identifies a variety of concrete challenges for transition policy and transition policy research. A final section argues that initial policy attempts will need to go hand-in-hand with transition research to benefit both the understanding of transitions as well as their inducement en route to a sustainable future.

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