Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

RESEARCH | Sustainability Transitions

My PhD research is now underway and my research investigates the role of policy networks in infrastructure transition, innovation and governance in three Queensland regional planning processes. I know now that this framing is not exactly right – it’s not exactly what I hope to reveal because the word ‘governance’ does not appear in the title. The question, again not fully resolved, is: How can policy network dynamics, as an aspect of regional governance arrangements, affect innovation in infrastructure planning and policy for sustainability transition? One only needs to study this diagram to see the scope of the challenges.


There is a regional planning implication for each of the graphs. In this sense I am positioning regional planning as a form of regional governance and a space in which experiments and innovations for sustainability transitions might yield alternative infrastructural responses and structures to sustainability challenges. In transitions theory and studies, infrastructure attracts significant scrutiny, in part, due to the issues of lock-in and lock-out and path dependency, but also because socio-technical transitions are integral for establishing the conditions for sustainable development. As Smith, Voß and Grin argue, “the need to escape lock-in, deflect path dependencies and transform socio-technical regimes becomes paramount” (2010, Innovation studies and sustainability transitions: the allure of the multi level perspective and its challenges. Research Policy 39: 435-448: 441). Infrastructures are often interacting and interdependent networks of services and technologies that both influence social and individual behaviour and are influenced by social and individual behaviour. In order to address the sustainability challenges facing cities and regions, there is a need to directly consider infrastructure governance.

As I noted in my masters thesis, infrastructure occupies a particular kind of position in political and policy narratives including regional planning and governance. Queensland first introduced statutory regional plans in 2005 and since then the planning system has undergone several major reforms as governments and priorities have changed. The change of state government will see a new wave of planinng reforms including the restoration of the link between infrastructure planning and regional planning and a more integrated and comprehensive approach to regional planning. This suggests a form of governance in relation to infrastructure planning. Dodson (2009, ‘The ‘Infrastructure Turn’ in Australian Metropolitan Spatial Planning’, International Planning Studies, 14, 109-123), for example, has explored an ‘infrastructure turn’ in planning in which urban splintering, arising from spatial restructuring, has resulted in the extraction of infrastructure from spatial planning and urban policy processes to meet disparate policy priorities.

It’s early days, perhaps too early to be writing, but this post seeks to offer some preliminary thoughts about positioning. My research engages with transitions theory and studies, which is an emerging area of research. To the best of my knowledge, there has not been any major work undertaken in relation to regional planning and sustainability transitions and/or transformation that investigates regional planning as the space (perhaps a lab) for experiment and innovation. And this leaves me wondering whether more planning processes need to adopt a lab approach to problem solving, governance and engagement. And then that leaves me asking questions about what counts as innovation, enablement or experiment in regional planning? Many Queensland regional plans are framed as promoting sustainable development, and offer a narrative or pathway towards or based on a set of sustainability principles. Gjoksi proposes that “The interface between innovation and sustainable development is difficult to capture, as both are horizontal policy fields, sharing facets with each other and with other policy areas”. However, Gjoksi (2011, Innovation and sustainable development: Linkages and perspectives for policies in Europe, ESDN) also acknowledges “innovations are regarded as a means towards this transition, an integrated perspective between social, economic and environmental dimensions should be held in the centre of attention”. As sustainable transition is embedded in the narrative – or should be – it is the focus my research which will consider how policy networks address and engage with both the need for sustainable transition and the innovations that will catalyse it.

There are nuanced narratives and definitions. In the urban context McCormick, Anderberg, Coenen and Neij (2013, ‘Advancing Sustainable Urban Transformation’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 50, 1-11) propose that “sustainable development is primarily about development in urban areas while sustainable urban transformation is about development or change of urban areas”. The same might be said of transitions – not so much transition in regions and cities, but of regions and cities and the systems that sustain them. It is my belief that only cities and regions that urgently and successfully address this challenge of transformation and transition, across all domains and institutions, will prosper into the future. As researchers and consultants, we are building the knowledge and skills to work with clients to develop a longer term outlook, strengthen governance and engagement, and adopt a strategic and vision driven approach to transition that will achieve shared value, impact and much enhanced prospects.



  lcarroli wrote @

Reblogged this on blurbanist and commented:

An initial post about my research.

  sosunny1103 wrote @

I am writing a blog about sustainability through arts and culture and this looks amazing! I mentioned about your blog in my post – 5 favorite blogs – so if you have time, please visit! 🙂

  lcarroli wrote @

Thanks so much for your interest in our blog and our ideas. Your blog looks great too! You might be interested in our other projects – like the Placing Project, Changescaping and Fieldworking. See http://placing.wordpress.com/

  sosunny1103 wrote @

Wow! This looks great! I will definitely read through the posts 🙂

  lcarroli wrote @

And Sonny you might like another project we’ve worked on called Long Time, No See? It’s designed to engage communities in talking about sustainability and sustainable transitions. Hope to hear what you think. http://www.long-time-no-see.org/community

  sosunny1103 wrote @

Wow you guys have a lot of projects! Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

  My 5 favorite blogs | sosunnyproject wrote @

[…] Research | Sustainability Transitions […]

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