Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

RESEARCH | Sustainable Transitions & Planning

It is with pleasure that I return to the Harbinger site to pick up some threads and continue my sustainable transitions inquiry and practice. This signals a new purpose for Harbinger Consultants as John and I continue to pursue different opportunities. Having submitted my PhD in May, I now await the examiners report. My PhD research examined the ways in which policy narratives condition the relationship between regional planning and sustainable infrastructure transitions. The work was undertaken through an embedded case study of transport in the successive South East Queensland Regional Plans and related policies and strategies. This group of high level and strategic policies and plans can be loosely understood as a policy mix.

All parts of a socio-technical system have a role to play in transitions that unless large technical systems, like transport, energy, waste and water, do not transition at scale then other transition efforts can be highly constrained. Both strategic spatial planning and sustainable transitions examine the interrelationships of urban, regional and infrastructural sustainability. In an integrative literature review I examined 30 journal articles with the aim of identifying the roles planning plays in sustainable infrastructure system transitions. Research examining local and regional infrastructure and urban transitions highlights the relational and contingent roles planning plays in place-based contexts. Importantly, looking through an infrastructural regionalism lens, it is important to acknowledge how infrastructure systems and cities and regions are mutually constitutive.

Undertaking a PhD focused on sustainable transitions in an urban planning and property school has been an exacting  exercise of boundary bridging. Many of my planning colleagues grapple with the concepts, relationships and language of sustainable transitions theory, thinking and research even as transitions are inflected in and framed by planning education, planning practice, planning theory and plans. As an emerging and developing field, transitions work can be difficult and challenging compared to established disciplines which adopt normative and prescriptive approaches to sustainability and futures. These are the qualities I most enjoy; the slippery pleasure of working across disciplines to figure how they speak with or meet each other.

With this post, I introduce a series of writings that present and explore key concepts in transitions thinking. These are intended to draw on insights from recent research while also considering what such concepts might mean in and for urban and regional strategy, planning and development. It is anticipated that these concepts will include:

  1. Socio-technical systems
  2. Sustainable transitions
  3. Multi-Level perspective
  4. Pathway
  5. Vision
  6. Transformative capacity
  7. Transition governance
  8. Urban transition
  9. System innovation
  10. System learning

This list might change or grow, but my initial starting point is to explain and explore these concepts with a view to contributing to broader understanding and learning while also practically contributing to urban and regional planning through this boundary work.

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