8.2 State of the art

Societal or socio-technical systems are complex dynamic systems. This means that changes take place continuously: new services are developed, new technologies are introduced to the market, decisions are made to do things differently, mutual task agreements are changed, or new players enter the market. In this sense, complex systems are always in motion. However, the degree of change and how the change is managed can differ greatly. Transitions can be driven internally (i.e. by players and incentives of the system itself) or more externally controlled, and their coordination can be vision-driven or take place more "emergently" (Berkhout et al., 2003). After studying different transitions, Schot and Geels (2007) define five stereotypical transition paths that can be followed by a system. These range from 'the path of reproduction' in which system interactions keep the regime (or the current structure of the system - the prevailing frames of thought, institutions and infrastructure) dynamically stable, to 'the path of reconfiguration' in which innovations increasingly challenge the architecture of the regime, or 'the path of substitution' where an innovation developed (and proven) parallel to the system breaks through to the regime. We are talking here about innovations, of a social or technological nature, that introduce a different practice with other necessary institutions and infrastructure.

To illustrate, if we consider the current practice of personal transportation, we can say that the socio-technical system around it is currently following the ‘path of reconfiguration.’ Electric vehicles, which entail different infrastructure and institutions than petrol or diesel vehicles, are increasingly challenging the status quo. All this, of course, under pressure from global institutions, governments, scientists and the population, who are increasingly asking for more sustainable alternatives.

We can divide methods that support the realisation of system change into four subcategories: methods that 1) explore and model a system according to a chosen system perspective and conceptual framework in order to understand the dynamics, 2) support strategic action in the development of experiments and interventions, 3) helping to organise the process of intervention development as a system change in itself, and 4) facilitating and stimulating dialogue & reflexivity in the process. These methods are closely intertwined. In order to understand a complex system, it is stated that intervention is crucial (Snowden & Boone, 2007). And because an objective perspective on socio-technical systems does not exist, dialogue and reflexivity is an essential element in choosing a system perspective (Checkland, 1999).

1) Methods for modeling the system (understanding dynamics) To determine the strategy to influence a desired system change, it is necessary to understand what the current playing field looks like. On the basis of a chosen system lens or conceptual framework, questions are asked such as: who are important players (in terms of power or importance), what are the important thinking frameworks, how is value exchanged, and which innovations are being worked on? The connections and relationships between these system elements and their effect on the dynamics of the system are particularly important here. Methods are offered for this from various disciplines.

  • Multi-Level Perspective: this method states that we can understand transitions as interactions between 'the landscape' (ie, developments in the field of politics, culture, worldviews, and paradigms), 'the regime' (ie, the prevailing conceptual frameworks, institutions and infrastructure) and 'niches' (ie, places in which deviating practices take place). From this conceptual framework, innovative movements and conservative forces are analysed by means of historical analysis and qualitative research (Geels, 2002).

  • Process method TIS analysis: This method falls within the perspective of technology-innovation systems (TIS). The network of interacting agents in the economic field who operate within a particular institutional infrastructure and are involved in the generation, diffusion and use of technology. The process method studies the mechanisms underlying technology change over time, by means of data analysis on events at the micro level (e.g. meeting reports and organisational reports) or system level (newspaper archives and journals) (Hekkert et al., 2006).

  • Gigamapping: This method falls within the pluralistic systemic design approach, in which a conceptual lens is always pragmatically chosen on the basis of the properties of a complex issue. This can concern ecological, technological, societal, personal, cultural, political and legal, economic as well as demographic lenses and micro and macro perspectives. Based on a mixed-method approach with, for example, stakeholder interviews, user observations, and dialogue sessions, different perspectives and the resulting elements and relationships are brought together in a gigamap (Sevaldson, 2011).

2) Methods to develop and choose interventions (how to intervene) Managing system change is complex. And methods that help to develop interventions and provide a reference for making strategic choices are needed. What is our shared vision of how change will come about? Which interventions do we see as most effective? Which initiatives exist and should we try to scale up?

  • Leverage points: The concept of leverage points indicates places in a complex system where a small change can lead to a major impact in a system (Meadows, 1999). Meadows determined twelve leverage points in order of effectiveness, whereby we can exert influence at the least effective level through constants, parameters, and numbers (such as subsidy or standards). The most effective levels are about the mindset or paradigm from which the system arises and the power to transcend paradigms.

  • Transition design: Transition design is a framework that promotes a design-driven societal transition for a sustainable future, based on a concept for a completely new lifestyle that is developed locally and on a human scale, while being globally networked in the exchange of information and technology. The framework includes four key areas (i.e., vision for the transition, theory of change, attitude and mindset, and new ways of design) for which narrative, knowledge, skills and actions can be developed (Irwin, 2015).

  • Multi-criteria mapping: This method helps to identify different perspectives and map various policy options for system changes. By means of a structured interview technique and a computer analysis, all options are viewed in a symmetrical way by different actors. They look at both social and technological aspects (Stirling et al., 2007).

3) Methods for organising transitions It is impossible as an outsider to realise system change without establishing relationships with the system. This means that actors or companies that want to steer system change must strategically consider how they enter into and shape the relationship with the existing system. How do you form a network with a shared mission? How do you organise the process? How do you divide roles and build new structures of cooperation? And how, as a network of stakeholders, can you, as it were, pilot system change by experimenting together with new resources and processes?

  • Transition arena as a method in which a selective group (an innovation network) with diverse perspectives and roles works on a future vision and transition path for a specific transition (Loorbach, 2014).

  • Sociotechnics: Sociotechnics shows how you can integrally change (networks of) organisations so that they can make their social contribution. For this you have to start with the structure (the way in which tasks are divided and linked). What exactly better structures entail differs per concrete context - and sociotechnology offers a tool for designing and redesigning structures per context (de Sitter, 1994).

  • Transformative Practices: This is a design-driven approach that helps multi-stakeholder teams to research, design and innovate complex systemic societal challenges. By consciously playing with different configurations of people and mediations (through products, systems, environments, services, policy instruments), the personal and social ethics and related behaviour of (groups of) people transforms.

4) Methods to learn together from change As stated earlier, complex dynamic systems cannot be controlled. We must learn to ‘dance’ with systems. Learning from Eastern philosophies, we need to use our Western knowledge - often based on reductionist paradigms - in our practices to guide transitions. This requires reflexivity. How can we learn as effectively as possible from our actions, during our actions?

  • Pragmatic Reflexivity: Traditional reflexive approaches aim at generating consensus. Pragmatic reflexivity, on the other hand, is an open, transformative and action-oriented collective process of reframing the issue and underlying values, ideologies and power structures. The methodology consists of collaborative experiments and social learning with both scientific and extra-scientific expertise (Popa et al., 2015).

  • Dialogic design: This is a method as part of co-design in which different stakeholders bring in their specific ideas, skills and culture and can take action. The problems and tensions that can arise as a result are discussed using a dialogue technique, in which actors apply listening skills, change their minds and converge to a shared perspective (Jones, 2014; Manzini, 2016).

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