Evaluating transitions

2012 EEEN Forum / Evaluation

Sander Happaerts, Matthias Bussels and Hans Bruyninckx, HIVA – KU Leuven; Derk Loorbach, Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT)

This session will briefly portray the design and dynamics of the transition management approach, investigating into the possibilities and methodological challenges of evaluating and monitoring transi­tion processes by highlighting some practical experiences.

Transitions touch on the deeply rooted unsustainability of contemporary systems fulfilling societal needs, such as the energy, food or mobility system (Paredis, 2009). Societal progress is heavily predi­cated on increasing environmental and social pressures. Alleviating these pressures even relatively, let alone substantially, has proven an elusive endeav­our as they are firmly rooted and reproduced within our institutions and practices and involve a multiplicity of scales and actors (Loorbach, 2007). Theories focusing on systemic change and societal innovation, aptly called ‘transition theories’, attempt to address that systemic unsustainability (Kemp & Rotmans, 2001; Kemp & Grin, 2009). One such approach is the transition management approach. This (governance) model, originated in the Netherlands, has recently been adopted by the Flemish government as the framework for its long-term strategy for sustainable development. Acknowledging the manageability of long-term systemic societal change, the model proposes various flexible mechanisms and instruments to be applied during the transition process. Guided by visions on the desired future state of the system, transition paths are drawn up and tentatively explored. Each of these steps is character­ised by uncertainty due to the systemic character of the issue involved. The transition process is therefore neces­sarily pro­pelled by processes of consensus-building and reflexive and social learning (Loorbach & Rotmans, 2006).

Due to the relative novelty of transition theory and the inherent insecurity involving any process of systemic change, constant reflection, monitoring and (re-)evaluation of the targets and actions is crucial for success (Rotmans, 2009). Regardless of many transition processes being set up and put into motion, this particular dimension of transition theory and practice has yet to receive serious scholarly attention. In this session, both the academic traditions of policy evaluation and environ­mental impact evaluation will certainly prove useful in suggesting potential techniques and ap­proaches of evaluation.

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