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Complexity and Transition Management

In this article, we first treat basic principles of complex systems theory and of managing complex adaptive systems. That results in the formulation of core theoretical principles for transition management, on the basis of which we present a framework that contains guidelines for applying transition management in practice.
 
Our society faces a number of persistent problems whose symptoms are becoming more and more apparent. Combating system failures requires a restructuring of societal systems—that is, a transition. A transition is a radical, structural change of a societal (sub)system that is the result of a co-evolution of economic, cultural, technological, ecological, and institutional developments at different scale levels. The idea is that a better insight into the functioning of societal systems provides insight into the possibilities for directing these systems. We use complex systems theory to study the dynamics of societal systems to derive a collection of basic guidelines that can be used to direct those systems. Obviously, societal systems, because of their complexity, cannot be directed in command and control terms. We do, however, hypothesize that it is possible to use the understanding of transition dynamics to influence the direction and pace of a transition of a societal system into a more sustainable direction.
 
This article presents a framework, transition management, for managing complex societal systems. The principal contribution of this article is to articulate the relationship between transition management and complex systems theory. A better understanding of the dynamics of complex, adaptive systems provides insight into the opportunities, limitations, and conditions under which it is possible to influence such systems. Transition management is based on key notions of complex systems theory, such as variation and selection, emergence, coevolution, and self‐organization. It involves a cyclical process of phases at various scale levels: stimulating niche development at the micro level, finding new attractors at the macro level by developing a sustainability vision, creating diversity by setting out experiments, and selecting successful experiments that can be scaled up.
 
Citation
Rotmans, J., & Loorbach, D.A. (2009). Complexity and transition management. Journal of Industrial Ecology, 13(2), 184–196. DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-9290.2009.00116.x
 
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Date
April 23, 2009