about transitions

and how you can explore and accelerate fundamental change

The now dominant way in which our societies are providing stability and justice is eroding. Societal systems like intensive agriculture, fossil-based energy and the welfare state have served us well for decades but are now eating their own tail against a backdrop of crises – think climate crisis, biodiversity loss and increasing inequality. What can we do?

To us, the central question of our age is: ‘how can we better understand processes of structural social change to help realize a sustainable future?’. At DRIFT, we are looking for answers to that question by studying and accelerating transitions.

What are transitions?

A transition is a process of fundamental change in a society’s culture, structures and practices, taking around 25 to 50 years to complete. After that time, new ways of thinking, doing and organising have become the norm, and by then it’s unlikely for society to go back to the way things were before.

Consider how countries switched from coal to gas to heat homes… and are now moving to renewable energy. How industrialised farms and supermarkets have taken over from smaller, local production… yet global food systems now need new models. Or how rock and roll took the world by storm. These can all be considered transitions, which occur in just about any sector or domain.

And to be precise, it’s fundamental change towards justice and sustainability that we’re after. You could call them desired transitions (as opposed to the undesired ones that we stay away from, such as the rise of totalitarian states). Because the persistent problems that plague 21st-century societies require us to move towards a fair and nature-based economy, away from exploitative and untenable practices.

But isn’t that just… change?

Everybody seems to be in the business of change. What’s unique about the transitions approach is that it looks beyond the technology of change (like electric cars or healthcare digitalisation) to consider the economic, cultural, ecological and institutional dynamics that influence the success or failure of new initiatives. Because besides technical innovation, much depends on social innovation.

And what’s more is that there isn’t a transition without breakdown as well as build-up. Time and time again people are biased towards novelty in solving problems. While often overlooked, stopping something is also an option – and has always been part of the creative destruction processes underlying innovation.

"These problems ask for radical measures. Will that hurt? Certainly. But we need to accept and fairly share that pain."

And what is.... Transition Management?

If transitions are the theory, Transition Management is their practice – it's a governance approach which creates space for fundamental change through visioning, learning and experimenting.

How much can be managed? Transition Management holds that transitions really cannot be controlled but can be initiated, supported and accelerated by playing into existing dynamics and embracing complexity and uncertainty as opportunities.