Municipalities in Transition instrument

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The MiT instrument was under development until February 2018 with the main goal of creating a system that could facilitate this necessary learning space. The beta version included:

·      The transformation grid (similar to the one presented in Table C.1[1]), where transformative initiatives can be mapped, planned and evaluated.

·      An online structure for a database of tools that can be used to facilitate transition.

·      A guide for experiments (see Annex B) comprising a governance proposal for a joint work between LGs and CLIs and an implementation methodology, including the cycles of diagnosis (baseline), planning, acting and evaluation using the grid (see Figure B.1, page 36).

·      Tutors for supporting pilots’ experiments.

·      An intended Community of Practice.

According to the sociocratic pattern of consent decision making (Bockelbrink, Priest, & David, 2018, p. 29), this instrument was considered “good enough for now and safe enough to try”.

Key Elements

SYSTEMIC CHANGE

It can be argued that MiT instrument is systemic in the sense that it rests on the assumption that altering the nature of interrelationships between elements (in this case, organizations acting on the territory) is a keyway for a system change. Therefore, it is not primarily targeted at altering the way LGs, CLIs and other actors perform their own specific functions, but in changing quantitatively and qualitatively the interconnections between them.

By using the grid in a learning space, as previously discussed, the focus becomes the creation of processes that include a diversity of actions and the greatest number possible of actors – in a ‘perfect world’ the grid would see activities happening in all the cells, and especially across cells. The quantity and the quality of relations between actors is enabled to evolve by bringing in the already mentioned evaluation cycles and networking is also included as a key action to foster new connections. Summing up, the MiT instrument considers relations, or the social capital of that community, the ones that must be modified so that change can occur (Rossi et al., 2014).

By helping to organize the activities happening in the community, the instrument hopes to bring an ordered structure to the transformation process, therefore reducing entropy and promoting efficiency (organizations agree on the same model of reality and share a methodology to identify desirable options for change). New properties are created in interventions/connections (namely the HHH principles) expectantly leading to synchronization between the work of LGs and CLIs, reinforcing synergies and leading to emergent patterns of networked governance. These properties are expected to diffuse to other actors in the transformation ‘playground’.

Being systemic, the instrument helps to stimulate networks of inter-dependent actors exhibiting system-like properties and acting in a synergistic way – consequently it helps these networks of actors to effectively become a (change) system (van Mierlo, Leeuwis, Smits, & Woolthuis, 2010).

This structuration approach can be named as ‘embedding’ (“alignment of old and new ways of thinking, doing and organising in order to integrate them into city-regional governance patterns”) and is considered the most effective mechanism in accelerating the sustainability transformation (taking into account the pace and scale of systemic change) (Gorissen, Spira, Meynaerts, Valkering, & Frantzeskaki, 2018).

LEARNING ARENA

The transformation grid can be seen as an instrumental representation of the Arena of Development, concept proposed by Jørgensen (2012), based on actor-network theory, actor constellations and collective sense-making. In this sense, the ‘arena’ made visible by the grid, it is the place and space in which strategic interventions aiming at transformation towards sustainability happen. Here the term ‘actor’ has a broader meaning that the one used until now and included in the grid (actors as individuals and organizations). As Jørgensen states, “actors on an arena comprise a heterogeneous set of entities, which include humans, technologies, institutions, visions and practices”. In our grid these entities are referenced not only in the actors’ categories but mainly in actions’ categories. All these elements are interconnected in the networks that the instrument intends to reinforce.

The ‘arena’ metaphor can positively bring the idea of a place where actors (broader sense) interact and perform, but also connects to the attributes of ‘sand’ (related to the word’s etymology). This metaphor is particularly useful to highlight the fluidity of the phenomena happening in this field characterized by “spatial and relational temporality” (Jørgensen, 2012). The MiT system is therefore a navigational instrument (or heuristic) that can help the local organizations to “navigate in a field in flux” (idem). This instrument is useful not to ‘get lost’ (it brings a clear picture of ‘where’ the organizations are in the complex ‘map of transition’) and to decide where to go (supporting the design of strategic interventions intended to fill the gaps in the grid).

But, as previously noted, it is not only a question of doing more things involving more organizations. It is mainly a question of doing things differently. By actively and jointly using the evaluation cycles in baselines, plans and actions, LGs and CLIs are able to change the arena’s boundaries and configurations through alignment and mediation. The MiT system is therefore a process of social ordering, stabilisation and restructuring of the arenas of transition, helping to maximize their performance (as previously noted).

The ‘navigational’ metaphor is also used in the context of adaptive governance (Olsson et al., 2006). Here, new system configurations linking organizations and agencies are considered necessary to support transformation and arise from building knowledge and networking around sorted alternatives. We can then argue that the MiT system is an instrument that can be used to allow adaptive governance to emerge, generating what Olsson et al. refers as a ‘shadow network’. These informal networks provide “a platform/arena for collaboration” (idem) that is somehow made operational by the transformation grid (Box C.2).

LGs and CLIs use this instrument to represent the existing social capital related to transformation and are challenged to reorganize and expand it, building the stock of change actions and related experiences. The transformation grid stores the collective learning that can be mobilized in turbulent times, increasing the resilience of the overall system by nurturing renewal and facilitating reorganization (Folke et al., 2005). The power of self-organization, as Donella Meadows (1997) would call it.

This process of confrontation between different knowledges shared by collaborating actors to produce solutions is what scholars call ‘social learning’ (Beers et al., 2010) and it has been considered a critical precondition for tackling sustainability (Sol, Beers, & Wals, 2013). The social learning process, in the context of the MiT system, is expected to expand outside the boundaries of the experiments by way of the community of practice – these communities have proven to be crucial in the processes of scaling and challenging of dominant system configurations (Radywyl & Bigg, 2013).


Box C.2 – The connection between the MiT system and existent theories of change.

The MiT instrument (or system) is inspired by an ontology of relationism expressed in the actor-network theory, assuming that “interaction is all that there is” (Law, 1992). Transformation (towards sustainability) is seen as the possible outcome of “local processes of patterning, social orchestration, ordering, and resistance” (named as translation) involving a vast set of elements including individuals, organizations, visions, technologies, practices and the natural elements (e.g., climate).

In this sense, the transformation grid can be seen as a material representation of the ‘development arena’, a “cognitive space that can contain these processes analytically as well as enable change management” (Jørgensen & Sørensen, 1999). In this context ‘transformation’ relates to the concept of ‘adaptive governance’, a “range of interactions between actors, networks, organizations, and institutions emerging in pursuit of a desired state for social-ecological systems” (Chaffin et al., 2014).

The MiT instrument is expected to increase the resilience of the ‘local transformation system’ by proving an instrument to monitor, evaluate and adapt local interventions through collective action. This also relates to the concepts of transformability (Walker, Holling, Carpenter, & Kinzig, 2004) and also the notion of institutional thickness coming from economic geography and innovation studies (Coenen, Benneworth, & Truffer, 2012). The kind of dynamics that the instrument potentiates can be described as a “self-organized process of learning by doing” also named as ‘social learning’ (Folke et al., 2005).

REFLEXIVE GOVERNANCE

The MIT system can be regarded as a meta-collaboration – different organizations work together focusing on transformative collaborations happening in the community. In this sense, it is essentially an exercise of ‘reflexive governance’ (Feindt & Weiland, 2018). By making sense and exploring how different organizations are jointly putting in place their decisions on sustainability, the instrument is a practical way of operationalizing the reflexivity of steering strategies. In other words, it centres the attention of transformative governance in the governance system already in place to promote transition, questioning it and adapting it, and hopefully affecting the community and its capacity to steer. In that sense, it should lead to a new institutional arrangement and new design rules.

CULTURAL CHANGE

We adopt the definition and framing of ‘cultural change’ proposed by Geels & Verhees (2011): “cultural change is a contested process, in which various groups perform on public stages to influence the attitudes and opinions of relevant audiences who provide financial resources, protection or support relevant for innovation journeys”. A cultural change has been assumed as the purpose of the MiT project: “we seek to support systemic change, by fostering values, and frames that encourage a cultural shift from separation to collaboration” (MiT, 2018).

The shared principles that the MiT system hopes to bring can be divided into three groups:

·      Systemic thinking – the transformation grid brings the possibility of grasping the complex interconnections between actors and their actions in the arena of transformation. The focus moves from the set of individual organizations and their isolated activities, to the dynamics coming from collaborative interventions.

·      Inclusive culture – the first evaluation cycle brings the idea that everyone affected by the interventions should participate in their development.

·      Head/Heart/Hands – these set of principles included in the second evaluation cycle bring in the values of rationality in taking decisions (using the best information available), a culture of caring for people and being productive (generating tangible results).

With this shared understanding, a new vision on transformative collaboration is expected to emerge and inform the way public policies and social innovations are crafted, framing processes and dynamics. Similar sets of action-oriented beliefs and meanings promoted by social movements have been called by scholars as ‘collective action frames’ (Benford & Snow, 2000). The above list is very much aligned with the pragmatic pedagogy of the Transition movement (McGregor & Crowther, 2016).

The uncertain and complex times in which we live in (Davoudi et al., 2012) require people and communities to become comfortable with change (Revell & Henderson, 2019). The MiT instrument can use this ‘political opportunity’ (Benford & Snow, 2000) to bring a necessary sense of agency and empowerment that “can come through working together to bring about change” (TESS, 2017). Cultural change is not easy to accomplish but it can be highly powerful in triggering large-scale transformations (Köhler, Geels, Kern, Onsongo, & Wieczorek, 2017, p. 24), particularly when it relates to creating new behavioural patterns (Nyborg et al., 2016). This is why cultural change is also included in the grid as a critical type of action, especially when related to wide audiences. Cultural change can also be understood as the product of the social learning processes mentioned before.

GLOBAL IMPACT

Can the MiT instrument create a global impact? Three complementary strategies for wide systemic change have been proposed for social innovations: scaling out, scaling up and scaling deep (Moore, Riddell, & Vocisano, 2015). Scaling out refers to replication, with a greater number of communities possibly adopting the instrument. Scaling up would imply a change in policies, laws and/or regulations (something that was tried in Italy with the Energy Function). Scaling deep assumes that “durable change has been achieved only when people’s hearts and minds, their values and cultural practices, and the quality of relationships they have, are transformed” (idem).

The MiT instrument can be adopted by communities as the central strategy on sustainability. Or its principles and tools can be incorporated into existent municipal initiatives. It might be adopted as a standard on networks of local action, like Transition Initiatives or Global Covenant of Mayors. Transnational networks like ECOLISE can help in scaling efforts. As previously argued, the instrument mainly aims at creating a cultural change, so scaling deep is necessarily the underlying choice, something fostered by a community of practice. The grid’s last column makes sure that the importance of external actors, namely networks, is not forgotten.

Could we adapt the MiT instrument to be used in different levels (regional, national…)? It is a generally accepted notion that smaller sub-systems have faster adaptive cycles, so we can argue that the local scale is the more effective one for applying the instrument, and that through “higher level infrastructures” it can create change at the global system (Revell & Henderson, 2019). This can be accomplished by institutional arrangements like polycentric governance (Ostrom, 2010a).

WHY IT IS SPECIAL?

In this section we compare the MiT instrument with other proposals to support transformative governance at local level, evidencing its distinctive character.

BORN OUT OF A COLLABORATION

We can find several instruments created to foster transformation at local level. Some have their origin in the public sector (e.g., Covenant of Mayors), civil society (e.g., Ecovillages) or the private/philanthropic sector (e.g., 100 Resilient Cities). Most of them, if not all, advocate for collaborations and intersectoral partnerships.

In the case of MiT, the Transition movement challenges local governments to work together with civil society, designing a instrument with that purpose in mind. In this sense, the MiT can be considered a grassroots policy innovation aiming at collaborative governance. Transition movement acts as a bridging or boundary organization creating space for institutional innovation and the reinforcement of social capital,  therefore reducing the costs of collaboration (R. R. Brown et al., 2013; Folke et al., 2005).

Even more significant, the Energy Function, integrated in the MiT instrument, was developed in a partnership between the National Association of Italian Municipalities, the Italian Transition Hub and a University Consortium supported by the National Government (Rossi et al., 2014).

MANAGING FLUXES

As previously mentioned, the MiT instrument is designed to help navigating in the flux of transformation happening in the community. Therefore, contrasting to other approaches, the MiT system:

1.     Does not include a visioning step, setting goals or identifying pathways.

2.     Does not rely in the establishment of an action-group or concrete governance model.

3.     Rejects siloed approaches.

These properties are discussed below.

NO SINGLE VISION

In a ‘traditional’ approach to sustainability, creating a shared vision is considered a fundamental step and even the steering factor (Vergragt & Quist, 2011; Wiek & Iwaniec, 2014). It can also be considered illusionary and manipulative (Few et al., 2007).

The MiT system embodies the challenge of transcending paradigms, “the highest leverage of all” (Meadows, 1997). It is not about (the impossible task of) ‘getting rid’ of paradigms, it is about embracing the diversity of worldviews. And it is not a rejection of the importance of visioning, planning or altering governance models (these activities are included in the grid) – it is an instrument to capture and make sense of all these efforts with a holistic view. This means that it is assumed that individual interventions are so intimately interconnected that can all be interpreted by reference to the whole transformation process.

Previously we mentioned the MiT efforts for bringing a cultural change, which can be used as an obvious counterargument to what we have just written. Here we should consider the MiT’s principles restricted to the uncontested ways we should work (in cooperation, with best information, with intended results) and not related to a particular worldview. If any, the only paradigm inherent to the MiT approach is systemic thinking.

NO PATHWAYS

Again, we can point that setting goals and pathways is a necessary action in many contexts, and so included in the transformation grid. But, against other perspectives for sustainability transformations (M. Leach et al., 2012), the MiT use does not demand for concrete and explicit goals or directions for change. As Voß & Kemp (2006) phrases: “sustainability cannot be translated into a blueprint or a defined end state from which criteria can be derived and unambiguous decisions taken to get there. Instead, it should be understood as a specific kind of problem framing that emphasises the interconnectedness of different problems and scales”.

In the MiT system, trajectories of change are not defined, expressing a pluralist approach to social change (Patterson et al., 2017). There is not an end point and not even the formulation of a desirable starting point. Action can start from any of the grid cells (Rossi et al., 2014). In agreement with the Arena of Development approach, a identified pathway is not delivered, only an instrument to interpret and navigate changing relations. This can be considered a distinctive feature comparing to the multi-level perspective (Jørgensen, 2012). In the grid, transformative actions gradually being produced are ordered but not in a temporal or hierarchical way as it occurs in a traditional planning process: this is expected to lead to emerging opportunities.

It should be mentioned however that in the case of experiments, a prescriptive approach is used. Yet, it is not connected to the fundamental attributes of the instrument. The aim is not therefore to create a model or a ‘good practice’ that can be replicated as such, but to provide the tools to govern complexity that can be effectively adapted to the different situations of the local context (Rossi et al., 2014).

NO HIERARCHIES

The use of the MiT system, namely the transformation grid and database of tools, are open equally to all the actors. As noted by Rossi et al. (2014), a Mayor, an administrative official or an activist in a NGO, they all can use these instruments to map their current policies and activities and confront them with the overall context of the transformation. They do not need to wait for managerial directions or conform with any kind of leadership. Unlike in the Transition Management approach, for instance, there is not a group of specific actors formulating long-term directions without much wider involvement, potentially jeopardizing democracy (Hendriks, 2009; see also Jhagroe & Loorbach, 2015).

In this sense, it can be classified as a ‘flat’ approach, denying any kind of hierarchy (Frank W. Geels, 2011; Jørgensen, 2012). Actors or actions are not classified in levels or assume differentiated ‘powers’. The focus in more on their performance than in their specific roles. Nevertheless, we should state, as Jørgensen, the analytical usefulness of leves in undestanding the outcomes of this approach. This is the case, for instance, of the ‘reconfiguration pathway’ formulated by Geels & Schot (2007) where symbiotic innovations developed in niches are adopted by regimes to solve local problems, leading to subsequent substantial changes in the regime’s basic architecture.

NO SILOS

Taking the case of the Sustainable Development Goals, we see that actions are contained in thematic boxes (e.g., health, education, and even partnerships). Even in the case of 100 Resilient Cities, defending a “holistic cross-sectoral city vision” (Arup, 2015), the framework is based in four dimensions (health & wellbeing; economy & society; infrastructure & environment; and leadership & strategy). In the transformation grid, cells are not there for the purpose of individually addressing actions or actors. They are a way to organize information with the purpose of ‘spreading’ transformation. Categories of actions are merely instrumental and based mainly in common management systems (Rossi et al., 2014) for the sake of usability.

MiT shifts the strategic development from a focus on specific problems (possibly labelled as environmental, social or other) towards a greater accent on how our communities are responding.

A PRACTICAL TOOL FOR CHANGE

Usability was a critical design feature of the MiT instrument, as previously mentioned. It can be easily used without previous knowledge or experience on systemic change or similar topics. And it is flexible enough to adapt to different contexts (even the ones leading with scarcity) and in everyday practices. From this perspective it can be contrasted against approaches like social network mapping (and other equally sophisticated quantitative systems modelling). This is not to say that it cannot be useful and effective in supporting transformation efforts (Box C.1).

The capacity of the MiT system to be effective in supporting transformation processes is amplified by the use of the database of tools connected to the grid. This is not merely a repository, since it incorporates guidance according to the structure of pattern language (Alexander et al., 1977).

MEASURING TRANSFORMATION

In their paper related to the evaluation of sustainability transitions, Turnheim et al. (2015) express that “in addition to the societal challenge, there is also a serious analytical challenge” and that we lack a practical approach that “involve the ability to capture analytically as robustly as possible the current state of transitions processes, through an assessment of the current scale, scope, and momentum of transitions”.

Apparently the MiT instrument can provide this practical tool. As previously stated, it is possible to easily calculate a grid score that can be considered to provide a proxy of the degree of transformative efforts happening in the community. By using the evaluation cycles, it can additionally provide a qualitative evaluation. This measurement can be used to monitor and evaluate specific interventions and transformation as a whole, something that is considered to be a key theme related to societal transformation (Ioan Fazey, Moug, et al., 2018). Eventually this instrument can help transformation becoming the new system goal acting as a powerful leverage (Meadows, 1997).


Box C.3 – MiT: from collaboration to governance.

We saw that collaborations between local governments and community-led initiatives be a wicked problem, with a persistent and systemic nature. Therefore, to convert these problematic collaborations into transformative partnerships we must use systems thinking and adopt a governance and agency perspective (Gorissen et al., 2018).

The MiT instrument does not focus in ‘fixing’ actors and their specific roles or in trying to promote illusionary consensus. Instead, it concentrates in fostering interdependencies and synchronous action with a pluralist perspective. The MiT instrument works by (1) improving the ability of the change system to self-organize; (2) setting new rules (through evaluation cycles) and goals (a measurable transformation score); (3) spreading a paradigm of collaboration and transcending the (sometimes) oppositional norms and values that puts us in apparent oppositional barricades. These are the leverages (Meadows, 1997) to change the system of local transformative collaborations and bring emerging opportunities.

This approach can be the basic design for sustainability governance (Westman & Broto, 2018) and in general for a system of what political science describes as ‘interactive network governance’ (EEA, 2018, p. 62) or ‘polycentric governance’ (Ostrom, 2010a). More important, MiT is an instrument that promotes reflexivity in governance – (meta)collaborations are set to take stock and learn with the transformative collaborations already happening.

LIMITATIONS AND OPEN QUESTIONS

We should not forget that the transformation grid can be useful in guiding change, but that “maps are never the territory, especially when navigating uncharted waters” (Wilding, 2011).

Nevertheless, we can ask if it is possible to further develop the algorithms to provide more integrated indicators of transformation and prescriptive results that can lead to optimized change. Can the grid be used in a local system of governance supported by ‘artificial’ intelligence?  Can this process of capturing change be used in modelling the societal response to global change, allowing, for instance, the construction of scenarios from agent-based models (e.g. De Cian et al., 2018; Köhler et al., 2009)?

We can also question the feasibility of collectively gathering ‘all’ the transformation happening in the community, not being overwhelmed by the objective, or lost in considerations and ‘infinite’ discussions around what to include (not to mention, how to evaluate). Do our communities have the necessary resources and skills (transformation concepts, systems thinking…) for this challenge? Will they show the commitment to work together and developing trust that are key conditions in developing good collaborations (Hassink et al., 2016)? It is also an open question on how to make this gathered information, namely the grid, visible and usable for many concurrent users in the community.

We should also emphasize that the main idea of the MiT system is to allow familiarity with a new set of principles and methodologies, arriving from the opportunity to fully experiment and embrace a new culture. The ‘burocratic’ component (using the grid and the evaluation cycles) is seen as an instrument to facilitate this process but the MiT system does not necessarily advocate for the continuity of its use. In fact, it hopes to become ‘obsolete’ when its principles are fully embedded in the governance structure.


[1] A new column for Businesses was created, separating them from Organizations.