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What criteria should the action plan meet?

It should of course clearly state the objective, what has to be done, the timetable and the financial conditions. At the same time, the action plan should be flexible since you may need to revise it in response to new developments or new discoveries you make in the course of the projectt. On this point, see also the cluster ‘Monitoring and evaluation'.

Specific points that should be covered in an action plan for a transition are:

What external information do I require?

In transition projets, the focus is often on technical and financial aspects. That is not enough. When drafting an action plan collect the following information in order to discover what further information you need:

Who do I involve in the implementation?

Transition projects call for careful stakeholder management, since the stakeholders are sources of help, can help expand support for the project and help to spread the risk. As with the formulation of the vision, the question is who you should involve in your activities.

It is not possible to provide a universal blueprint because every project is unique and takes place in a specific context. However, a number of general guidelines can be given.

Building a network

Build and maintain a network for innovation. Points you need to consider are:

Allocating roles

Think of who there is in the wider network that could carry out the project or act, authoritative supporters with charisma in regular circles, financiers or steering group members. They will in any case include:

However, to remain effective and flexible there should not be too many people directly involved.

Finding the right balance

The ideal balance between innovators and individuals from the ‘established' order and between individuals with practical experience and policy makers changes as the process shifts from vision creation to implementation. The innovators are more important as the vision is being formulated. Later on, regime players become more important, initially in creating a place for the project within organisations and later in anchoring the innovation through further system innovation. 

What support is useful for a transition?

Transition professionals can help with network and system analyses, in supervising the process and in monitoring and evaluation. These professionals have knowledge of transitions or system innovations and of methods of executing transition programmes. As process managers, they need to be flexible.

See also the question "What competences are needed?" in the cluster ‘Competences'.

Does my experiment need protection?

Transition projects encounter more obstacles in the structure (the culture, common knowledge, rules, routines, organisational boundaries or infrastructure) than classical innovation projects. This is connected with their radical nature. If the project is nevertheless to have a good chance of success, you can organise niche protection.

Positive conditions

Positive niche conditions might be:

Impression of discrepancies

You must in any case be aware of how the project differs from current practice. Is it in the technology, the market, culture, infrastructure, organisation, knowledge or other dimensions? This information will help you to identify potentially favourable niche conditions.

Adapt to changes

The new practice will ultimately have to survive without niche protection. You should therefore learn about the regular environment in order to form a clear impression of what that will require. Also explore current changes that you could join up with. What structural changes are underway? What long-term trends are affecting existing structures and practices? See also the question 'What external information do I require?" and the questions and answers in the cluster 'Societal Anchoring'.

Why is learning important?

Learning is important for two reasons. This first is connected with the dynamics, risks and uncertainties inherent to transition projects and their long-term objective. It is therefore useful to learn about the preconditions for system innovations and potential paths to solutions from successful projects, but equally from ‘failed' projects. A second reason is that system innovations, and therefore also transition projects, are influenced by how stakeholders define problems and their assumptions, knowledge, values and identities. Analysing these, and critically assessing them, can help to prevent lock in and widen the scope for sustainable solutions.

What are important learning objectives?

Always devote attention to the learning objectives listed below. Earmark the capacity, money and learning activities, such as workshops, interviews and literature study, needed to achieve the learning objectives in the action plan.

Learning within your project and from related transition projects

The objective here is to learn about the methods, problems and solutions of your own transition projects and of related projects. You can learn from various aspects. For a system innovation heavily based on technology, for example, you can learn about technical design, infrastructure, the market demand and how the innovation can be embedded in the user context, the social implications or environmental impact, the industrial development and support network that need to be created and government policy and legislation.

Sharing insights and experiences with participants in other projects can help you to generate new ideas but also highlight your own 'blind spots', as well as teaching you more about how to create more attention for structural problems in relation to transition programmes at a higher level.

Reflection on accepted mental and action models

It is time to reflect on the accepted mental and action models when it is clear that ‘normal' adjustments are not working. This is likely to be the case with system innovations in the pursuit of sustainable development. It will then be necessary to discuss the nature of the problem, the knowledge that is taken for granted, as well as values and identities. If this debate causes stakeholders to revise their deeper convictions and values, we refer to second-order learning (in first-order learning, participants learn within the context of a given problem definition and about the analysis of  the chosen solution, but deeper convictions and value do not change). Second-order learning opens up paths to new solutions and helps to build stakeholder support for the project. Read more about this subject under ‘About transitions '.

When do you plan second-order learning?

Second-order learning is an aspect that needs to be considered throughout the project, from the formulation of a vision up to and including the process of societal anchoring. Allow time in the schedule for regular meetings with the stakeholders when questions can be discussed such as: "Why are we doing what we are doing?"; "Are we doing the right things?"; "Are we not taking too much for granted?" You should also create regular opportunities to secure feedback from other interested parties. See also the cluster ‘Monitoring and Evaluation'.

What should I do with what is learned?

The findings from a transition project are not only relevant for those who are carrying out the project or related ones. They can also be important for other stakeholders. For example, cumulative learning experiences might prompt a company's management to make different choices, could lead to a change in educational curricula or might cause an authority to revise its rules. 

Disseminating learning experiences

You should therefore ask yourself which key parties for a system innovation need to be informed of the learning experiences. Could you involve them at an early stage of the project and allow them to learn along with you? You should also consider what other channels you could use to disseminate the learning experiences, such as conferences, articles in professional journals, the internet, working visits, presentations and newspaper articles.

Keeping a record of learning experiences

You should, in any case, arrange for learning experiences to be systematically recorded during the project. You will not only be helping yourself but also other transition professionals who are working on similar or related projects.

For methods see for example the Dynamic learning agenda, the Learning History or Timeline method, the Reflexive proces description or the Reflexive proces monitoring

How do I handle opposition?

Transition projects almost always encounter opposition because they run counter to existing interests. But opposition to your project can also arise because others assign different priorities to specific aspects of sustainability than you.

Types of opposition

Whatever the reason, opposition can appear in many guises, ranging from indifference to active obstruction or attempts to sabotage the project, for example by expressing negative opinions or trying to divert resources away from your project. The opposition to your plans may be openly expressed, but might also be implicit. The latter form of opposition is perhaps the most difficult to counter.

Learning from criticism

As a general rule, you should be curious about who has objections and what their objections are. Always listen carefully to them! Keep asking questions to find out what the underlying reasons are for their objections and to discover what their reservations are and what it is they want.

You can also learn what improvements you can make to your project or the process from your critics. Ask what you can do to address genuine objections, for example, with additional knowledge, by making changes in the stakeholder network, by revising the vision, by mobilising supportive members of the network. Formulate plausible arguments to refute unrealistic objections.

Methods you can use include in-depth interviews or semi-open question-and-answer sessions with key figures who are able to clearly articulate the objections, interests and values of the people they represent.

How to deal with a damage infliction strategy

If you are confronted with a damage infliction strategy you must act as quickly as possible. This type of strategy is usually based on fundamental differences of principle that are difficult or impossible to overcome. If it is impossible to engage in a dialogue, publicise the opposition more widely. Activate people who support your project and, if necessary, consider keeping the critics well away from your experiment.

How to deal with a threatened loss of support?

After a good start, initiators of transition projects often find that the organisations involved have reached a dead end. They cannot or will not meet the commitments made at the start of the project. Former routines and views still prove dominant and the initial enthusiasm evaporates.

Discuss expectations

You should therefore discuss the stakeholders' expectations of the implementation of the new practices in their organisation at an early stage. Continue to do so repeatedly throughout the project. Discuss with them how you can help to sustain the original ambitions for innovation in their organisation. You could, for example, arrange meetings with managers, recruit third parties to convince management, provide more evidence to underpin the need for change, organise meetings to generate enthusiasm among the employees.

See also the question 'What do I need to think of in terms of communication?'

What do I need to think of in terms of communication?

Communication is a key activity in transition projects. Communication should be reticent to start with. Do not create expectations that you are not certain you can meet. Once your project is underway, the communication should be effective, on the basis of a vision, with a certain cohesion and intensity. Always try to convey the vision inherent to the project.

 General tips for communication

A number of tips learned from practical experience:

 Communication with management

Devote special attention to the communication with the director or board of management of the relevant organisations. For collaboration in a network, sponsorship at management level is needed to release the funds and deploy the people who have to do the work:

 Communication with colleagues

Other tips for communication: