exploring when and how transformative change is possible

DRIFT as an action research institute

Societies are facing enormous challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and mounting social unrest. Our Rotterdam-based institute has researchers from different (scientific) backgrounds studying and contributing to fundamental change processes to turn the tide.

We are action researchers, meaning that we do not consider ourselves neutral bystanders. Instead, we pride ourselves on being explicit about our normative positiontaking a stance on what change is desirable – and transdisciplinary, meaning that we consider the knowledge developed by practitioners to be just as important in addressing societal challenges as the research conducted by academics.

Our field? Wherever there are persistent problems

As the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions, we devote ourselves to finding answers to structural problems that tend to be immune to quick fixes and silver bullets. This is because these problems are deeply rooted in societal structures, cultures and practices. They have multiple causes and effects and are full of complexity and uncertainty. In fact, applying easy solutions when it comes to societal transitions often makes things worse.

Examples of our research work include:

  • working with European citymakers on novel green solutions that provide social, ecological and economic benefits
  • historical and case study analysis of societal systems under pressure, such as the Dutch healthcare and welfare sectors
  • publishing on the various potential futures of our global food system, and what trade-offs lie behind policy choices
  • field work delving into the complex world of informality and water governance in India

DRIFT researchers and the university

Our transition researchers lead a double life. Many of them are connected to the Erasmus School of Social & Behavioral Sciences (or another university) as a PhD, lecturer or professor and working as a transition expert for DRIFT.

This way, the researchers are not only involved in more traditional forms of knowledge creation and exchange (writing papers, visiting conferences, teaching students) but also heavily engaged with our consultancy and non-academic education activities. This allows them to meet a wide variety of changemakers and increase the exchange between transitions theory and societal practice.

"The multitude of crises we are experiencing are the symptoms of an unsustainable social fabric: the way that we have successfully organized society over the last century is fundamentally unsustainable in its design."

Transition governance: a unique research approach

Two decades ago, our research started out to create space for sustainability transitions – to develop a theoretical basis and shape the tools necessary for fundamental change.

Now that transitions in domains like energy, agriculture and water management are in full swing, our research agenda is more concerned with how to effectively employ interventions to accelerate fundamental change, and what is going right and wrong in the governance of transitions.

And whereas countless other organisations and individuals are approaching sustainability challenges from a mostly technological or market-driven angle, we are always concerned with the social challenges of transitions. With justice, power, and politics.

Get involved

We are keen to involve you in our research as much as we can, even if there often isn't a straightforward way to join or 'buy' it. Keep an eye out on our news and agenda for participation opportunities or get involved in these ways: