Journal Article

Learning through Evaluation – A tentative evaluative scheme for sustainability transition experiments

With experiments emerging everywhere, how one can assess their impact on sustainability transitions? This paper presents a systematic evaluation scheme to assess, advance and enrich the impact of transition experiments. 

Transitions towards sustainability are urgently needed to address the interconnected challenges of economic development, ecological integrity, and social justice, from local to global scales. Around the world, collaborative science-society initiatives are forming to conduct experiments in support of sustainability transitions. Such experiments, if carefully designed, provide significant learning opportunities for making progress on transition efforts and for testing transformational changes.

While different labels are used for describing this process, they all provide spaces that facilitate explicit experimentation and learning based on participation and user involvement. Accordingly, sustainability transition experiments function also as an umbrella term for transformational interventions as they build on existing efforts, create new actions and add orientation to transitions. They follow a transdisciplinary research approach, integrating various actors into the experimentation process for reconciling diverging preferences and practices, as well as create ownership for sustainability problems and solutions.

Importantly, the sustainability practices experimented on do not concern mere modification or “tinkering” of elements already present. Instead, they are radically different from the status quo, in both process and outcomes

Yet, there is no broadly applicable evaluative scheme available to capture this critical information across a large number of cases, and to guide the design of transition experiments. To address this gap, the article develops such a scheme, in a tentative form, drawing on evaluative research and sustainability transitions scholarship, alongside insights from empirical cases. We critically discuss the scheme’s key features of being generic, comprehensive, operational, and formative. Furthermore, we invite scholars and practitioners to apply, reflect and further develop the proposed tentative scheme – making evaluation and experiments objects of learning.



Luederitz, C., Schäpke, N., Wiek, A., Lang, D.J., Bergmann, M., Bos, J.,…Westley, F.R. (2017). Learning through Evaluation – A Tentative Evaluative Scheme for Sustainability Transition Experiments. Journal of Cleaner Production, 169, 61-76.

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October 23, 2017