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InContext: Individuals in Context: Supportive Environments for Sustainable Living

Final Report Summary - INCONTEXT (InContext: Individuals in Context: Supportive Environments for Sustainable Living)

Executive Summary:

The three-year research project ‘InContext - Individuals in Context: Supportive Environments for Sustainable Living’ identified framework conditions enabling societal transitions towards an ecologically sound, economically successful and culturally diverse future.

Key Insights of InContext

• Diverse grassroots initiatives that emerge at the local level contribute to a transformation of our society towards sustainability. They are a valid and rich part of the response to our pressing societal challenges. At the same time, the uniqueness of each project and process and the diversity of the settings, cautions against any attempt to define a blueprint for planting bottom-up initiatives. Rather, policy-makers at all levels of government should try to build on ongoing dynamics and create a favourable environment for long-term change. Transition Management is a powerful approach to shape ongoing change, but not a solution to everything.
• Applying transition management at the local level has shown that addressing concrete issues in local communitites are the best entry point for mobilising people. These entry points can be social issues, questions of individual or collective well-being, or they can relate to symbolic institutions or places in the community.
• Working on a common vision for a desirable future can unleash the transformative power of individuals, groups and communities. Visions can help guide transitions. When people define concrete small steps based on a vision of greater change, it can encourage them to become and remain active. If carefully moderated, the process of developing a vision can also become a powerful tool for unifying even extremely diverse groups.
• The InContext research was built on the hypothesis that long-lasting change in individual and collective behaviour will only come about if both external structures, such as norms, policies and infrastructure, as well as the inner context, consisting of values, motivation and beliefs, change in tandem. It has been more difficult than expected to address the values, beliefs and motivations of individuals. But judging from self-reporting of participants involved, our research does confirm that individual and society-based factors interact when new forms of behaviour emerge. The interplay needs to be mutually reinforcing. Having a new perspective is critical for achieving changes in one’s surrounding. In turn, the ability to achieve even small changes in the external environment becomes the source of empowerment for individuals and groups.
• Finding new ways of organising how we consume, produce and govern is a joint searching process. The cases we observed and the processes we initiated within InContext clearly indicated that one of the most appropriate ways for governments to support these learning processes is to open space for them. Space in this sense means physical room, time for exchange, flexibility in applying rules and standard procedures, and sometimes also mindful non-interference (not to be confused with ignorance).
• The alternative models of consuming and producing we observed in our research are very diverse. They share, however, the common feature of redefining what a consumer or a producer is and does. This redefinition does not happen at once, but takes place in a continuous, collective negotiation process. A similar insight emerged in the local community arenas: Lasting change will depend on citizens and policy-makers rethinking their respective roles in driving decision-making in their communities. Citizens and policy-makers meeting as people (rather than as representatives of institutions) is a potent means to start this reflection process.
• In the local change processes started within InContext, sustainable development was sometimes felt to be too abstract and too worn-out a term for sparking constructive debate. However, the issues addressed in the concept do matter to people. When introducing the long term into the debate and evoking communities across the globe, sustainability issues are vividly discussed. That said, it is too early to judge how the processes will impact sustainability in the communities over the long haul. Adequate methods for evaluation remain to be developed.

Project Context and Objectives:

1. Context

The European economy seemed to be in a vibrant state when the European Commission developed a call for research proposals for “bottom-up approaches addressing the question of how to overcome the gap between awareness [...] and the concrete engagement in sustainability driven action, as individuals and as a society”. Since then the world has changed. Europe’s economy was hit by a severe economic crisis. As a consequence, public interest in addressing environmental and social challenges declined and the call for economic growth has regained its former strength. The decision not to renew the Sustainable Development Strategy and the lack of momentum in EU climate policy compared to the almost bold decision-making in 2007 and 2008, the last pre-crisis years, are telling illustrations of this trend.
At the same time, the issues addressed by the concept of ‘sustainable development’ are as pressing as ever: The impact of human actions on the earth systems has become equivalent to a geological force. Recent studies focussing on essential building blocks of assuring a safe operating space for humanity have revealed that human actions already have crossed thresholds for some of them.
With respect to social cohesion, the economic crisis has contributed to a lack of trust in governments’ ability to secure the welfare of their citizens. Many countries, regions and cities have cut public services in an effort to reduce public debt. The future of the Euro remains unclear. In the course of this ongoing crisis, many Europeans face unemployment, restricted pay rises, increased consumer prices and cuts in social welfare or pension provisions. As a consequence, citizens’ trust in governments’ and businesses’ ability to ensure their livelihood and well-being in the long-term is shaken.
These societal challenges can be characterised as complex, highly interrelated, they are subject to uncertainties and unfold their impacts over long time horizons. They are related to solving so called ‘wicked’ or ‘ill-defined’ problems that different actors define, perceive and value in very different ways. Many scholars argue that current incremental changes are not substantial enough to cope with these challenges. Instead, they call for transitions, i.e. radical and structural change of societal systems or subsystems.
One nucleus of such a societal transition towards sustainability may be seen in the alternative consumption and production practices and alternative approaches to governance and participation which are emerging all over Europe. The malaise with the established models has led to an increased interest in third-way models of organising society. The rise of the urban farming, the creative reclaim of public space, the interest in localised production loops, the emergence of new not-for-profit business models, a focus on sharing and co-operative ownership are all examples of this new interest in alternative approaches.
To understand what drives these bottom-up initiatives (referred to as transition processes in the following) and what their role could be in a transformation of local communities was one of the objectives of the InContext project.

2. Objectives

Originally, the InContext team set out to explore how transition processes can be conducted in a way that they a) facilitate pathways towards alternative and more sustainable behaviour, and b) foster collective activities towards more sustainable communities. The underlying hypothesis was, that facilitation processes which inter alia use methods to reflect on and experiment with the needs, values and feelings of individuals (referred to as the inner context) could contribute to sustainability at local level as they:
(1) at an individual level guide participants to:
a) become aware of their own and other people’s needs, and how these are translated into strategies;
b) explore alternative strategies to fulfil their needs (while reflecting to what extent these strategies are sustainable);
c) create motivation for selecting alternative and more sustainable strategies, increasing their well-being.
(2) at a collective level guide participants to:
a) develop a shared understanding of sustainability issues in communities, and drivers and barriers to change them.
b) develop visions of sustainable communities, including inner-collective and outer-collective contexts, and the interplay of both;
c) construct pathways for achieving these visions.

Research was carried out in four case studies (Work Package 3) and three pilot projects (Work Package 4): The case studies looked at existing cases of alternative practices in energy and food consumption. The analysed aimed at identifying the drivers and barriers to sustainable pathways associated with: (1) the contexts in which practices take place (structural factors, institutional level); (2) the internal governance of the collective alternative practices (agent-based factors, and collective levels). To do so, the team analysed case studies in Belgium, Austria and Germany in order to identify convergences and divergences regarding barriers and drivers toward sustainable consumption practices in Europe.
Building on the principles of Transition Management, backcasting and social psychology, the pilot projects developed an innovative action-research method, the ‘community arena’, and applied it in three local communities in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands. The participatory processes aimed at empowering individuals to develop a long-term vision for a sustainable community, identify pathways to achieve the vision (backcasting) and to take immediate first steps (referred to as transition experiments).
In interaction with the case study research and the pilot projects, the team also worked on a theoretical approach that can help to conceive how sustainable behaviour and sustainable communities can come about (Work Package 2). As reflected in the research question, the theoretical work originally focused on a behavioural model building on the concepts of basic human needs, the strategies people choose to fulfil these needs, their capabilities and how these interact with external factor such as infrastructure, laws and policies at individual and collective level.
During the course of the project it became increasingly clear that the concepts could not be easily applied in the action research work of the pilot projects or the empirical work in the case studies. These difficulties have many reasons. They reflect differences in theoretical backgrounds, with the most important theoretical roots being the concepts of basic human needs, the Capability Approach, Transition Management and Practice Theory. In addition, a timing difficulty in the project design led to the theoretical approach being developed in parallel to the methodological guidelines for the pilot projects. Moreover, some of the researchers involved realised that there are ethical limits to how much researchers can stimulate process participants and interviewees to reflect on their needs and the strategies to fulfil these.
What is more, the change of the economic climate compared to the onset of the project led the team to reframe the objectives of the research work: Rather than aiming at identifying drivers and barriers for sustainable behaviour the team focused on understanding how the transformative potential of communities can be tapped to address today’s societal challenges. As a consequence, the focus shifted from a debate about ‘needs’, ‘strategies’ and ‘capabilities’ to an exploration of ‘social learning’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘social capital’ and an investigation of innovative governance approaches such as those emerging in alternative production and consumption niches.
Through the above described research, InContext aimed to contribute to a better theoretical and practical understanding of what it takes to transform the challenge of sustainable development into practice in Europe by studying, implementing and outlining various ways of engaging individuals and collectives on sustainable paths.
At the same time, InContext aimed at increasing the ability of individuals and organisations to develop responses to the challenges of sustainability by analysing and testing new and innovative mechanisms for co-operation and partnership (public, private sector and civil society) in the following three areas:
Practical results at the local level: Networks of local stakeholders promoting sustainable development to be created in three communities. In these communities, potential pathways to sustainable development to be initiated and applied by defining and implementing concrete measures to promote sustainable behaviour. At the same time, the capability of local stakeholders to respond to the challenge of sustainable development was to be strengthened: The aim was to allow societal actors gaining experience by participating in scenario development and back-casting exercises enabling them to choose from a broader set of possible pathways to sustainable development.
Scientific results: Knowledge was to be generated on barriers and drivers as well as on the implementation of transition management strategies, bringing together actors from the public and private sectors and from civil society. Thereby, InContext aimed at deepening the understanding of how to bridge the gap between awareness and action. At the same time, the body of literature on transition theories will be complemented by an inside view of the motivational factors of behaviour (internal context).
Political and societal results: The project aimed to first criticall dicussing findings on the successful application of transition management techniques with view to their transferability to other cultural spheres and then disseminating them among target groups and making them available for the interested public. Respective policy recommendations including best practice examples for linking initiatives, potential agents for change and innovative mechanisms for co-operation and partnership were to be made available for different levels of regulatory bodies (local, national and European levels). Finally, the team aimed to strengthen networks of representatives from regulatory bodies interested in transition strategies enabling an ongoing exchange with the respective research community.

Project Results:

1. Introduction
The following sections present the main S & T results of InContext, reflecting the theoretical work (section 2), the case study research (section 3), methodological insights from the development and implementation of the ‘community arenas’ or ‘pilot projects’ (section 4). The two last sections summarise the findings on the role of the inner context in pathways to sustainable living (section 5) as well as the evidence on the project’s contribution to sustainable development (section 6).
2. Contributing to theory building on behaviour change
2.1 Common Approach (D2.1)
In its Common Approach, the InContext team combined the interpretation of the capability approach developed by Pick and Sirkin (2010) with the norm activation model of Schwartz and Howard (1981): The capability set of a person, being the behavioural and valuable alternatives a person is free to choose from, consists of the opportunities the person has to act, his or her skills, and personal characteristics. The opportunities of a person depend on the usage of external resources and conversion factors. We now extend the bike example mentioned above: The capability to ride a bike depends on resources (e.g. possessing a bike) and external conversion factors (e.g. a path). Recognizing the opportunity to ride a bike depends on the person’s attitudes, their perceived self-efficacy as well as their norms with regard to riding a bike. Using the opportunity asks for certain skills and knowledge (e.g. the skill to ride a bike). A person decides to carry out a certain behavioural alternative to realize their well-being or agency goals. Two feedback loops arise from a successfully achieved behaviour: 1) it feeds back on the person’s perceived self-efficacy, their awareness of the problem and their attitudes towards a specific behaviour. 2) In a second feedback loop, behaviours influence the resources and conversion factors and therewith the opportunities a person has.
In addition to Pick and Sirkin’s version of the capability approach, the new model represented in Figure 1 further differentiates the different steps involved with regard to the activation of norms particularly relevant for choosing pro-social/ altruistic behaviour. The choice to behave in a certain way (e.g. to bike) or not depends on the one hand on the behavioural alternatives, which are consisting of the opportunities (resources and conversion factors) a person has, and the skills they can apply to make use of them (e.g. is a car, a public transport system etc. available and can they use it?). On the other hand the behaviour’s likely consequences are evaluated against moral and non-moral criteria, such as time, money, and the importance of the personal norms involved for the self-concept of the person (is biking good/bad, expensive/cheap? Does it correspond to their self-image?). But the consideration of pro-social behavioural alternatives (they want to bike out of their care for others and not for their own interest) has attention and motivation as conditions: In the attention stage, specific and problem relevant feelings and cognitions have to be activated (they consider mobility-induced CO2 emissions a problem) and, the person has to be aware of their own ability and responsibility to behave in a pro-social way (they can go by bike to work). In the motivation phase as the second condition to perceive a specific behaviour as a relevant opportunity to behave pro-socially, a specific moral obligation is to be created. This obligation is a function of the economic, moral and social costs of behaviour (they should care for the environment, for their image, for their expenses when going to work). Then the consequences of behaviour are being evaluated against the developed moral obligation to behave pro-socially. This evaluation either leads to feelings of pride or gratitude for behavioural alternatives in line with personal or social norms or to feelings of shame, fear and guilt for behaviour opposing these norms. If this calculation leads to an ambivalent result, a redefinition of the problem and the moral obligation is possible, e.g. via denial, justification (in fact, it does not matter that they take the car, as all others go by car as well). Finally, behaviour is being manifested, pro-social or not.
Pro-social behaviour therefore depends on the relevant personal and social norms, the opportunities and skills as well as on the awareness of the necessity, the responsibility and the self-efficacy to comply with these norms. The capability set, as the freedoms of a person to act, depends on the characteristics of this person, her opportunities and tools. Carrying out a chosen behaviour or denying the need to carry it out impacts on the personal characteristics. Carrying out a chosen behaviour also feeds back to the behavioural context and may change the behavioural opportunities (increased cycling leads to higher traffic security for cyclists).

Figure 1: Dynamic norm activation capability model

Sustainable development research has shown that strategies appear to be particularly promising to have a lasting, positive effect on strengthening sustainable behaviour if they address altruistic and self-interested motivations for behaviour alike. Whereas this combination has not been a problem for current psychological models, those models cannot be used for assessing effects of strategies on societal target variables such as quality of life. Models that are currently used for such assessments, though, are mostly based on self-interested motivations or do not take into account differences in motivations at all. The capability approach which has been used for societal assessments of different kinds of policies understands behaviour as directed to meet self-interested and other-interested goals. It therefore offers two different entrance points for empowering people to “live a life one has reason to value”, including also the altruistic reasons for behaving sustainably, i.e. including normative sustainable behaviour. As the capability approach gives little information on the importance of altruistic reasons or of pro-social behaviour within this “life one has reason to value”, psychological concepts can be used to enrich the capability approach.
The dynamic norm-activation capability model developed in the preceding section allows designing and assessing sustainable development policies and instruments with regard to three different dimensions, i.e. referring to psychological elements of sustainable development policies, to a more holistic understanding of sustainable development, and to the impacts of sustainable development policies on the societal target of quality of life. The following explanations are a starting point for discussions on how to further develop and use the model.
Including the strengthening of pro-social, sustainable behaviour
The model allows assessing to which extent a sustainability policy addresses the psychological driving factors of pro-social behaviour (like awareness building or strengthening feelings of self-efficacy and responsibility). It focalises on the psychological empowerment of citizens and consumers as it allows analysing whether a policy measure increases the capability-set to behave sustainably with regard to the use of resources and conversion factors. The model can be used to derive interventions that strengthen these effects and are normatively and substantially sustainable. Matthies et al. (2004) distinguish between intervention approaches that focus on external and at internal variables. External ones include technical modifications as well as incentives and punishments which all change the situation, i.e. the external conditions of behaviour. Internal variables are differentiated into norm- and knowledge-centred approaches. The latter strengthen problem- or action-knowledge while the former focus on the activation/ strengthening of norms through campaigns or role-models. This differentiation of internal variables may guide the design of effective policies including sufficiency principles specifying when citizens require more knowledge and when would an activation of norms might be more effective. It might even build a basis for modelling interventions that allow the further development of personal norms to more consideration of others.
Sustainable development understood as capabilities of those living today and in the future
The dynamic norm-activation capability model suggests understanding sufficiency-oriented sustainable development policies not only as restrictions in resource use, but as shifts of the capability-set towards goals motivated by the well-being of others. Individuals subject to such policies might lose self-interested capabilities while gaining the freedom to achieve other-interested goals. We assume (with no empirical validation so far) that similar feedback effects occur for sustainability issues as they have appeared for poverty eradication. This implies that shifting the freedom to include sustainability goals and achievements will have a self-reinforcing aspect. Again, effects of policies supposedly have positive impacts on normative and substantial sustainability.
Achieved well-being/ quality of life
The model not only allows psychological analysis, but includes – with the concept of capabilities – a variable that has been used for decades to describe societal progress. It therefore allows indicating the potential impact of a policy on capabilities and functionings of a person or group of persons. Including psychological and external variables, its application furthermore allows identifying internal and external sources for shifts in capability enhancements or detractions. This might be done by answering the question whether the policy is likely to foster/ initiate a process of intrinsic empowerment, i.e. a process that is increasing the capabilities and functionings available to a person and therewith the achievement of well-being (and agency) goals. Through time series, one might even get answers as to how long lasting (intrinsic) empowerment for increasing capabilities and functionings could be achieved.
Nevertheless, the model also shows limitations of strengthening sufficiency strategies that propagate e.g. the norm of voluntary simplicity. Freedom to choose a behavioural alternative is an important factor influencing the likeliness that a pro-social behaviour is chosen. To understand empowerment as increasing the capability to behave only in a pro-social way appears like a contradiction to the original idea of the capability approach itself. Propagating altruistic motives for pro-social behaviour may stimulate reactance and lead to opposed effects. It is not evident, though, how to design sustainable development strategies that foster capabilities and the likeliness to behave pro-socially without substantially interfering with the freedom of people. Here, the concept of nudging might give some answers. Introducing capability ceilings or bounded capabilities might be alternatives for political actors to steer capability developments by introducing sustainability-, i.e. justice-motivated limitations to individual capability enhancement on a political level. These limitations might create reactance, but they could also be understood as an enhancement of social norms. Empirical research could clarify this question.
New well-being model
The dynamic norm-activation capability model encompasses variables relevant to the well-being of actors. On the one hand this includes normative goals of guaranteeing freedoms to live a life one values. And on the other hand it addresses variables fostering the willingness of actors to behave pro-socially and adopt a sufficientarian lifestyle. It therefore may form the basis for a new well-being model. The newly developed model does not understand behaviour intended to realize self- or other-regarding goals as opposites, but offers ways to strengthen individual capabilities that link self- and other-regarding goals and thereby increase the overall well-being.
2.2 Theoretical Framework (Delivrable 2.5)
The theoretical framework developed as the main result of the project’s theoretical work first presents the main challenges of sustainability transitions, i.e. that scientific policy advice as well as transition governance itself are prescriptive endeavours at a societal level, have to be based on the normativity of sustainable development, and deal with the bulk of human behaviour. It then discusses transition management, the capability approach, and practice theory as main approaches to be used for sustainability transitions (and that have been mobilised in InContext) in their respective abilities and flaws to address these challenges.
Transition management has been developed to deal with sustainability transitions, but it cannot clearly differentiate between sustainability and other transitions. Furthermore, transition management does not have a model of the individuals participating in the transitions. The capability approach, on the other hand, has been developed to provide for normative assessments based on individual human development. The capability approach can – with difficulties – be used for sustainability assessments and it is able to differentiate between self- and other-regarding motivations, the latter being of particular importance in any move towards more inter- and intragenerational justice. But, models based on the capability approach are static and contain not theory of societal phenomena – therefore, they cannot really explain societal, dynamic processes such as sustainability transitions. Practice theory, finally, describes changes at the societal level, indicating how social practices come about and change. At the same time, practice approaches have no normative foundations and have difficulties in determining causal relationships of change; both aspects make it impossible to deduce prescriptive policy advice.
The InContext theoretical framework therefore shows how a combination of these three approaches can be used to explain, assess, and initiate changes at the individual, the niche, and the regime level. It seems to be a heroic undertaking to combine such different approaches. The framework does not intend to build a theoretically sound overarching approach. It rather is an eclectic assemblage of concepts guided by the need for prescriptions for governing sustainability transitions.
Each of the approaches clearly has flaws with regard to sustainability transitions: Transition management has been developed to deal with sustainability transitions, but it cannot clearly differentiate between sustainability and other transitions. Furthermore, transition management does not have a model of the individuals participating in the transitions. capability approach -based models, on the other hand, are static and contain not theory of societal phenomena – therefore, they cannot really explain societal, dynamic processes such as sustainability transitions. Practice approaches, finally, have no normative foundations and have difficulties in determining causal relationships of change; both aspects make it impossible to deduce prescriptive policy advice.
The three approaches also have different strengths, though. Practice theory is well performing at giving the bigger picture by highlighting the complexity of social practices. The interrelations between skills, material artefacts and meaning can be observed on the macro-societal level (e.g. analysing meta-practices such as food) as well as on the meso-level (e.g. the introduction of “Veggie Thursdays”). These meso-level activities might be those that transition management approaches are focussing on. A rich body of experiences has emerged how the internal working of such niches, e.g. how collaboration and learning happen, and how their external impact on the main-stream can be fostered. The transition management approach explicitly deals with sustainability transitions and therefore is at the core of our assemblage. The capability approach, finally, offers a concept of humans who are the main elements of these niches, giving some ideas on why they engage in these activities, but also how such engagement could be strengthened or made more effective. Lastly, the capability approach offers a normative framework for sustainability assessments. Even if this framework is far from being spelled out completely, it nevertheless is necessary in order to remain on a sustainability track with the transitions.
Figure 2 illustrates how the approaches can be assembled. Starting from the top, the societal urge for transitions appears as unsustainable practices (in blue) prevail and should somehow transform into sustainable ones (in green). Practice theory can observe and analyse both kind of practices, but can neither distinguish between sustainable and unsustainable practices nor explain how changes from blue to green can be furthered. It is here that transition management comes into play as the collective body of experience with the management and mainstreaming of transition arenas. But transition management cannot determine the sustainability of niches. The sustainability assessment of practices on the level of niches and on the level of regimes can be undertaken through the capability approach. The latter also gives a richer picture on why individuals engage in niches and how transition governance could facilitate such engagement and make it more effective.
Figure 2: Assembling practice theory, transition management and capability approach for governing sustainability transtions

3. Findings from observing existing bottom-up initiatives for sustainable consumption and production
3.1 Introduction
The objective of the case study research fundamentally boils down to two questions: What can be learned from qualifying, defining and describing alternative niches when the focus of analysis is put on the emergence and evolution of such alternative consumption and production patterns? What are the wider societal dynamics and socio-political contexts that appeared to co-organize these consumption and production niches?
The systematization of the observation of four case studies of alternative consumption and production patterns is vastly enabled by the existence of a (relatively) common framework of analysis emerging from a set of relatively recent research initiatives. The building blocks of this framework are anchored in transition management, socio-technical innovation studies, practice theory, reflexive modernization and reflexive governance and institutional economics.
Applying a transition approach to consumption and production patterns implies to consider ‘alternative’ consumption and production patterns as being societal (or socio-technical) consumption and production ‘niches’ which emerge in partial contradiction to (or in the context of) the ‘usual’ way of consuming and producing (i.e. ‘the regime’). This process of emergence is somewhat similarly conceptualized to that of technological innovations, which emerge as commercial or technological niches before spreading over their market (i.e. the regime). A fundamental objective of InContext was to come to a better understanding of how consumption and production niches emerge and how they interact with the regime. Consequently, one of the foci was to develop an analytical qualification of consumption and production niches (i.e. enhancing our understanding of their very nature), as well as the exploration of their evolution (i.e. exploring the pathways they take).
The exploration of pathways to alternative consumption and production patterns and living was carried out through a series of four in-depth empirical case studies attempt to account for richness and diversity. Case studies have been selected in different socio-political contexts, in different EU Member States and operating on different consumption domains. The intention was not to develop a comparison. Instead, the case studies were selected so as to allow for a maximum of variety: catching the richness of the alternatives was the objective.

Table 1: Case studies of alternative consumption and production ‘niches’
Niche Nature of the ‘collective’ Domain Main object
GEmeinsam LAndwirtschaften
(Austria) A community-supported agriculture project Vegetable and fruit production, distribution and consumption Gela is the first Community-Supported Agriculture project in Austria. Consumers sign up in advance for a one-year or a season provision of organic vegetables grown at a local biodynamic farm The CSA is co-managed by a group of active consumers and the farmers.

(Belgium) A Not-for-profit Organization Promotion of vegetarian/vegan food consumption In 2009, the “Thursday Veggie Day” (TVD) was launched in Ghent promoting vegetarianism, with the support of the municipality in order to promote the adoption of a veggie or vegan day a week as a commitment towards sustainability, health and animal suffering.

Wolfhagen 100% REC
(Germany) A Community Local renewable energy production The city of Wolfhagen aims to cover, by 2015, its entire communal energy need (households, commercial and industrial business) from local renewable power plants to become a 100% renewable energy community (REC).

(Belgium) A consumer-producer cooperative Local renewable energy production and consumption Promotes socially-aware wind projects and short electricity supply chains. It also actively supports a model based on a locally generated renewable energy owned by the residents.
3.2 Jumping into action – on actors’ engagement
In grey literature and media coverage, and more and more also in strategic policy documents, attention is directed towards citizens who “move into”, “experiment with” and “live” alternative lifestyles. An impression seems to prevail, at least in Western Europe, that the general directions to live more sustainably are known: more cycling, more organic, local, meat-less diets, different leisure occupations, renewable energy-supply, etc., and that it lies in people’s hands to start living along these principles and adapt them into their own lifestyles. Underlying these ideas for change from people’s level is the assumption that public actors are not able – and ultimately should not – design and engineer people’s lives. Additionally, a sentiment reins that the necessary system innovation, i.e. breaking with the incrementalism of simply choosing less-impacting artefacts of consumption, can simply not be devised by the public hand or by private firms, who themselves rather reinforce the prevailing inertia instead of initiating innovation. Understanding thus what made those citizens move who are already living such alternativeness – at least partly – against the odds of institutional and societal inertia, is exceedingly of interest. Not only for academic, scientific purposes of rendering our understanding of behaviour more in line with the practices that people are living, but equally for public and private actors who – from their prescriptive positions - are hoping for the identification of favourable framing conditions.
Questions arise such as: how do alternatives at people’s levels emerge? What makes people start to engage? What does it need for people to interpret situations in a way that they feel in a position to act? Why do people continue to be engaged in alternativeness after the initial euphoric phases? Why do alternative lifestyles colonize across groups of people?
To find a beginning of an answer to such questions, the team drew the attention to the individual, personal levels of the people that were engaged in the four cases. Both investigating what made people move internally, and which external impulses people report as having been significant to them. The cross-examination of the four case studies shows a very broad spectrum of individual factors of engagement and continuity with alternatives. These factors can be categorized broadly under: motivation, inspiration and support.
The InContext case studies, as diverse and incomparably set up as they are, quite directly show that it is not primarily the individual motivation, nor primarily the external impulse that makes people move and stay in action. But a third axis seems to play an equally important role and that is the recognition by people of the potential to create a collective as supporting unit of their own alternativeness. Meanwhile the reader should be careful not to understand the factors addressed hereafter as being “levers” or “drivers” for alternative behaviour or practice. What InContext proposes is rather a set of internal dimensions which in the four case studies appear to have a major influence to form ‘configurations that worked’ for the people to engage and sustain their engagement with the alternative niches.
3.3 Nature reserves vs. Brown fields - on governance
The summary above concentrated on extracting the messages from the case studies’ observations on what sparkles and favours participation to alternative niches at the level of the participants taken as individuals. The subsequent section draws the main messages from our case studies at the level of the external framework conditions, thus leaving the level of the individuals, of the participants, and looking at the mechanisms at societal level.
Although this distinction between the individual and the societal might feel attractive on paper, it is in reality quite difficult to operationalize distinctive categories. A shift in regulatory and legal frameworks can play a distinct role to trigger visions at the level of some individuals and collectives. Once these visions are translated into actions triggering the emergence of a collective niche, these external societal frameworks can exert their governance mechanisms in a different, more mechanistic way and trigger for instance opportunities for action (or inaction) for the alternative niches. The very fact that individuals evolve in contexts, i.e. the starting research question for the InContext project itself, does render our double - individual and collective - perspective necessary, even if difficult to classify neatly.
In the very context of the case studies, societal levels appear to play out at two distinct perspectives which we address hereafter. The first perspective concentrates on the ‘societal’ framework conditions at the level of the niches themselves. The case studies being alternative collective niches, once leaving the individual level the ‘next’ level to investigate is the collective itself. Trying to address questions such as what are the arrangements convened within the alternative niches that render the niche practice to be a robust, enduring way of living one’s alternativeness? In other words, the exploration is devoted to understand the basic characteristics of the governance within the niches which are observable. Whereas pure organisational, managerial forms of arrangements are very diverse from one case study to the other and appear basically to be dependent on the nature of each niche, there appears to be nevertheless an important condition which needs to be discussed at the level of internal governance: the collective nature of the undertaking itself is crucial. It thus less the internal governance arrangements taken which are discussed here, but much more the collectiveness of how these arrangements are configured and decided upon.
The second perspective takes a step out of the configuration of the alternative niches and asks the complementary question of how the overall socio-political frameworks are influencing the development of the studied collective niches. This second set of questions links to the governance of the niches by external frameworks. How are the niches influenced by public policies on the one hand and by public actors on the other hand? The case studies show that there is hardly a particular blueprint for a set of policies that will help alternative niches to emerge or spread. The divergence in nature of the niches might be too wide as to be able to develop a unique approach to their governance by public authorities. However, what the team found, and which is corroborated in much of the literature is the need for some form of protective space for the niches to emerge. The case studies show that in order to be effective the resulting protection can be either explicitly designed by policy frameworks hence rendering a space akin to nature reserves, or be the result of laissez-faire or of ignorance by public authorities and grow on a brown field of public (in)attention. This last point opens a new perspective on the governance of protective spaces, i.e. the explicitly acknowledged development of grey zones where existing public governance frameworks, e.g. regulatory, normalising, legal frameworks, are not enforced and hence allow for societal experimentations to develop into collective alternative niches.
3.4 Alternative collective niches - on the diffusion and translation of a policy idea
Considering the divergence of the described niches both in their nature and their contextual settings, it was beyond the scope of the InContext research to extrapolate comparatively robust messages. Rather is the idea to point to a diversity of factors which we observed with some recurrence in the case studies. The way these factors work out in combination in the specific case studies is highly individual. To use an image: the results identified give some of the more important niche-relevant ingredients, but surely no recipe which would allow similar niches to be reproduced elsewhere. More fundamentally, it seems from the material gathered and analysed that the very idea might be illusionary that such a blueprint for niche developments would exist.
The case study material does show one important overarching message. A message which might sound trivial, but which reconfirms the basic intuition (and the subsequent research questions) of the InContext project: InContext identified a number of moments in the life of the alternative collective niches where the interplay between individual, people-based factors with the governance and society-based factors sparkles the evolution of the niches. In other words, the double-sided individual-societal perspective enshrined in InContext does make sense as an analytical lens.
Beyond the satisfaction of reconfirming our initial project idea, the implications that this individual-societal perspective is to be pursued and refined could be important for future research and policy agendas. While alternative collective niches like the ones described in our case studies seem to be mushrooming in many places and in many domains of private and collective life, it is also the very idea that such initiatives could be a valid and rich part of the ‘solution’ to contemporary socio-environmental challenges that percolates fruitfully to the level of many policy actors. Bottom-up transitions, social innovation, social entrepreneurs are rather starting to show some presence in policy documents and even to some extent in media coverage. There appears to be a form of meta-diffusion of the very idea of alternative niches that might even induce in the future to elevate alternative niches to the level of a policy idea; i.e. a non-formalized conceptual shared comprehension that potentially initialises at later stages a formalisation and institutionalisation process towards defining a policy domain populated with policies which articulate policy instruments and tools. If such an evolution would indeed be materializing, the perspectives taken in InContext are worth to be further pursued.

4. Finding from initiating the ‘community arena’ processes
The objective of InContext’s Work Package 4 was to develop and test innovative action research methods for initiating change in local communities to enhance the understanding of the interplay between inner and outer context factors. Once the project started in October 2010, the research context had changed: the economic crisis had started to impact everyday life and banks had become state-supported. On the other hand, local initiatives such as transition towns and local currencies were mushrooming. Communities all over the globe recognized their potential in addressing the societal challenges at hand. Policy makers with empty pockets turned towards concepts such as civic power and ‘Big Society’. This changing outer context also let to a slight change in the framing of our research project. Rather than focusing on sustainability alone, the action research examined how the transformative potential of communities in addressing societal challenges can be enhanced. The focus went thus from a focus on sustainable behaviour alone to a focus on the capacity of individuals and communities in dealing with societal challenges. In the tradition of the sustainability transitions research, these challenges are seen as symptoms of the unsustainability of the societal system.
By using action research, a rather unconventional research approach, InContext was also experimenting with new forms of transformative science. Action reseach combines systemic thinking with inter- and transdisciplinarity and supports transformation processes in practical terms. Next to the scientific objectives of 1) adapting and applying transition management techniques (including scenario development and back-casting exercises) to different European contexts and at the same time enriching them by an individual perspective and 2) evaluating and drawing conclusions on the applicability and success of the chosen method; this work package also had very practical objectives focusing on the implementation of the methodology and the starting of first implementation actions locally.
4.1 Action research methodology
The action research approach developed in the InContext project is referred to as community arena methodology and integrates insights from transition management, backcasting and social psychology. As part of the methodology, a selected group of individuals is guided in discussing their understandings about the current situation, commonly imagine a possible wished for future and devise pathways to reach this future. The imagined future is put into practice through (a number of) experiments or projects. Table 2 gives an overview of the different steps of the methodology. The developed methodology is designed in compliance with the conceptual propositions of transition management and participatory backcasting, while insights from learning theories and inspirations from the needs & capabilities approach have been added.
Table 2: Phases of the Community Arena
Phase Key activities Key output
0. Pre-preparation A. Case orientation A. Initial case description for each pilot
B. Transition team formation B. Transition team
1. Preparation &
Exploration A. Process design A. Community Arena process plan
B. System analysis B. Insightful overview of major issues/tensions to focus on
C. Actor analysis (long-list and short-list of relevant actors) incl. interviews C. Actor identification and categorisation + insight inner context
D Set up Monitoring framework D Monitoring framework
2. Problem structuring & Envisioning A. Community arena formation A. Frontrunner network
B. Participatory problem structuring* B. Individual and shared problem perceptions & change topics
C. Selection of key priorities C. Guiding sustainability principles
D. Participatory vision building* D. Individual and shared visions
3. Backcasting, Pathways & Agenda Building A. Participatory backcasting* & definition of transition paths A. Backcasting analysis & transition paths
B. Formulation of agenda and specific activities* B. Transition agenda and formation of possible sub-groups
C. Monitoring interviews C. Learning & process feedback
4. Experimenting & Implementing A. Dissemination of visions, pathways and agenda A. Broader public awareness & extended involvement
B. Coalition forming & broadening of the network
C. Conducting experiments B. Change agents network & experiment portfolio
C. Learning & implementation
5. Monitoring & Evaluation A. Participatory evaluation of method, content and process*
A. Adapted methodological framework, strategy and lessons learned for local and EU-level governance
B. Monitoring interviews B. Insight in drivers and barriers for sustainable behaviour
This methodology has been implemented in three European communities, namely Carnisse (Rotterdam, The Netherlands), Finkenstein (Austria) and Wolfhagen (Germany).
In general the methodology proved to be flexible and open enough to account for the specific contexts of three different settings (i.e. urban/rural setting, Dutch/German/Austrian setting). At the same time, policy stakeholders experienced it as being distinct from other approaches fostering local sustainability (i.e. regional management tools, Local Agenda 21 processes), which was a vital point in gaining support for an essentially open process without pre-defined outcomes. Issues such as the definition of sustainability, co-funding by local or national governments as well as the understanding of the role of the researcher proved crucial for the implementation.
Figure 3: Overview of InContext pilot projects

The pilot projects in both Finkenstein and Wolfhagen conducted the process following the five phases consecutively. This allowed for a broader vision before ranking concrete ideas for implementation. At the same time, local dynamics, such as concrete ideas for experimentation or a wish for quick implementation, and action by participants might require an approach where the phases are implemented in parallel. This was the case in Carnisse, where the process started with a concrete experiment, the development of which was put into the broader context of a long-term vision for the neighbourhood.
4.2 Outcomes of applying the methodology in three contexts across Europe
The methodology let to a number of tangible overall results in the local communities, these include:
• The creation of local networks that have a shared future narrative for each of their communities and promote sustainability.
• The initiation of actions on the local level to create sustainability and realize the vision; e.g. about eight working groups have been created which have implemented some ten measures in Finkenstein, or a community centre has been re-opened under the lead of an inhabitant-led foundation in Carnisse.
• Participants learned about themselves, their communities and about their own power to contribute to change.
• Researchers learned about their own role in processes of change on the local level.
Based on our empirical material and within the theoretical frame of the InContext project, the team analysed the influences of the action research approach on the inner and outer context of individuals and communities and studied to what extent this approach could create supportive conditions for the enhance of transformative potential.
Turning to literature on innovation in the social domain, we propose to conceptualize the transformative potential of communities as the degree to which a community is able to be a cradle for social innovation. Social innovation “is about the satisfaction of basic needs and changes in social relations within empowering social processes” (Mouleart 2010:10). Slightly adapting this definition, we define the transformative potential of communities as the degree to which a community can satisfy the needs of its members (in the sense of Max-Neef, these are subsistence, affection and love, understanding, participation, creation, leisure, protection, identity, freedom and transcendence) and can change social relations through these “empowering social processes”, where the community arena can be seen as one such process. In the specific context of sustainability transitions, enhancing the transformative potential of a community to address societal challenges means increasing the extent to which a community can satisfy the needs of its members and is able to change social relations by making use of empowering processes.
The community arena provides an open, diverse and emancipatory setting and is intended to support empowerment, the satisfaction of needs and the change of social relations through the following points.
Creating networks for people that feel the urge for change
Through being relative outsiders to the power struggles within the community, the InContext action researchers could provide an analysis as a starting point that was more objective in the sense of it not being imbued by vested interests. Through this analysis, people with the urge for change within the communities were identified and invited representing a number of demographic groups and different perspectives. Being a relative outsider as researcher involved a longer starting phase, through which a common language is developed, expectations are discussed and trust is established. This creates a network of change-minded people within the community that provides a safe haven for them if confronted with resistance from vested interests or dominant institutions. Through working together and realizing their own possible impact they also become more independent from these local institutions. The communities valued the support of an outsider in revealing their transformative potential; it was considered to be fruitful for the process.
Encouraging all involved to reflect on their values, beliefs and assumptions
The process explicitly involves the reflection on participants’ own values and beliefs, as these are put on the table when discussing the current situation of the community and the imagined future. In these discussions, all involved (including the researchers) benefit from the broad range of perspectives (including the underlying values and beliefs) that are present. Through engaging with these perspectives in group discussions, all involved can learn. Thinking about the future of the community implies thinking about your own and your children’s future and how this goes together with how others see the future. This reflection applies not only to the community members but also includes the researchers, especially when it concerns the value of ‘sustainability’ and how it is to be framed in the research. This makes the community arena methodology part of a sustainability science that is not side-lining values, but putting them forth as subject of inquiry – not only for the scientific practice but as a practice of all involved.
Opening up heads and hearts
Envisioning a common desired future and collectively formulating visionary images and pathways leads to a sense of shared direction. Being able to imagine a desired future and create a narrative of it brings this future closer and makes it more tangible. However, a vision is more than a narrative and can come with images and emotions, these are just as important to consider. Playing into and appreciating local dynamics could mean to not start with the term sustainability but to start with local issues that people feel are important and then make the connection to the long-term, far-away places, other (groups of) people, our planetary boundaries and just societies. Starting with what matters most locally can open up a much broader discussion. The process of envisioning is part of this discussion and raises understanding and appreciation for other perspectives, while simultaneously creating a feeling of the group being ‘in this together’.
Fostering the interaction of inner and outer context
Enhancing transformative potential is dependent on the delicate interaction between inner context (individual and collective) and outer context conditions. The community arena methodology provides space for the interaction of both contexts in a safe setting. It seemed that these are often two sides of the same coin, for example increased social capital from an inner context perspective and emerging networks from an outer context perspective are both key variables which support the transition processes. While social capital centres more on the social contacts of an individual, networks describe the way different groups are connected with each other. Another example is the organisation in a small group setting which involves questions of leadership on a group level: accepting it does include having a sense of impact, and hints to psychological empowerment. Both contexts shape the capacity of co-creating the own environment, as well as its enactment. These are just a few examples for the interplay of inner and outer context which is needed in order to enhance transformative potential. The instrument of the community arena ended up being a space that is small and trustful enough to address the inner context, and at the same time significant enough to address the outer context. In this way the community arena facilitates the interaction of both spheres.
Connecting imagination and reality
Through this approach, the imagined long-term vision is connected to the immediate tangible present. Two ways of forging this connection are the creation of an action perspective and the creation of new places and spaces. The long-term vision is connected to short-term action via the backcasting methodology where a diversity of pathways are drawn up that lead to short-term, action-oriented projects. Through implementing projects (such as e.g. the opening of a community centre under citizen management as in Carnisse) which in one form or the other address the desired change, all involved learn about how this change can be realized. The latter is what we refer to as an action perspective for all people involved, i.e. using the vision as guidance for drawing up suitable actions. Another way to render the vision more tangible is its connection to the places in which the communities live. As such, the community arena methodology can be seen as a place-making process: it shapes the concrete physical place (e.g. through opening up a community centre) as well as the imaginative space.
In sum, the transformative potential of communities in the light of societal challenges can be enhanced through empowering processes such as the community arena methodology. Change-minded people are coming together in an open and diverse setting and by thinking about the future they not only reflect on their own perspectives and values but are also confronted with others’ perspectives. The process aligns perspectives while it nourishes diversity. Envisioning the future in images, text and emotions supports this individual and group reflection and opens heads, hands and hearts. Linking this vision to the tangible present provides a space for the inner and outer to interact: the process provides levers to participants for enhancing their transformative potential as a community.
4.4 Lessons learnt on action research for sustainability
Action research is the collaborative production of scientifically and socially relevant knowledge through a participatory process. Real-life problems are addressed and new theoretical insights gained. When aiming simultaneously for social change and knowledge advancement, action research offers itself as a suitable approach. The InContext action research in the realm of the ‘community arenas’ and the reflection upon these processes led to a range of insights on what it entails to carry out research in the context of sustainability transitions. The seven main issues and insights are presented below. They were published in an InContext Research Brief entitled ‘Action Research for Sustainability – Reflections on transition management in practice’.
Being one’s own research instrument colours the research in nearly every aspect. Action research includes meeting, talking to, and working with people as well as willingly or unwillingly influencing this process through one’s own beliefs, assumptions, values, and norms. All of this makes self-inquiry an important part as it supports the researcher in making decisions explicit and transparent. Becoming aware of and making explicit one’s own assumptions and biases in an early stage of the process can function as a reminder for staying aware when taking action or carrying out analysis. To nsure quality of the research and allow for constant improvement, the researcher needs to reflect on her role, choices, and the consequences thereof.
InContext revealed that working in a team was supportive for the researcher in making informed decisions and in making them explicit and transparent. In implementing a transition management methodology, a transition team should be set up that can also fulfil the role of a sounding board and cultivate a team practice of self-reflexivity.
Ethical questions
A fundamental characteristic of action research is its process character and its deep interrelation with everyday action. This makes it difficult to foresee ethical issues or the consequences of an action research process.
Ethical questions can be addressed by ensuring that participants are equal co-owners of the process and the results. An ethical aspect that is characteristic of transition management is the ambition to transform not only the individual and the group but to change the structures, culture, and practices of our society. Using an action research approach to implement this ambition makes the participants agents of change. They elaborate and publicly commit to a vision for their community and put it into action. Questions with regard to confidentiality of data, anonymity, and informed consent are all concepts originating from a more traditional understanding of science that is not based on collaborative inquiry. However, this does not release the researcher from acting responsibly and ethically.
Role of the researcher
The action researcher should decide on the type of role(s) that he takes in relation to the different stakeholders and over the course of the project. It might not be only one single role, and roles might change and differ depending on the established relationship and the phase of the project. Tensions might arise as researchers may have expectations of which role they should play that differ from 1) the expectations of the participants and 2) from procedural demands on which role needs to be fulfilled. This can lead to role conflicts, where the researcher cannot comply with both at the same time, or to role ambiguity, where the role an action researcher is supposed to take is vague.
With regard to the type of role(s) that the action researcher takes in relation to the different stakeholders and over the course of the project, transparency is important. Not different from other action research strands, the researcher fulfils a number of roles and above all is a process manager who links the local process with the broader environment.
Opening and maintaining a communicative space
Transition management as put into practice in InContext includes a number of techniques that support trust creation and the creation of an open protected. What is different from other understandings of action research is that the participants do not necessarily self-identify as problem owners beforehand, but are selected by the researchers (at least in the InContext project). Transition management has a double ambition: first to play into local dynamics and address locally relevant questions in an open-ended process, and second to influence the process towards sustainability. Rather than being in contradiction, as one might expect, in all three pilots these two ambitions complemented each other.
The action researchers using a transition management approach are not teaching participants research methods, which is seen as part of the liberatory orientation when dealing with communicative space. Rather, it is the transition team that gathers all the information and inputs by the participants from one session, analyses and presents them back during the next meeting. The liberatory aspect lies instead in the empowerment of the individual and the group to address structural problems and work towards a long-term sustainability vision.
Dealing with power differences
The transition management approach puts emphasis on system and actor analysis, giving inter alia an overview of the local (power) relations. At the same time, the participants are not selected in a representative way; rather, the focus is on diversity and their transformative capacity. This could have consequences for local power relations and might be termed undemocratic depending on the understanding of democracy held. Transparency in the selection process is therefore key for ensuring acceptability of the process. Equally facilitation techniques during the process have to be chosen so that power differences do not determine interactions in the group.
5. Exploring the role of the inner context: Empowerment, social learning, and social capital
InContext used participatory processes to facilitate a collective search for new opportunities of joint action. The ‘community arena’ processes used in the pilot projects were participatory and reflexive in nature, aiming to enabling intensive learning amongst participants. Reflexive elements included a focus on the values, needs, thinking and feeling as what was termed the ‘inner context’ of the participants, as they were supposed to be essential drivers for behavioral change and collective actions.
The initial central research question of the project stated that InContext aimed to gain insights on how transition processes can be conducted in a way that they facilitate pathways towards alternative and more sustainable behaviour, and foster collectives activities towards more sustainable communities. One particular interest was to understand the way that these transition processes could utilise ways to reflect on human needs and experiment with the inner context (individually and collectively), and how this interrelates to the development of visions for and the experimentation with the outer context (individually and collectively).
As outlined in the section on objectives, the action research done in the community arenas could not build on a pre-established theoretical frame with regard to concepts on the ‘inner context’. This led to a more exploratory research approach to what constitutes meaningful concepts with regard to the ‘inner context’ in the context of transition research.
The methodological guidelines for community arena state the central hypothesis of InContext: “Change toward more sustainable strategies is expected as people become aware and learn more about the needs of others and as they are invited to think about the future of their neighbourhood or town.” (Wittmayer et al. 2011: 22). In practice this asks for intense reflection work on the individual level as well as a detailed knowledge about concepts of sustainability. The InContext action researchers felt, that the depth that this reflection needed to carefully protect the boundary of each individual within the group. This showed very clearly also the ethical boundaries of each researcher. In the different pilots the concept of needs was dealt with to a different extent. But it was clear for all community arenas that it could not be done in the depth that was proposed by the theoretical work. Rather than focusing on the concepts of capabilities and strategies, the action researchers perceived the concepts of empowerment and social learning as far more fruitful ones to pursue in the context of process facilitation.
The concept of social learning captures the processes of experimentation and reflection on the inner context individually and collectively as one facilitation process focus of the research question. The concept of empowerment captures the idea of finding (new) ways to at (I) an individual level meet needs (sustainability) and (II) a collective level make the developed visions for (sustainable) communities turn reality. Another aspect which turned out to be of critical importance during the pilot projects with regard to the co-creation process was the development of social capital by building trust, good relations and networks among participants. In their interplay social learning, empowerment and a strengthened social capital are considered to be essential contributions to enhance the transformative potential of the community. Increasingly motivated and skilled arena participants become increasingly connected as a group when experimenting with new ways to deal with societal challenges.
The following section provides insights into the empirical results of the action research and links them back to the theory with regard to the impact on the inner context. The aim of the arena process was to address societal challenges and raise awareness on sustainability related topics – concepts which are meaningful in both the theoretical frame and the action research.
5.1 Core concepts relating to the inner context: social learning, empowerment and social capital
The concept of empowerment is addressed by different disciplines such as management studies, critical theory etc. in quite diverging ways. For the evaluation of the pilot studies we found Avellino’s definition (Avelino 2009) very helpful as it relates empowerment to transition theory. In this model, empowerment is seen as an increased intrinsic motivation strongly dependent on positive task assessments. The assumption is that the experience of positively fulfilled tasks leads to a person’s belief that she or he is able to direct own actions to a desired end. The concept is based on following four intrinsic ‘task assessments’ (Avelino 2009: 64):
• choice: Asks whether a person’s behaviour is perceived as self-determined.
• impact: to which degree people perceive their behaviour producing intended effects.
• meaningfulness: the value of the goal of the task in relation to the individual's values.
• competence: the degree to which a person can perform task activities skilfully.
The feeling of being empowered in turn depends on the way individuals evaluate their actions, attribute them to others, and think about future actions. Values and awareness appear important when it comes to how people ‘use’ the perceived empowerment: engaging for sustainability or not.
Social learning is seen as a process through which to deal with complexity and uncertainty. Although learning may be understood in different ways, at its core it involves a lasting change in the interpretive frames (belief systems, cognitive frameworks, etc.) guiding the actions of a person . The kind of social learning most relevant for InContext can be defined as second order learning. It indicates learning processes aiming at changes in underlying values and assumptions which contribute to the actual behaviour. We assume that second order learning is one possible precondition for voluntary intrinsic behavioural change. The most important conditions for second order learning work are a) surprises, b) outside views, and c) safe spaces (Grin and Loeber 2007).
Social capital describes relationships, relations of trust, reciprocity, and exchange; the evolution of common rules; and the role of networks. It encompasses the involvement of civil society and collective action. Social capital theory provides an explanation for how individuals use their relationships with other actors in societies for their own and for the collective good. Important dimensions of social capital, according to Gehmacher et al. (2006), are Bonding-Bridging-Linking. Bonding describes the relationship between people within a group, whereas bridging refers to the relation between different groups and linking to their connection to other levels (like the state or the broader public).
5.2 Analysis of core concepts: Enhancing the transformative potential of communities?
Based on the final evaluation and the process-accompanying monitoring interviews, InContext research showed that the community arena process helped to empower participants, created learning experiences (i.e. social learning), and connected participants within their own social groups and to other groups (i.e. social capital).
Making a difference: from wish to reality
The fact that the processes had an open agenda contributed greatly to the participants’ feeling of self-determined behaviour. It gave people the feeling of being able to choose what to put on the agenda and that no certain policy agenda was “imposed” on them (which they feel is often the case). For participants of the pilot project of Carnisse, this also positively distinguished this project from other processes carried out in the neighbourhood in recent years.
In terms of the category “impact”, the wish to make a difference in the local environment can be traced back to the reported motivations for joining the project, e.g. to gain a better picture of the own living and working context (Carnisse) or to co-creating their environment (Finkenstein). Asking participants from Finkenstein in the evaluation phase if they believe they can have an impact on the local environment, most of them responded in a positive way, although there is also some scepticism. This was addressed through the learning process, emphasising that transitions occur in small steps and need time. Differing in Wolfhagen, all the participants had already gained positive experiences in different community-based processes and were (already) convinced that their actions are fruitful.
The third intrinsic ‘task assessment’ leading to empowerment is “meaningfulness” –is based on the assumption that if a project’s goal links to the ideals of the individual participants, this has an empowering effect. The scores participants gave for being able to bring in their own input and topics they felt strongly about were good in all pilots. This positive assessment is also clearly related to the open agenda of the process as this made it possible to meet the different senses of urgency.
In sum, the community arenas addressed all four task assessments – choice, impact, meaningfulness, and competence. Through social learning processes, the participants’ belief that they are able to direct their actions to desired ends could at least in many cases be strengthened; thus suggesting that empowerment took place.
Learning to change values and assumptions
In the evaluation interviews as well as in the participatory evaluation meeting, participants of all pilot projects reported several learning experiences, including first as well as second order learning. In Carnisse as well as in Finkenstein people, e.g. reported that they learned about their possible impact (see above) and their roles and the roles of others in the project. This increased awareness about the own impact lead many participants of the community arena in Finkenstein to a changed attitude towards the future in a positive way. A very important learning experience shared by all pilot project participants was the experience of working together in a respectful and constructive way even with previously unknown people and in a very diverse group. In Finkenstein people reported an increased self-reflexivity and attention in contact with other people. Some participants described themselves as being more open and having fewer prejudices in interactions with others. All learning experiences mentioned so far can be defined as second order learning processes as they all touch underlying values and assumption e.g. on the future.
These second order learning processes are complemented by more first order learning processes which centre on concrete skills. Examples for these are: speaking one’s own mind in public and speaking in front of a large group of people, facilitating meetings, working respectfully together in diverse groups and the whole array of legal, financial and institutional know-how related to keeping open a community centre.
From single individuals to connected groups
The community arenas enriched the social capital of the participants in all pilots as new relationships and networks could be established. A participant from Finkenstein described the networks: “Through the process the group got stronger than the sum of its single members.” Via relationships and networks, new ways of working together for the collective as well as the individual good could be found and tested. Two aspects form the bottom line for these attempts to shape the local environment: a trusted atmosphere in the community arena as well as the insight that there is a shared understanding.
In composing the arena, all research teams specifically tried to mix people with different socio-cultural backgrounds (bridging). Although it was difficult to achieve an ethnically mixed group in Carnisse as well as in Finkenstein, groups were quite diverse in terms of age, gender, professions, etc. This diversity was appreciated by the participants themselves as it gave them the possibility to gain new perspectives and unconventional insights, a very important condition for social learning. Participants of the community arenas also connected with other groups (linking). In Finkenstein, these were primarily policy makers (as part of the transition team) and the general public. In Carnisse, contact with other groups actively engaged in the neighbourhood and also the local government was established through an outreach event. In Wolfhagen, the group got in contact with the owner of the vacant building they identified as a possibility for the community centre.
From another point of view, bonding relationships could be established as well. People of all arenas reported appreciation of the exchange and collaboration with “like-minded” people and perceived themselves as “one group”. For this perception, the vision-building process was probably decisive as it contributed a lot to a group feeling, giving the group a shared aim. In sum, social capital via “bridging”, “bonding” and “linking” could be enhanced for the participants and thereby also the social capital of the communities.
5.3 From empowerment to more sustainable communities?
Working with the instrument of the community arena brought changes in the inner context of the participating individuals: through social learning processes, changes in underlying values and assumptions occurred. People feel, for example, more able to direct their actions towards desired ends and to have an impact on their local environment – thus, they were empowered. Also, not really visible but of great importance are the variety of social contacts and connections (social capital) that were established. Three aspects were especially important in triggering changes in the inner context: The open agenda was very helpful in empowering the participants as it gave them a sense of meaningfulness and choice. The diversity of the groups was decisive for successful social learning and (bridging) social capital. Finally, the intense trust-building phase and trusted atmosphere in the small group of the community arenas established an environment conducive to learning. As all three aspects, social learning, empowerment and social capital development, got enhanced in the three pilot projects as well an enhancement of the communities’ transformative potential is likely.
6. Transformation and sustainability
Did the community arena contribute to sustainable development? To reflect on this question, the InContext team anylysed the existence of sustainability elements in the visions developed by the community arensa as well as in the immediate measures started by arena participants. Moreover, data from the self-evaluation of participants were used to assess about impacts on the sustainability awareness and the learning processes of participants.
6.1 Envisioning sustainable communities
The InContext consortium had a number of discussions on the meaning of the term ‘sustainable development’, as well as on the way it should be used within the project as a whole and within the pilot projects in particular. This did not, however, lead to one fixed definition or one single idea of what sustainability means or should mean. On the contrary, a plurality of ideas persisted with common denominators, e.g. long term thinking.
A predefined sustainability goal with targets for the pilot projects would be counterproductive to the idea of having an open agenda for the process (and would have prevented empowerment for example). Because of the ambiguity of the concept, the impossibility of monitoring outcomes (such as behavioural change or its impacts on individual or community level) within a three year research project and the need for a locally emerging understanding, the community arena approach focused on sustainable development as a process (as opposed to a pre-determined ultimate goal). The processes were conceived as learning journeys which render the concept meaningful in the local context. Rather than focusing on the term and concept of sustainability, the community arena process aimed to play into local dynamics and was centred on a good quality of life for all now and in the future – herewith hoping to catch the essence of sustainability without falling into quarrels about the notion itself. The researchers operationalized the concept of sustainability in four dimensions:
1) environmental thinking (awareness of nature and natural resources),
2) social thinking (consideration and acknowledgement of self and others),
3) time horizon (short and long term) and
4) interregional thinking (connection with other parts in the world, near and far).
These dimensions of sustainability thinking were to be used in the facilitation of the processes. For the action research practice, this meant that the researchers provided space to the participants to decide what is important for them and for their community locally. In the discussions the four dimensions were used to motivate people thinking into directions of sustainability. The term sustainability was thus not prominent in the process of the three pilots.
The analysis of the vision documents developed in the community arenas showed that aspects of social thinking are very prominent. Aspects of environmental thinking are present while interregional thinking aspects were only touched upon.
6.2 Implementing sustainability
The four dimensions of sustainability thinking can also be tracked in the implementation projects that were initiated by the community arena groups. In both Wolfhagen and Carnisse, the implementation projects, being the opening of community centres, contain aspects of social thinking (communication, social cohesion, social learning etc.), environmental thinking (re-use of existing buildings, promotion of regional products, etc.) while interregional thinking and long-term thinking play a minor role. In Finkenstein, the working groups and the measures that are already implemented or are planned take into account all dimensions except the long-term: social thinking (integration, civic participation, bringing young and old people together, participation workshops, building social capital, a new culture of communication, integration, exchange, etc.), environmental thinking (public transport, bicycle lanes, land use, organic agriculture, renewable energy) as well as on interregional thinking (Finkenstein together with two other communities has recently become a "climate-energy-model region”; an exhibition around the issue of sustainable culture and quality of life is planned with two other regions). From the working groups in Finkenstein, one is prominently named “Sustainable Development" and covers energy, mobility and others topics. The long term thinking is only implicitly part of the projects as they should contribute to better living in the communities now and in the future.
To sum up, the focus in all processes, judging from the visions, the implementation projects and the discussions in the arenas, was on the dimension of social thinking. With the theme being quality of life, the ‘social thinking’-dimension was the entry point and led to aspects of the ‘environmental thinking’-dimension that emerged at a later stage of the process. Operationalizing sustainability in four concepts was meaningful especially in putting social and environmental thinking on the table. It supported the action researchers in playing into local dynamics (e.g. issues of social cohesion) and linked these to the other three dimensions of sustainability without referring to the term at the outset.

Gehmacher, E., Kroismayr, S., Neumüller, J., Schuster, M. (Eds) (2006) Sozialkapital: Neue Zugänge zu gesellschaftlichen Kräften –Vienna: Mandelbaum.
Grin, J. & A. Loeber (2007) Theories of learning. Agency, structure and change, chapter 15 (p. 201-222) in Frank Fischer, Gerald J. Miller, Mara S. Sidney (eds.) Handbook of Public Policy Analysis.Theory Politics, and Methods, CRC Press, New York.
Max-Neef, M., 1991. Human scale development: conception, application and further reflections. The Apex Press, London, New York.
Moulaert, F. (2010) Social Innovation and Community Development. Concepts, theories and challenges. In Mouleart, F. et al. (eds) Can neighbourhoods save the city? Community development and social innovation. Routledge, Netw York. p.4-16
Pick, S. &Sirkin, J. (2010). Breaking the Poverty Cycle: The Human Basis for Sustainable Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wittmayer, J., van Steenbergen, F., Quist, J., Loorbach, D. and C. Hoogland (2011) The Community Arena: A co-creation tool for sustainable behaviour by local communities. Methodological Guidelines. Deliverable WP4

Potential Impact:
InContext aimed at improving the theoretical and practical understanding of what it takes to transform the challenge of sustainable development into practice in Europe. Moreover, InContext also had the objective of increasing the ability of individuals and organisations to develop responses to the challenges of sustainability in the following concrete areas:
• Practical results at the local level: InContext aimed at creating networks of local stakeholders promoting sustainable development in three communities. In these communities, potential pathways to sustainable development were to be initiated and applied by defining and implementing concrete measures to promote sustainable behaviour. At the same time, the capability of local stakeholders to respond to the challenge of sustainable development were to be strengthened: Societal actors were supposed to gain experience by participating in scenario development and back-casting.
• Scientific results: InContext aimed at generating practical knowledge on barriers and drivers as well as on the implementation of transition management strategies, bringing together actors from the public and private sectors and from civil society. The project aimed at deepening the understanding of how to bridge the gap between awareness and action. At the same time, the body of literature on transition theories was to be complemented by an inside view of the motivational factors of behaviour (internal context).
• Political and societal impacts: The project aimed to first criticall dicussing findings on the successful application of transition management techniques with view to their transferability to other cultural spheres and then disseminating them among target groups and making them available for the interested public. Respective policy recommendations including best practice examples for linking initiatives, potential agents for change and innovative mechanisms for co-operation and partnership were to be made available for different levels of regulatory bodies (local, national and European levels). Finally, the team aimed to strengthen networks of representatives from regulatory bodies interested in transition strategies enabling an ongoing exchange with the respective research community.
The main target groups of InContext local governments in the EU 27, national organisations working with local governments, people involved in sustainable development policy design on the local, national, and European level, researchers in sustainability science and related disciplines as well as the the public in local communities enganged in sustainability transitions.
The InContext team successfully implemented a wide range of dissemination acitivities to reach the all of the above-mentioned groups with group-specific formats.

1. Outreach to the local level
The topic of local sustainability transitions is a very complex one, raising many questions and often forcing local and national actors to change their routines. The dissemination activities implemented as part of the InContext project have greatly contributed to ongoing discussions on the changing role of the public sector and as such were very much appreciated, especially by the local government community.
Dissemination acitivities targeted at the local level included:
• the implementation of three ‘community arenas’ in three local communities in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, accompanied by extensive outreach, accompanying and follow-up activities;
• three local government reality-check workshops;
• an interactive final conference held in Berlin in June 2013, mainly targeted at local governments and local bottom-up iniatives for sustainable living;
• a brief with 10 Key Messages from InContext formulated in accessible language;
• a policy brief specifically targeted at local governments on the novel forms of cooperation with bottom-up iniatives and engaged citizens, provided in five EU languages;
• presentation of InContext recommendations and conclusions in numerous events and discussions;
• a regular newsletter containing news about InContext for local governments building on ICLEI’s extensive network.
1.1 Outreach accompanying and following the community arenas
Before, during and after the ‘community’ arenas in Finkenstein, Wolfhagen and Carnisse a total of approximately 28 meetings was held with citizens, representatives of local governments and other stakeholders presenting the project, the approach and its results. More details on the societal impacts achieved through the processes are detailed below in section 3.
1.2 Reality Workshops
The local government reality-check forums took place between November 2012 and January 2013 in Milan (Italy), Cracow (Poland) and Rotterdam (the Netherlands). In total, the workshops attracted 71 participants from 18 European countries, including local and regional government representatives, as well as selected representatives of the research community and civil society.
The workshops in Milan and Cracow were focused mainly on presenting the results of the project to local government representatives and collecting their feedback on the concept of community arena. The participants appreciated the opportunity to discuss the changing role of local governments in shaping local sustainability transitions and found the theme of the project very relevant to their daily work.
The workshop in Rotterdam offered a hands-on training for those who already had some experience with transition management and other co-creation approaches. During a three-day interactive workshop, participants had a chance to experience transition management methods, learn by doing and discuss how to translate the methods based on their specific local context.
1.3 Final Conference
The InContext Final Conference “How to create space for change? Rediscovering the power of community” took place in Berlin (Germany) on 6-7 June 2013. The conference attracted over 120 participants, coming from more than 20 countries: researchers, community activists, local government representatives, entrepreneurs and artists.
The conference featured an interactive and engaging programme, including panel debates, open discussions, world cafe and theatre performances, as well as a number of study visits illustrating the success of bottom-up sustainability initiatives. All presentations from the conference have been made available on the project website.
1.4 Brief with ten key messages of InContext
In a four-page document entitled “How to create space for change? Key insights for policy-makers and grassroots activists” the InContext team summarised its main outcomes in a nutshell. The Key Messages were subsequently disseminated at the Final Conference, at the InContext workshop in Rotterdam, through the website, the InContext and partner newsletter and at several conferences for local policy-makers (see below).
The Key Messages were made available in English and German.
1.5 Policy brief “Out of the townhall”
The policy brief explores new ways of engagement between local governments and bottom-up initiatives for sustainability in an accessible language, building on the results of the case study research and the community arenas. It argues that getting in touch with initiatives helps local governments to be an active player in their community’s change dynamics, but that this cooperation requires new ways of engagement and new governance tools.
The brief was made available in English, French, Dutch, German and Polish.
1.6 Presentation of InContext conclusions at numerous events
A number of dissemination activities have been implemented, addressing mostly the local government and academic community. Those included:
● presentations during more than 15 international events addressed to local governments (e.g. Ecocity World Summit, Future of Places International Conference) or research community (International Sustainability Transitions Conference 2012, European Urban Research Association Conference 2012)
● articles in newsletters addressed to local governments (ICLEI in Europe e-news) and research community (Sustainability Transitions Research Network, SERI infomail)
● dissemination via social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
1.7 Project newsletter
In total, three project newsletters were published by ICLEI using a well-recognized brand of Informed Cities Update, reaching approx. 2000 contacts from local government national and EU policy-makers, civil society and research community. The newsletters were sent in December 2012, May 2013 and October 2013. The last newspaper reported on all published InContext results.

Overall, more than 200 local policy-makers activists participated in events organsised by the project team. A number of cities and organizations expressed interest in working with or further exploring the co-creation tools developed by the project (e.g. the City of Oslo, Norway, the City of Copenhagen, Denmark, Ideas Bank Foundation, Charles Leopold Mayer Foundation). More than 2500 policy-makers, researchers and civil society representatives subscribed to the project newsletter. The themes raised by the project linked very well to current discussions on the global and European level (e.g. community-led local development, co-creation of local development, changing role of local government).
2. Disseminating and exploiting scientific results
Theoretical and methodological insights as well as the analysis of empirical data generated within InContext were disseminated during the project time through the following main channels:
• Scientific publications, including journal articles and contributions to conference proceedings – a process which is still ongoing;
• Presentations at international scientific conferences;
• A scientific workshop held in Rotterdam in October 2013 in collaboration with the two sister projects LoCAW and CRISP and the SCORAI network leading to proceedings;
• A Research Brief reflecting the challenges of being an action researcher;
• lectures to students of Kassel University and Freiburg University (Germany), the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and to two groups of Duke University students attending a transatlantic summer course held at Ecologic Institute.
2.1 Scientific Publications
The following scientific outputs have been accepted for publication so far:
- Rauschmayer, F., Omann, I. (2012): Transition to Sustainability: Not Only Big, But Deep, GAIA 21/4: 266–268.
- Rauschmayer, F., Schäpke, N. (accepted): Addressing Sufficiency – Including altruistic motives in behavioural models for sustainability transitions, Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy.
- Rauschmayer, F., Omann, I., Frühmann, J. (Eds.): Sustainable development: capabilities, needs, and well-being, Routledge studies in ecological economics 9, London: Routledge

The following article has been submitted for publication:
- Wittmayer, J.M. Schäpke, N. (submitted): Action, Research and Participation:
Roles of the Researcher in Sustainability Transitions, Sustainability Science.
In addition six papers have been published in conference proceedings and are now in the process of being prepared for submission to scientific journals (see template A1).
2.2 Presentations at international scientific conferences
The InContext research approach and its results were presented at more than 25 scientific conferences and workshops (a full list is available in Template A2), almost all of most of them had an international audience or brought together researchers from several European countries.
2.3 Scientific Workshop „Pathways, Transitions and Backcasting for Low-Carbon and Sustainable Lifestyles“
On October 7-8 2013, the InContext team organised a scientific workshop entitled „Pathways, Transitions and Backcasting for Low-Carbon and Sustainable Lifestyles“ at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The workshop organised in cooperation with the Sustainable Consumption Research Action and Network (SCORAI) Europe brought together 29 researcher from across Europe to discuss the outcomes of the InContext project in comparision to outcomes of the sister projects LoCaw and CRISP as well as related research.
After a selection based on a Europe-wide Call for Paper, 17 full and short papers were chosen for presentation, four of which presented InContext results (see Template A1 for details). Thematic areas included:
- Cases and methods on local transitions or consumption transitions, focusing on participation, visioning, and pathway development.
- Conceptualization of the individual consumer-citizen and how this relates to grassroots and alternative consumption practices, as well as to individual needs-opportunitiescapabilities approaches.
- Comparison of methodologies addressing individual actors such as citizens or consumers in influencing transitions including lessons learned from other participatory methodologies addressing local communities and consumers, such as participatory backcasting, and Local Agenda 21.
- Cases exploring niches of alternative consumption, grassroots innovation niches, and local communities as sites of social innovation and their relevance for pathways towards low-carbon and sustainable lifestyles.
Discussion followed the SCORAI format which aims at maximising interaction between participants. In each session, a short presentation of two to three papers was followed by comments of a discussant and a plenary discussion.
Based on the final submissions proceedings were compiled in October 2013, consisting of all papers, a documentation of the discussion and an introduction by the editor team. The proceedings are available on the InContext and SCORAI websites.
2.4 Research Brief
The lessons learnt on action research (see section 4.4 above) were summarised in a Research Brief entitled „Action Research for Sustainability. Reflections on transition management in practice“. The brief was widely distributed at the InContext final conference, at the scientific workshop as well as at relevant scientific conferences and appropriate networks of the InContext team.
2.5 Lectures
At several occasions, InContext team members discussed results and methodological approaches of the InContext projects to student groups, including from Freiburg, Rotterdam, Kassel, Technical University Delft and Duke University (for details see Template A2).
3. Political recommendations and societal impacts
InContext results contributed to a vivid debate about the possibility and modality of a comprehensive socio-ecological transformation which gained momentum during the duration of the project as a result of the prolongued economic downturn in the EU. Within this debate, InContext inter alia addressed questions relating to the role of social innovation, new governance approaches and the role of science in shaping the transition.
More concretely, InContext successfully adapted the transition management approach for application at the local level and communicated the results to policy-makers at the local level (see section 1 on ‘Outreach to the local level’). The project also generated recommendations on how policy-makers can help to create an enabling framework for sustainable production and consumption niches to emerge and flourish. In these recommendations, the InContext team made clear that the project results show that a mechanistic approach to policy-making, underlying concepts of ‘drivers and barriers’ has limitations given the multiple forces that shape socio-ecological transitions. The team therefore argued that policy-makers should strive for creating enabling conditions for long-term change, e.g. through providing space and support for experiments with new forms of living, producing, consuming and governing rather than implementing blueprint policies.
Finally, the three community arenas led to a range of societal impacts in the communities itself.
3.3 Policy recommendations to EU and national level
In its policy brief ‘How the EU can support local transition processes’, the InContext team formulated the following recommendations:
- InContext shows that to address the societal challenges Europe faces, it is worthwhile to explore new types of action-orientated research together with citizens.
- This type of research requires additional skills, different evaluation criteria, longer funding periods and long-term monitoring of results.
- Thus, to show its full potential, action-orientated research needs openness and support from both governments and research bodies.
- Traditional governance approaches based on a (more or less) linear understanding of policy-making should evolve into reflexive governance with built-in social searching processes.
- Horizon2020 provides an invaluable opportunity to bring this research forward – ideally through a research stream funded jointly by DG Research and DG Regio.
In a discussion paper reflecting on the implications of the ‘drivers and barriers’ concept, the InContext team concluded that based on its experience in the project the concept of ‘drivers and barriers’ is often too mechanistic to reflect the reality of behavioural shifts in social settings where motivations, values, external conditions and the dynamics of collectives interact in unexpected ways.
At least when the focus is on pioneer niche practices, focusing on single, generic drivers and barriers does not seem to the best conceptual toolkit for defining political interventions. Rather, policy-makers at all levels of government should try to build on ongoing dynamics and create a favourable environment bottom-up change. One of the most appropriate ways for governments to support the societal learning processes observed in InContext might be to open up space for them. Space in this sense means physical room, time for exchange, and flexibility in applying rules and standard procedures.
These recommendations also flowed into a policy brief commioned by DG Env and prepared by Ecologic for the members oft he European Resource Efficiency Platform (EREP) on potential policies to shape consumer behaviour.
The InContext policy briefs are supported by extensive detailed information in the deliverables, especially in the synthesis of WP 3, 4 and the project synthesis entitled ‘The role of transformative communities in addressing societal challenges’.
The material and its underlying messages were distributed at various conferences, including e.g. the final conference of the SPREAD project, the VisionRD4SD conference; through newsletter, e.g. the ESDN network newsletter or the EEAC SD Working Group newsletter and through the diverse personal networks of the InContext team members and the Advisory Board, mainly Prof. Tim O’Riordon, Philip Vergragt and Tell Münzing.
3.2 Societal impacts of the pilot ‘community arenas’
The community arenas resulted in the creation of local networks promoting sustainability. With the visions developed in the processess these groups of engaged citizens now have a shared future narrative for each of their communities.
The processes also led to concrete measaures: Actions have been initiated on the local level to create sustainability and put the vision into action; e.g. about eight working groups have been created which have implemented some ten measures in Finkenstein, or a community centre has been re-opened under the lead of an inhabitant-led foundation in Carnisse.
Moreover, participants learned about themselves, their communities and about their own power to contribute to change. They gained new skills, e.g. speaking infront of groups and moderating discussions.

List of Websites:

Project website:

Contact: Anneke von Raggamby:
Katharina Umpfenbach: