Dimensioning socio-technical systems and their transformation(s)

Applying socio-technical transitions theory to analyze real-world transitions can be challenging for practitioners (e.g. policy makers) or scholars that are not deeply based in transition analysis (e.g. experts in certain innovation areas that are more and more affected by transition processes). Easily understandable and straightforwardly applicable tools, which aid in attaining sectoral sustainability goals, remain scarce.

Contemporary frameworks for applying transitions thinking have several shortcomings. First, they are not easily understandable without some background knowledge of transitions theory. Second, many involve static indicators that do not capture the dynamics of transition processes. How can a dynamic understanding of systems and transitions be easily communicated to, and easily applied by, non-specialists in transition theory?

With this research, we present a developing framework that aims to capture the socio-technical system and transformation dynamics in an easily understandable and applicable fashion. By applying the framework to different cases, we demonstrate its applicability to comparing varied systems and transformations.

The framework was developed through an iterative process. First, we reviewed the sustainability transitions literature and empirical insights from past studies. This exercise resulted in the initial identification of six socio-technological system and seven transformation dimensions. Second, we formulated broad guiding questions for each dimension. Third, we applied the framework to four expected transformations in the systems of bio-economy, mobility, agri-food, and primary education. New linkages and differentiations between dimensions were elucidated during this application, resulting in the final 10 dimensions of socio-technological systems and 10 dimensions of transformations. To increase the tables' utility, we organized the dimensions into meta-categories. Finally, we refined the guiding questions for each dimension.

This research was first presented at IST 2020: Dimensions of systems and transformations: Towards an integrated framework for system transformations

An ISI working paper will be published in August 2021. A journal submission is under way. 

Jonathan Köhler

Dr. Jonathan Köhler

Phone +49 721 6809-377