Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

Archive for transition

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.

HORIZON | Season’s Greetings

christmas card_space sleigh

The new year heralds new horizons for Harbinger. The news of John’s appointment as Manager of Mornington Island Art Centre was shared earlier this month. We are excited about this change and what it means in terms of working with Indigenous cultural infrastructure and networks aiming to address economic, cultural and enterprise development as well as protecting material and intangible cultural heritage. John has been welcomed by the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance and others in the Mornington Island community.

What does this mean for Harbinger?

At this point, we continue to reflect on opportunities to do something different with our commitment to creative sustainability. John’s work with Flying Arts Alliance as the facilitator of Where To Next? will continue remotely in collaboration with Linda, and John will be involved in other Flying Arts projects. Where to Next? was very well received and the program is continuing to be refined in collaboration with NAVA and Flying Arts.

Linda’s PhD research into sustainable transitions continues for most of 2018 with the intention of capitalising on new services and capabilities in policy and research. The research to date has revealed that regional level planning is highly constrained in its ability to address sustainable transitions of infrastructure systems, indicating that alternative planning methods and approaches are needed.

Linda is also working on QUT research projects including as researcher on a project examining planning students’ perceptions of employability and on another examining the economic impact of the light rail on the Gold Coast. Interestingly, Linda’s master’s research examined infrastructure narratives emerging from public debate about major projects including the Gold Coast light rail as a case study. Sessional teaching will also continue in the School of Design.

Other community commitments in 2018 include ongoing participation in the Dementia Friendly Communities Advisory Group and Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand Social Impact Task Force.

Many small consultancies, like ours, are working in ever more flexible ways – teaming up, taking on short term employment, delivering workshops, teaching, writing and more – and adapting to changing community and market demands.

Looking ahead, we anticipate that we will continue to mix it up, though expect more commentary about Indigenous arts and culture, especially Mornington Island art and artists, extending our horizons in the longer term into the Asia Pacific region in relation to both culture and sustainable transitions.

As the research on transitions culminates, these methods and tools will be applicable to diverse contexts and communities. If anyone is interested to talk more about transitions and the implications for planning, policy and engagement, we are only too happy to share our knowledge and introduce transition concepts to project teams. Transitions methods help communities and other stakeholders take steps into the unknown and steer towards a more just and sustainable future.

We thank you for your support, friendship and contact this year. We hope you all have a joyous festive season with many new horizons in the new year. 

CAPABILITY | Towards Transition in Queensland

It’s official. The State Government has released policy to steer a transition to zero net emissions by 2050. The policy, Pathways to a Clean Growth Economy: Queensland Climate Transition Strategy, aims to work with Queensland’s regional communities to transition and acknowledges the role of communities and cities in transition dynamics.

This policy recognises the importance of place-based approaches to transition and the need for local and regional communities to build on their strengths and endogenous assets. The spatial scale and place-based dimensions of transitions are the least understood with a research profile now emerging. However, a regional development approach is not sufficient for addressing transitions which need to engage whole of system processes to catalyse and sustain change. This change occurs through the setting of vision to guide action for change. It involves flexible processes of coordination to facilitate system learning and innovation. The traditional style of top down blueprints and roadmaps is not sufficient for guiding such dynamic change: transition research stresses that transition is not planning. New methods, governance styles and approaches are needed.

Transitions aren’t just about technological change – they are also about changing social, institutional and ecological relationships. Sustainable transition is among our consulting and research capacities. Linda has been working on PhD to investigate relationships between sustainable transitions and regional level planning. Regional and place-based approaches are developing. The policy opens windows of opportunities for regions, communities and cities to coalesce action to develop alternative pathways.

Eco-tourism has been proposed one aspect of regional transition. This is not just about isolated or examplary projects but a broader industry-wide or place-based approach to transitioning the industry from carbon dependency to systemically sustainable ways of operating. In so doing this catalyses other benefits for the local community. Sustainable tourism appeals to a range of market segments who aim to make conscious choices about their tourism spend.

The strategy also supports local government, community engagement and social innovation as integral for transitions. The local scale is particularly important for facilitating experiments and learnings. This includes regional and remote Indigenous communities.

If you are considering investigating or implementing transition please let us know your needs. We have a deep understanding of transitions and how to work with communities to facilitate place-based approaches. Linda recently attended an immersive Summer School at STEPS at Sussex University in the UK to enhance transitions research and knowledge and pathways to sustainability.

We have extensive experience working with Indigenous communities, regional communities and local and state government in a broad range of planning and development initiatives that support sustainability. Our consulting practice has embedded transitions thinking, research and practices into our capability. We aim to work with clients and communities in ways that builds understanding of and enthusiasm for sustainable transition. We can also work with your organisation to develop workshops and training for your organising.

Please be in touch with John Armstrong at jmjarmstrong[at]hotmail.com

You can also read some of our posts about sustainable transitions and what is means for communities, government and institutions:

Also a post on LinkedIn, Transition to Zero Net Emissions in Queensland, offering some perspectives about recently released policy, which will be examined in greater detail as part of Linda’s research.