Transition management: reflexive governance of societal complexity through searching, learning and experimenting
Our society faces a number of persistent problems whose symptoms are becoming more and more apparent. Persistent problems are complex because they are: deeply embedded in our societal structures; uncertain because of the hardly reducible structural uncertainty they include; difficult to manage with a variety of actors with diverse interests involved; and hard to grasp, in the sense that they are difficult to interpret and ill-structured (Dirven et al. 2002). Persistent problems are the superlative form of what Rittel and Webber (1973) refer to as ‘wicked’ problems. Examples of persistent problems are: the energy problem with anthropogenic climate change as manifestation; the agricultural problem with symptoms such as animal diseases such as bird flu, mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth disease; the water problem illustrated by major floods and periods of drought; and the mobility problem with traffic congestion and air pollution due to increased mobility. Persistent problems could generally be considered to be symptoms of an unsustainable society. These persistent problems cannot be solved using only current policies (SER 2001). Persistent problems are related to the system failures that have crept into our societal systems which, contrary to market failures, cannot be corrected by the market or current policies. Existing policies are necessary but not sufficient; much more is needed. In order to combat system failures a restructuring of our societal systems is required: transitions. A transition is a structural change in a societal (sub)system that is the result of a co-evolution of economic, cultural, technological, ecological and institutional developments at different scale levels (Rotmans et al. 2000). Transitions cannot be steered in command and control terms, because they are too complex phenomena with many uncertainties and surprises. However, transitions can be influenced and guided, in terms of influencing the speed and direction of these processes. The latter we call transition management, which will be described below.