There is a widely shared view that current social trajectories for resource use are not sustainable. Transitioning to alternative resource management systems should be attractive both from an environmental and from an economic point of view. The simultaneous exploration of multiple options and adaptive policies, based on iterative and interactive decision-making, can provide for new systems that are not implemented but “grown” in a gradual manner, relying on feedback and decentralized decision-making. This is the basis of transition management (TM).

Transitions refer to important changes in functional systems; they involve multi-level changes through which society or an important societal subsystem fundamentally changes. Transitions are the result of developments in such areas as economy, culture, government, technology and ecology. For a transition to occur, different developments have to come together that cause a path of development based on new practices, knowledge, social organization and different guiding principles. TM is a framework for interaction where citizens, businesses, organizations and public agencies are able to explore joint solutions to shared problems, a framework in which, once dialogue has been established, attitudes that are more receptive to the interchange of information and interactive learning are generated.

The basic rationale for TM is a belief that fundamental social innovation cannot be achieved from within existing political and economic structures and systems, so “shadow networks” such as TM are necessary. Social innovation is (and always has been) taking place more or less randomly or emergently from the interplay between all sorts of social innovators and actors.

The idea of TM is that, by trying to understand the ongoing dynamics in society at large—as well as within existing political and economic structures (or regimes)—it may be possible to better coordinate, direct and accelerate social change and innovation. Because most bioregions encompass county and municipal jurisdictions (and are embedded within larger political jurisdictions), the identification of one clear policy directive may be very difficult. A TM process, as a directed form of social learning, would be one way to accommodate multiple viewpoints and formal policies within a framework that seeks to guide the evolution of a more desirable future. In effect, it avoids path dependence or policy “lock-in.”

Transition Management in Brief

The learning-by-doing approach presents a useful and increasingly robust strategy for accelerating and guiding social innovation processes. Through co-production of a common language and future orientation, everyday practices can be slightly changed over a longer period of time. By building up a broadening network of diverse actors that share the debate, thinking and experimenting, conditions are created for up-scaling of innovation and breakthrough of innovations. By actually implementing transition management in a structured co-production process, new insights emerge, are implemented and reflected upon in a continuing way.

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