Transition management: origin, evolution, critique
Transition management has rapidly emerged over the past few years as a new approach to dealing with complex societal problems and governance in the context of these problems. In the Netherland, UK and Belgium, serious efforts have been and are being undertaken to develop transition policies in areas such as energy, building, mobility and water management. This is the result of a much broader scientific development of transition research as an interdisciplinary field of study in which innovation studies, history, ecology and modeling are combined with sociology, political and governance studies and even psychology. Because of the focus on integrated sustainability problems and the applied nature of transition research, the natural interaction between science and policy has led to a continuous co-evolving theory and practice of transition management. The emergence of transition management as a new paradigm for governance and research has surprised many researchers and policy-makers, leading to skepticism and doubts as well as enthusiasm and new élan. How was it possible that a new approach that aims to promote transitions, in fact evolutionary revolutions fundamentally altering existing regimes, could be taken up so quickly by policy and was able to simultaneously develop scientifically into a, still very young, discipline? This paper describes the predevelopment phase leading up to the introduction of transition management as national policy in the Netherlands. It will explain the following development as a result of the co-production process between research and policy in which all elements that constitute the transition management approach were brought together. The paper will show that these basic elements were already being developed and implemented for years but had to come together in an active co-production process to become integrated and internalized. Since its introduction into the policy arena, transition management has been widely debated, challenged, tested, and because of this further developed, enriched and grounded scientifically. The debate concerning the ‘manageability’ and predictability of transitions has been picked up by Meadowcroft (2005, 2007), Shove and Walker (2007), who warn against possible pitfalls concerning transition management and raise interesting questions regarding scope, effectivity and legitimacy. In their commentaries, they thus touch upon relevant issues, but especially Shove and Walker seem unaware of most of the research and practical experiences of the last years. They for example seem unaware of the social systems approach underlying transition management, the focus on the role of immaterial elements and consumers in transitions, the reflexive use of sustainable development as guiding instead of prescribing notion and the new insights about the role of research and researchers in transition management. In all these areas, important progress has been made. The paper will explain how the transition management approach further evolved and how it necessarily will continue to do so in the future. We will discuss in-depth major points of criticism and concern as put forward by various authors over the past years.