2.3. Experimental Action Research as a Predecessor of Td
Although this was actually noticed late, the Zurich 2000 conception of Td has strong roots in Kurt Lewin’s experimental action research [31
]. Lewin has long been known as the founder of social psychology [32
]. Here, the controlled study of changes in environmental settings and impacts such as a change of leadership style or decision rules on action and behavior are key issues, and the systematic variation of environmental settings by analysis of variance (ANOVA)-based designs is the core method. A recent study applied this technique to quantitatively evaluate the success of Td processes [34
]. Lewin applied ANOVA to explore and validate the changes in programs and societal settings (e.g., teaching strategies) that could help solve problems faced by minorities (e.g., how to actively include more black students). The area development negotiation (ADN) method genuinely refers to Lewin’s ideas. Here, different stakeholder groups are included in designing scenarios for creating future urban settings. The consent and dissent of different stakeholder groups with respect to different aspects (criteria) are assessed by an ANOVA-design-based experimental study (which is included in a Td process). This, then, may become the subject of a mediated negotiation process [35
] in order to balance human needs and interests. The ADN method, which is a combination of scenario formation, multi-criteria decision-making, and negotiation [23
], became a standard method of Td processes [20
However, most remarkably, Lewin’s cooperation with firms, as well as with organizations active in community work, education, and minority problems within and beyond Boston [35
], was institutionalized as the Center for Group Dynamics at MIT, where students could attain a Doctorate of Philosophy in Group Psychology. This is similar to the case at ETH, where a Td Laboratory [36
] developed from a Case Study Laboratory. Unfortunately, action research was discontinued at MIT after Kurt Lewin died early in 1947. However, Lewin’s ideas continued to develop in the US as differing variants of action research and particularly in participatory action research [37
] and community-based participatory research (CBPR) [39
], which dealt with questions of health and education (several variants of action research are presented and discussed below).
Td and action research differ in a couple of respects. As indicated by its label, action research focuses on direct action, and, in many cases, the researcher is intrinsically motivated and takes on the roles and values of a specific stakeholder group. The goals of transdisciplinarity, however, are as follows:
capacity building between science and practice by mutual learning and the capacity building of all stakeholder groups;
consensus building (particularly in the problem-definition phase) among scientists and practitioners;
finding strategies of mitigation among winners and losers of transitions; and
the legitimization of certain actions by politicians who may refer to a balanced process of finding socially robust orientations.
Thus, Td goes beyond mere problem solving and “solutionism” [41
], yet it also aims for the goal that scientific disciplines and the science system itself will benefit from the theory–practice collaboration. The Global TraPs project may be taken as example. Researchers, together with key practitioners (from the mining industry, geological surveys, and fertilizer producers), developed a differentiated view regarding the scarcity of the finite resource phosphorus [42
], which corrected unreasoned concerns about short-term scarcity of this resource. Without the data and knowledge from practice, this scientific progress would not have been made.
We should note that Td is an approach developed mostly in German-speaking countries and in Sweden but has become acknowledged at high-level universities worldwide [45
]. It became a subject of strategic planning for ETH [50
] and a method of research in strategic resources management [51
2.4. From Science to Policy: Transition Management
The TM approach developed at the end of the 1990s in the Netherlands in the context of a policy–science debate about long-term environmental policies based on the work of Jan Rotmans on integrated environmental assessment and modeling on transition processes in environmental systems [52
]. This approach to a large-scale, long-term perspective was influenced by, among other things, innovation theory and adaptive complex-system thinking [55
]. The models included political actors and decision makers, and the scientific results were addressed to them. The idea to contribute to “coherence and consistency in public policy” led to the conception of TM [57
Starting from a long-term, multi-domain, multi-actor perspective, TM attempts to influence the speed and direction of transitions by creating arenas for actors who want to contribute to sustainability transitions. This may be considered a proactive governance approach that develops shared strategies, visions, and actions, yet is done, however, by a “selective participation when leaving the dominant interests out” [58
] of a subset of actors. While grassroots processes and participation have also been identified as meaningful strategies, it sometimes referred to policy consultancy and the Dutch Triple Helix conception [59
], in which science interacts with leading representatives in politics and industry in a flexible manner. Although there are not yet methodological tools available such as those for Td [20
], recent work has provided insight into how the interaction between scientists and practitioners is conceived [61
]. The strategy involves, rather, “influencing transitions” [62
], by supporting processes of framing, visioning, strategizing, and experimenting in society. In addition to this, TM explicitly acknowledges the inevitable impact researchers have as part of transition contexts and processes requiring a reflexive attitude. By actually becoming one of the actors in a transformation, the aim is to achieve a real-world impact as well as to develop in-depth insights into actor motivations, governance processes, and the impact of interventions [58
]. A rationale for this is that researchers have to be in the place where transitions happen and produce insights into the manageability of sustainable transitions [56
From a systems perspective, the focus is on the interaction of social and technological systems. For this type of coupled system, three layers are identified when referring to ecology: a framing-landscape level, a regime level, and a micro level of niches. Niches are places in which new cultures, structures, practices, and technologies develop as alternatives to the mainstream. They are embedded in rather stable regimes of actor networks, rules, and technological infrastructure. The top level, landscape consists of large-scale external trends and changes in society that are considered robust for opposing strategies of single-actor groups [64
]. Regimes are the dominant configurations of institutions, implicit rules, technologies, discourses, and behavioral rules. Transitions result from the interplay between landscape pressures, internal regime tensions, and increasing niche competition. Figure 4
presents a governance framework that emerged from these perspective four types of governance processes of TM [65
]. This multi-level model has been widely received and works successfully as a cultural tool in many domains, including adaptation to climate change through the transitioning of energy systems. The “heart of the Dutch transition approach is transition platforms consisting of people from business, academia government, and civil society [providing] proposals for transition paths to the Dutch government and public” [66
Some years ago, the Rotterdam TM approach took a stronger activist approach based on the analysis that some societal regimes need disruptive transformations. The rest of this subsection refers to Loorbach’s paper [67
], wherein a conception of science is developed that departs from disciplinary structures (p. 79) when taking a “postnormal science and action orientation” (p. 68) that “is normative” (p. 68) and aims “to influence“ transformative changes while studying them” (p. 68). The new conception, which is rooted in qualitative analysis rather than based on integrated modeling, puts the normative component and the third mission of science (to contribute to societal problem-solving) on top and switches from an evolutionary [57
] to a revolutionary view of long-term transitions. Loorbach states that reflexive modernization (p. 23) has come to an end, and even “Sustainable Development itself has become part of the problem”, as the foundations of modernity “are systematically unsustainable” (p. 32).
TM becomes “activist research” (p. 67). This requires that more funding be allocated according “to the ability to show societal value rather than on the ability to satisfy reviewers” (p. 72) and not only to contribute to consistent and coherent knowledge or other criteria of normal sciences. Loorbach introduced the idea of governance panarchy, referring to Hollings’s theory of succession biology [68
], in which (over-)mature systems collapse, and to anarchist political theory [58
]. In this fundamental transition, the idea of science as a public good, which is characteristic of the Zurich 2000 conception (see above), is abandoned, as Loorbach intends to work selectively “with proactive and transformative actors within government, business, science, and civil society” (p. 76). To do this, analogous to the idea of TSc colleges, Loorbach and his colleagues developed a Transition Academy (p. 79).
Historically, the present shift to a critical activist worldview, which considers sustainable development as a patchwork repair that may promote the lock-in of the (Dutch) regime, is a different starting point from the formation of TSc 20 years earlier at the climax of environmental crises and catastrophes such as Chernobyl or Seveso. Today, there is also increasing insecurity regarding global financial systems and large-scale migration. There is a presumption that we are nearing the end of the modern industrial, fossil-energy-based age, the modernization of the Western welfare society (which cannot be extended to a global level), the nation-state ordered world system, and—if we look at science—the end of the segregated mono-disciplinary order of universities.
2.5. Promoting the Great Transition: TSc
The question about the collapse of global civilization has been posed by biologists [69
] when pointing to the vulnerability of ecosystems and their sensitivity to human actions. It is remarkable that the conventions of Rio [72
] targeted the prevention of “dangerous” human interference with the climate system and thus can be viewed as global, environmental precautionary planning [73
]. Although the major concerns and consensus were focused on climate change, desertification, and biodiversity, the three-pillar concept of sustainability introduced the social and economic dimensions of future change, development, and scenarios linked this to the concept of what has been called the Great Transition, a term coined by the economist Kenneth Boulding [74
] upon noticing the fundamental changes in human resource use. The term was used by the Stockholm Tellus Institute in order to design global scenarios to “examine worlds that transcend reform to embrace new values and institutions in pursuit of a just, fulfilling, and sustainable civilization [75
]”. The aims of the Great Transition went far beyond resilient ecosystems; they involved a strong Western civilization perspective and targeted “socially equitable, culturally enriched, and ecologically resilient planetary civilization
[as a] normative foundation [75
A very similar approach emerged from a business–science perspective of sustainable management developed at the University of St. Gallen’s business school, in the course of extending the natural capital-based economic sustainability approach [76
] by shifting to a specific form of weak economic sustainability characterized by actor–network-based innovations and institutional changes [78
]. When referring to ideas about new institutional economics [79
], one core idea is that sustainability calls for a transformation of the explicit and implicit rules and procedures on a societal level. Institutions are viewed as enablers of societal change [81
]. This view has been considered a third component supplementing the stakeholder value and normative idea-shaped approaches (which play a prominent rule in Td; see Figure 2
The idea of (sustainable) “transformation as a democratic search process” became the core message of the 2011 flagship report, “World in Transition”, by the German Advisory Council on Global Change, an independent scientific advisory body launched and financed by the German government [82
]. The WBGU focuses on critical environmental issues such as climate change, deforestation, and biodiversity; soil and freshwater conservation; and the global food supply as well as population growth, and—still with an optimistic view–the rise of democracy [83
] and thus closely resembles the Great Transition. The most salient points in the context of this paper are as follows:
The idea of a “social contract for the transformation to a sustainable society” that launches “responsibility towards future generations with a culture of democratic participation” [84
The suggestion for “a new scientific discipline—‘transformation research’—that specifically addresses transformation processes” and should be based on “systemic interdisciplinarity” and “involving stakeholders on a transdisciplinarity basis,” in particular in “identifying research issues and objectives” [85
The idea of a social contract for sustainable transitioning refers to a modern philosophical, Enlightenment-based idea and was explicitly suggested in reference to Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke (1632–1704), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), and Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and the vision of a “proactive state” as a key actor [84
]. The separation of science and citizens’ rights are well addressed in the statement: “The task of the scientific community is therefore to identify policy options; it is a matter for the democratically elected decision-makers to decide on the appropriate course of action” [84
]. Thus, “research for transformation” should develop, investigate, and suggest “political strategies” [85
], e.g., through transdisciplinary processes.
The Wuppertal Institute and its President Uwe Schneidewind [86
], who is also a professor at a public university, took a leading role in the development of transition science and in the identification of key ideas [88
]. The Wuppertal Institute is institutionally a limited liability company and non-profit enterprise (gGmbH) and thus a type of non-governmental institute. However, it was launched in 1992 by the social-democratic government of North Rhine–Westphalia. It received considerable basic (long-term) funding from the state as an Institute for Climate, Environment, and Energy in the early 1990s, when both local air pollution and climate change related to fossil energy were issues. It is thus, by its nature, an interfacial process institute between government and various stakeholder groups. However, the governmental funding has been viewed with resentment by NGO-like eco-institutes [89
] that criticize consultancy-shaped projects with governmental sourcing and NGO-like aspirations of transitioning to a new society (similar to the TM approach and in contrast to Td’s idea of the public good).
Schneidewind and colleagues’ current intention to extend and transform the science system and to build a Mode 3 research model that supplements the societal-problem-driven Mode 2 research. What Mode 3 science really means is fuzzily formulated but relates—as similarly expressed in the TM approach—to “societal transformation challenges”, “by actively including civil society actors as an external corrective on the ‘blind spots’ in the science system” [90
]. The core method of Transition Science is the “Real Experiment” [91
] in settings such as “Real-World Laboratories” (RWLs). In particular, cities are seen as places of transformation. The practice of RWLs has, thus far, not developed to much extent. RWLs are conceived as “a normatively framed approach within spatial and content-related boundaries, using Td methods of knowledge integration and engaging in cyclical real-world interventions in order to contribute to local action for sustainable development and the empowerment of change agents” [92
]. There are four RWL labs in Wuppertal and others elsewhere in Germany.
TS does not look for idealized, artificial settings that isolate ambivalent impacts in order to approach an unobtrusive observation for gaining insights in (multi-)causal mechanisms and systems. A “real-world experiment” is seen as a hybrid approach, including components of field observation and living experimentation for ecological and technological implementation [88
]. We may consider this approach as a vision and perhaps as another replication of the debate that the common method of social science experimentation—manipulating one aspect while leaving all other aspects unchanged—is unrealistic [93
] and calls for adapting the setting of observation [94
]. However, the validation of data seems to pose many fundamental questions. The major field of application is urban development and the search for social innovation [95
]. In 2015, the state of Baden-Württemberg launched seven labs ranging from national parks via energy transitioning, mobility, and space-sharing to the sustainable transitioning of traditional industries such as the textile industry with a clear commitment that “science may find solutions for [the] future only when collaborating with society” [96
The methods and methodology of real-world experiments are under construction. The promoters of transformative science (TS) refer to the methods applied in Td processes [20
] and to the vision of disciplined interdisciplinarity in Td discourses [97
]. However, there are also other questions, such as in what way normative lobbying for new sustainable patterns of life or genuine democratic discourses that include all main stakeholders should be launched or how the inputs of science and practice should be used; these questions have yet to be answered sufficiently by the TSc approach.
2.6. Different Roles of Scientists in the Three Approaches: Facilitator, Catalyst, or Activist (Researcher)
If we highlight those roles that science may play, we can distinguish between two extreme positions. The first is science as a self-efficient endeavor in which scientists write papers that are then reviewed and read by other scientists. This narrow view was promoted by the theme “from professors to knowledge workers” [98
]. It appears that, in some domains, craftsmanship-like quantitative records have replaced the quality of ideas generated by sage scholars. A second role is linked to the service function of science and to what we call a “luggage carrier”. Science became functionalized by politics or industry, playing the role of a helpmate that performs contract-based research and development, and follows instructions. As Trischler and vom Bruch [99
] elaborated, many of the activities of Fraunhofer Gesellschaft follow this model, which resembles the principal agent model. Industry is the principal, and (public) science institutions represent the agent. We also think that some of the (“close to citizen”) projects of the Dutch programs Climate Changes Spatial Planning Programme [100
] and Knowledge for Planning [101
] fall into this category: The task “to support the development” may be seen as scientists serving as helpmates to manage a national political problem, i.e., the “spatially explicit adaptation and mitigation strategies that anticipate climate change“ [100
]. To avoid becoming dependent on third-hand money and/or losing the independence of science, contract-based research has to be abandoned in Td processes. Instead, Td processes should receive sponsoring (which can be linked to declarations regarding the processes for which such monies may be spent). Yet practitioners must be given full transparency about data and papers before publication in order to avoid being unreasonably or unnecessarily harmed. The latter is usually guaranteed by co-leadership (see above).
Td, TM, and TSc aspire to introduce new ways of doing and utilizing science for societal learning and transitioning. The concepts overlap, but they differ in the conception of the role that science and scientists should play in the transition. Doubtlessly, all approaches see science as a change agent and scientists as reflective and reflexive [63
Td launches and facilitates mutual learning between science and society when epistemics (ways of knowing) and values (e.g., about the subjects of inquiry) in the processes of joint problem definition, problem representation, and problem transformation develop socially robust orientations. Science functions as a public good and knowledge broker, which should help all stakeholders to better cope with ongoing transitions in a sustainable manner.
TM supports and mobilizes proactively human actors (people, cities, sectors, and organizations) to take action in fundamental changes toward a sustainable future. Scientists are conceived of as a “socially committed, open-minded, curious and—at times—provocative bunch”; they are “critical of the status quo, contribute to fundamental change, and generate sustainable futures” [102
]. TM has been closer to politics governmental actors, see [56
] than Td, which focuses more on the whole range of policy makers (stakeholders).
TSc “takes an active role in initiating and catalyzing change processes (see Table 1
). The aim is to increase[d] societal capacity for reflexivity with regard to fundamental change processes.” Such as in TSc, science is conceived as an “an enabler of collective social learning processes” [103
] quotes taken from (pp. 2–10). The concept of ‘catalyst’ falls between the reflexive facilitator and the activist; it conceives of scientists as initiators of change and process facilitators [63