New publications: Definitions and practices of transformation research

15 januari, 2018

In the project From niche to the mainstream – how to spread sustainable practices, we contributed to a definition and systematic overview of the emerging transformation research field, resulting in a new working paper, project report and viewpoint paper.

In recent years, ‘transformation research’ has gained increasing attention as a lens to study and scientifically support societal change with the goal to contribute to effective, equitable and durable solutions to some of today’s most urgent problems. As transformation research developed rapidly in relation to various societal domains and established research strands, there is currently a need for self-reflection with regard to empirical and theoretical concepts, research foci and frameworks. Especially the far-reaching ambitions of transformation research, namely to contribute actively to societal change processes towards sustainability, are controversially debated and need a critical reflection of research approaches and methods.

In the project From niche to the mainstream, which is funded by the German Environment Agency [Umweltbundesamt], we contributed to a definition and systematic overview of the emerging transformation research field and its objectives, foci and methodologies. In our new working paper and in our project report (German), we argue that transformation research is not (yet) an established research field, but an emerging research perspective that joins together different research streams focusing on societal change towards sustainability. We analyse the goals, contents, results and research approaches of this perspective as well as its social science methods. A specific focus of this paper is on the description and analysis of suitable methods for transformation research. We analyse social science methods with regard to their contributions to the goals, results and research foci of transformation research as well as their use in descriptive-analytical and transformative research approaches. We conclude by identifying several ways forward for bringing transformation research further in the future.

Our research also resulted in a viewpoint paper, which discusses similarities and differences of the concepts ‘transition’ and ‘transformation’. Both have become buzzwords in political and scientific discourses. They signal the need for large-scale changes to achieve a sustainable society. We compare how they are applied and interpreted in scientific literatures to explore whether they are distinct concepts and provide complementary insights. Our review shows how the approaches and perspectives that stem from the different research communities concerned with either transition or transformation can enrich each other for understanding and interpreting system change.

Publication overview:

Wittmayer, J.M., K. Hölscher, S. Wunder, S. Veenhoff (2018). Transformation research – exploring methods for an emerging research field. Working Paper. Dessau-Roßlau: Umweltbundesamt. Link

Wittmayer, J., Hölscher, K., (2017). Transformationsforschung – Definitionen, Ansätze, Methoden. Bericht des AP1. Dessau-Roßlau: Umweltbundesamt. Link

Hölscher, K., Wittmayer, J.M., Loorbach, D. (2017). Transition versus Transformation: What’s the difference? Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. Link