Transition arenas

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The ‘Transition Arena’ is a participatory method used to engage people in a collective process of understanding, learning, visioning, and experimenting around specific societal transition challenges. Transition Arenas use a stepwise approach to learning and experimenting in a sustainability transitions context, enabling a reflexive approach to shaping sustainability governance. It does so by focusing on frontrunners, the objective of radical innovation, and a selective participatory approach. (Silvestri, Hebinck et al. 2022, pp. 9). The arena is a tool to generate a compelling narrative, a critical mass and a legitimizing analysis for fundamental change. Transition arenas are connected to the approach of transition management. Transition management can be used as a strategy to open up desired transition pathways in societal contexts where people and organisations are 'locked-in'. (Notermans, von Wirth, Loorbach 2022, pp. 5.)

This page is part of an ongoing, open-ended online collaborative database, which collects relevant approaches that can be used by city-makers to tackle unsustainability and injustice in cities. It is based mainly on knowledge generated in EU-funded projects and touches on fast changing fields. As such, this page makes no claims of authoritative completeness and welcomes your suggestions.

General introduction to approach

A Transition Arena can be described as a structured space for a group of change agents to critically reflect on current societal systems, to problematise current structures and practices of an unsustainable status-quo, while stimulating a change in perspective towards a more sustainable future state. This space is of temporary nature and is made up by a series of meetings during which the diverse change agents meet to critically reflect on a shared problem. The Transition Arena approach provides an informal, yet structured process to co-create a desired (sustainable) vision, and to define actionable, strategic steps to achieving this vision by outlining specific actions and initiating experiments. The process aims for two key outcomes. First, the formation of a group of actors that are willing to act as ambassadors for change, by linking the radical, innovative ideas that emerged in the co-creative process to their daily practices and to engage with their social networks on the matter. Second, this process should result in a set of concrete steps, or a transition agenda, that provide strategies for the transformation of current unsustainable structures, cultures, and practices (Silvestri, Hebinck et al. 2022, pp. 9).

Here are a number of basic principles for a transition management ‘mindset’ and for its operational practice:

  • Systemic: engage systemwide with emerging dynamics across societal levels
  • Back-casting: taking desired, future transition states as a starting point
  • Selective: focus on transformative agency already engaged with transitioning
  • Adaptive: experimenting towards multiple goals and transition pathways
  • Learning-by-doing and doing-by-learning: ensure monitoring and reflexivity

These principles can be operationalized in different ways whereby transition management always tries to influence change in four dimensions:

  • Strategic/orienting: problem structuring, envisioning, and establishment of the transition arena
  • Tactical/agenda-setting: developing coalitions, images and transition agendas
  • Operational/Activating: mobilizing actors, executing projects and experiments
  • Reflexive/reflecting: evaluating, monitoring and learning

The transition arena operationalizes and connects these four types of activities. It acts as temporary innovation network aimed at developing radical ways of thinking and acting beyond ‘business-as-usual’.And it is a collective and co-creative learning process that increases self-organisation capacity of the participants. The main outcome of the arena is a sense of direction, an impulse for local change and collective empowerment . (Notermans, von Wirth, Loorbach 2022, pp. 6.)

Shapes, sizes and applications

[Provide some general insight on the different shapes, sizes and applications of the approach. You might also provide some insight in the development stage and level of maturity of the approaches, their successes and limitations and level of transferability (max. 1 paragraph).]

The transition arena process tries to address all of the four dimensions (strategic/orienting, tactical/agenda-setting, operational/activating and reflexive/reflecting) described in the introduction but mainly focuses on the strategic and tactical ones. The operational plans are always developed with the transition team and specified for the contexts. The transition arena process in transitions that are not yet highly developed often follows a similar sequence of steps that include: a) system and actor analysis, b) problem analysis, c) future visioning, d) transition pathways, e) transition agenda, f) dissemination, and g) transition experiments.

When the transition dynamics are more advanced and niches and/or future transition visions are emerging, the arena steps can be adapted. Depending on the transition analysis and dynamics in the specific context, the order of the steps are adjusted or alternative steps might be taken as part of the process to develop a meaningful transition impact. (Notermans, von Wirth, Loorbach 2022, pp. 14.)

Relation to UrbanA themes: Cities, sustainability, and justice

[Describe how the approach addresses and/or tackles unsustainability and injustice in cities, taking into consideration the following four questions (max. 1-2 paragraphs)

Urban: to what extent does the approach focus on the urban? Which scale of the urban or which urban territories?

Justice: to what extent does the approach address (in)justice. What type of (in)justice is addressed, how and at which scale?.

  • For example in a DRIFT neighbourhood transition arena in Carnisse, Rotterdam, the arena focused on the involvement and empowerment of the local residents to develop and alternative transition future to the framing of the municipality of the area of Carnisse as problematic. (Notermans, von Wirth, Loorbach 2022, pp. 15.)

Sustainability: what type of (un)sustainability issues are addressed, how and at which scale?

For example the SHARED GREEN DEAL project's transition arenas aim to stimulate shared actions across Europe at the local and regional level to generate lessons and knowledge about local and regional implementation in six streams: clean energy, circular economy, efficient renovations, sustainable mobility, sustainable food, and preserving biodiversity (Silvestri, Hebinck et al. 2022, pp. 5).

Linking sustainability and justice: to what extent and how does the approach link or connect sustainability and justice?]

Narrative of change

[Describe in 1 short paragraph what is the narrative of change of the approach.

What is the problem that the cluster/approach addresses?

What is the underlying premise of how the cluster/approach tries to address this problem and achieve change? ]

Transformative potential

[To what extent does the approach alter, change or challenge existing power relations? (To what extent are) which power relations considered as problematic (unequal, oppressive, unjust, excluding etc.) by the approach, implicitly or explicitly? (How) are these power relations being framed, problematised, challenged, altered or replaced by the cluster/approach? And/or which existing power relations are (at the risk of) being reproduced/ strengthened by the approach, and how?]

Transition management attempts to address how the transition momentum may be used to shift quickly to just and sustainable futures. (Notermans, von Wirth, Loorbach 2022, pp. 6.)


[Briefly describe one or two illustrative approach(es) or case study based on the questions 1,2,3 & 4 above]

Suggested reading

DRIFT: An experiential guide for transition arenas

Shared Green Deal Arena guidelines

DRIFT Transition Management in the Urban Context: Guidance Manual

Just Arenas Guide for designing collaborative spaces for just sustainability transitions

Designing participatory transformative processes for Just and Climate-neutral Cities METHODOLOGICAL GUIDELINES FOR USING TRANSITION MANAGEMENT

Designing participatory transformative processes for Just and Climate-neutral Cities WORKBOOK FOR URBAN TRANSITION MAKERS VOLUME II

URBANA ARENA DESIGN Methodological guidelines for designing, co-creating and hosting a translocal arena for sustainable and just cities


Notermans, I., von Wirth, T., Loorbach, D. (2022). An experiential guide for Transition Arenas. DRIFT for Transition publication. Link to publication

Silvestri, G., Hebinck, A., von Wirth, T., Mulders, W., 2022. SHARED GREEN DEAL Arena guidelines: designing translocal, inclusive spaces for co-creation to achieve the EU Green Deal. Cambridge: SHARED GREEN DEAL.