20.11.2015, Frank Geels
Tags: IST conference, newsletters

Reflections after IST 2015

Dear transition research colleagues,


It was very good and stimulating to see many colleagues at the 6th International Sustainability Conference in Brighton this year. I’d like to compliment the organizers for a very well organized conference, with different session formats, high quality paper presentations and a smashing party (including lots of dancing). I was also pleased by the growing sense of community feeling and the steady progress on important research themes. I already look forward to the next IST-conference from 6-9 September 2016, organized by the Wuppertal Institute (Germany), to continue these positive developments. 


One of many stimulating occasions at the conference was the keynote speech by Hans Bruyninckx, the director of the European Environment Agency, which emphasized the importance of transitions with regard to long-term environmental challenges. Their 2014-2018 multi-annual work program of the European Environment Agency (Expanding The Knowledge Base for Policy Implementation and Long-Term Transitions) also shows that the Institute wants to engage with this topic in the coming years: “Sustainability transitions are long-term, multi-dimensional, and fundamental processes of change in socio-technical systems and their interactions with ecosystems towards essentially sustainable modes of production and consumption” (p. 9). The OECD also recently (2015) published a report called: System Innovation: Synthesis Report, which aims to broaden the focus of innovation policy to address changes in entire socio-technical systems in the context of grand societal challenges: “System innovation is a concept used to illustrate a horizontal policy approach that mobilises technology, market mechanisms, regulations and social innovations to solve complex societal problems in a set of interacting or interdependent components that form a whole ‘socio-technical system’ (p. 6).


Both reports are clear indications of the growing social and political impact of transitions thinking in the context of societal and environmental challenges. While this interest is obviously partly due to contextual developments (e.g. continuing socio-environmental problems, climate change debates in the run-up to Paris), it is also partly due to the high quality work within the transitions community, which is attracting increasing attention.


This increasing attention is probably also due to the continuing diversification of publication outlets for our academic work. In an earlier newsletter I already suggested that transition scholars were increasingly publishing in journals beyond the initial innovation-oriented journals (e.g. Research Policy; TASM; TFSC). The references in the publication section of the last 17th newsletter suggest that this trend is continuing, maybe even accelerating. There is a diffusion into environmental, sustainability and domain-specific (energy, transport, agro-food buildings) journals, which is likely to have contributed to the broader visibility of our ideas, concepts and frameworks.


I’d like to close by drawing attention to four interesting network news items. First, Rob Raven made an analysis of membership of STRN, which continues to grow and has now passed the 1000-threshold. Rob’s analysis also shows that STRN membership is becoming more international, although the majority of members are still European. Nevertheless, other hotspots of transition researchers appear to be emerging in China, India, North America, South Africa and Australia.


Second, Jochen Markard made a quantitative publication analysis, which shows that both the number of transition articles and the number of citations has been rising steadily over the years (with especially citations increasing rapidly since 2011). His analysis also identifies the main journals, where transition papers have been published. This quantitative analysis reinforces the inductive impressions above, showing that other journals have gained prominence besides innovation studies journals.


Third, Jonathan Köhler has written a short text for transitions scholars outside Europe, who are increasing in importance in STRN (as Rob’s analysis showed). Although STRN does not have financial resources (as we don’t charge membership fees), we are happy to support non-European initiatives in other ways.


Fourth, following the 6-IST, PhD students and early career researchers have a created a PhD/ECR Transitions Network, which aims to support ongoing work in various work. The STRN Steering Group welcomes and supports this self-organizing activity!

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