This post in the series on Sustainable Transition, will focus on the concept of Transition Management, and use it as a tool to analyze the Danish organic food movement and KBHFF.  Simultaneously, I will present Loorbach’s theoretical concepts of  Transition Management, along with how they would be applied in a hypothetical transition arena I created as if I was a consultant hired to analyze their transition process.  My analysis of the case and application of the theory is based on research and some suppositions because in reality, this approach has not been applied to this transition. Finally I will reflect upon the theory and the analysis.

Presentation of Theory and Case

The transition from conventional to organic food production is emerging from a niche market to being a solid contributor to the regime of the Danish food sector.   While in 2013, organic food products only accounted for 8% of the food sold in Danish supermarkets, the government has an ambitious goal to have over 60% of food consumed from public kitchens in schools for example to be organic by 2020.[14] Additionally, the mainstream Coop supermarket, Irma, aims to boost its organic products to 50% of its wares in the next 10 years. This year the store aims to add 250 organic products to its shelves.[15] These are examples of elements that could lie within a Transition Management process.  Now the theory will be introduced and then applied to the case.

In many Western European countries and governments, governance takes the role of coordinating policies that will satisfy a wide range of actors. To successfully achieve consensus, a balance is needed between the state, the market, and society. An important point to note is that “top down planning and market dynamics only account for part of societal change; network dynamics and reflexive behavior account for other parts.”[1]

Transition Management is an approach that takes network dynamics into consideration, attempts to address complex problems, and works towards developing long term solutions. It is a collaborative approach where different network actors join forces in order to develop a vision and plan for sustainable transitions on a societal scale. This approach focuses on front-runners, has an objective of radical innovation, and is selective about participation.[2]

Transition Management is a cyclical approach with transition happening across distinct phases: Strategic, Tactical, Operational, and Reflective.

ST management diagram

The transition cycle is visualized here and the phases and concepts are elaborated below.

Strategic:

Arena set up: The strategic phase sets up the transition arena – the setting where transition can be framed and initiated. Strategic activities include setting the long term goals of the transition.[4]  The transition arena is the theme that has already been discussed at length in this series: the transition from conventional to organic food production, distribution, and consumption in Denmark.

Team set up: This phase includes the process of gathering the transition team, which is made up of a range of relevant actors. This process enacts the selective participation mentioned above. The transition team must be strategically selected to accomplish a common goal, and the players who are included and excluded must be considered, and this decisions impact on the ultimate goal must be evaluated.

The transition team should be comprised of 10-15 front runners in this field. Based on my research I can propose that the transition team should consist of individuals from the following organizations, institutions, and businesses:

  1. founding or board members of KBHFF as well as some of the community members from this organization
  2. founding or board members as well as some of the community members from of ØsterGRO (a local organic roof top farm co-operative)
  3. board members and other active members of the Danish Organic Farmers Association
  4. Officials from the Danish ‘Ministeriet for Fødevarer’
  5. Staff and active volunteers from the Organic Association of Denmark
  6. Staff and active volunteers from KBH Madhus (an organization working towards promoting organic food consumption as well as cooking education and awareness in schools and other public institutions)

A representative from the corporation Coop, a large supermarket conglomeration, could potentially be included in the transition team as well.  This could be a risk because Coop is such a large organization and the majority of their products are not local or organic, they could be seen as a competitor.  However, I believe it is relevant to include such a strong player in the Danish food distribution field because they have the possibility to make a large scale impact.  Coop is already making strides towards supporting organic food in their stores, as mentioned earlier in their chain of Irma supermarkets.  The Coop Sweden has recently released a video that demonstrates their support for the organic food movement.

Challenge framed: The transition team is together responsible for framing the transition challenge, and this process is about “creating a shared understanding of the underlying problems in the transition challenge.”[5]  The industrailzation and global scale manufacturing of highly processed foods has created many sustainabiity challenges. Some potential challenges that could be framed are:

  • Environmental: pesticides and other chemicals getting into the food and water supply, animal abuse on factory farms and the consequent CO2 emissions from this large scale production, rain forest degradation for meat production, ‘food miles’ or the distance food travels from its production source to its consumption site and its consequent C02 emissions
  • Social: many highly processed foods are high in sugar, which in large amounts is not healthy, also foods high in sugar often lead to over consumption due to chemicals reaction in the brain from sugar consumption (see my post about the sugar consumption documentary Fed Up here), processed food also can lead to food waste due to the consumer’s disconnection with its production and its perception as easily accessible and ‘cheap’
  • Economic: processed/conventionally produced food is cheaper than organic counter parts – because many people are motivated primarily by cost and economic incentive, these foods are consumed more

Vision created: Once the transition challenge has ben framed, a vision must be created. Vision creation is common step in any management process, and it is imperative that the transition team co-creates this vision, and put aside their “institutional perspectives.”[6] The vision tells a narrative of an ideal future and serves as a axis for strategies and actions to spin off of.  The overall vision of my conception of Danish organic and local food transition is:

vision text2

While this vision is quite broad, specifics will be played out in the following phases.  Many benefits of this vision can be read about here.  Once the transition vision has been created, the tactical phase can begin.

Tactical:

Layout pathways: It is during this phase that the transition agenda forms. The tactical phase takes a middle range timeframe, not long and not short, and it acts to connect the transition vision with more concrete solutions to achieve the vision. To achieve this, transition pathways are developed. These pathways are descriptions of possible directions to take to reach the stated vision, and while they contain goals and action points, they are not specifically detailed or fixed.

Potential pathways for my specific case include:

  • Production: support farmers
  • Distribution: increase stocks and variety of products in super markets
  • Consumption: increase consumption in public eateries, adjust costs to be economically attractive, provide information to consumers and increase awareness about sustainable benefits, as well as negative ramifications of conventional agriculture
  • Governmental support and regulation

Elaborate pathways: These pathways help the transition team “define, prioritize, and elaborate” their plans and then create some “action ideas” to take in the near future. [7]   The creation and elaboration of pathways allows the team to recognize possible “drivers and barriers” that exist in their frame.[8] A possible methodology for elaborating pathways is to ‘back cast’, which is starting with the vision and then creating the pathway backwards from there. This method provides a possibility for thinking outside of the box and breaking away from the bounds of the current reality, by starting with a focus on future actions.

The elaboration of the laid out pathways in this case could be as follows:

  • Production: subsidize farmers, reduce taxes
  • Distribution: Special section in all Coop super markets (find a store here) with all local and organic products, regular sales on these items
  • Consumption: increase awareness through schools, events, demonstrations, media, government requirements of minimum local and organic food served in public kitchens such as schools and universities, hospitals, government canteens, etc…, activate stakeholders to continue, expand and start new user driven initiatives such as the successful KBHFF and ØsterGRO, less taxes on these products in super markets
  • Government support and regulation: these pathways have been mentioned above with tax reductions, subsidies, and regulations for requirement of organic food in public kitchens

Operational:

Experiments and Spin offs: Based on the laid out and elaborated pathways, short term actions are planned, which take the form of experiments or spin offs. Transitions experiments are “initiatives to explore and learn about the shifts in structures, cultures, and practices as depicted in the transition pathways.”[10] Spin offs are “less radical or explorative nature but are equally helpful in pushing the transition agenda forward.”[11] These initiatives are means to explore new ways to satisfy society and its demands. With experimentation, it is often required to take a period of a few years to gain support.

Examples of experiments or spin offs in my case include:

  • initiatives such as KBHFF, ØsterGRO, and the work done at KBH Madhuset
  • special events and public demonstrations, cooking classes, farm visits, and free samples to spark user interests

Consolidation of the transition agenda: Up until this point, the steps described all contribute to creating the transition agenda, which “provides direction for the long term and inspires actions for the short term.”[12] The transition agenda is a tool for maintaining the focus yet expanding initiatives and attracting supporters.

Engaging and Anchoring: This phase is about engaging parties outside of the protected transition arena. It is about maintaining the driving forces that supported the transition arena “by continuing to make space for emerging paradigms and practices, while exploring new roles and relationships.”[13] This can be accomplished by bringing attention to the cause through events, publicity, and seeking support from businesses, organizations, governing bodies, and other individuals.

Engagement and anchoring that goes beyond the pathways and experiments described above may include:

  • engage more distribution of organic products at large and small scale establishments such as kiosks, movie theaters, or corporate canteens.
  • encourage existing conventional farmers to convert all or some of their work to organic
  • reach out to restaurants to further partnerships with farmers and direct sales of products to increase distribution and consumption in this area as well

Reflective:

Monitoring and Evaluation: Once the transition begins to transfer outside of the arena, it is necessary to monitor its progress, particularly the response to experiments and other initiatives. This allows transition actors to observe, react, and adjust their approaches. Reflection allows the learning process to continue and expand and the coordinators can learn and attempt new ways to engage and attract others to the transition.

My Reflection on the Transition Management approach

A challenge the Danish organic food transition could encounter if taking a ST Management approach is the transition team members having difficulty leaving their individual institutional perspectives behind.[16] For example, Coop and KBHFF are technically competing in the market place. It may be difficult, but actors must put their exterior motives aside and focus on supporting all initiatives that address transition challenge, even if it may support market competitors.

I would suggest the transition team too coordinate greater initiatives to educate the public on the advantages of organic food production and consumption. It is often less economically appealing to purchase organic, therefore it is relevant to play up the environmental, social, and personal benefits of this transition. In the article about the organic market in Denmark, it is stated that a majority of consumers purchase organic for its environmental and health benefits. If these aspects are highlighted, as well as the disadvantages in these areas of conventional food production and consumption, the public and market can thus gain traction towards the organic transition.

I would also suggest that KBHFF organize more public promotional events, such as preparing and selling food at festivals or farmers markets. This could increase awareness of the initiative and gain members. Another way could also be to organize tours to their supplier’s farms so that members can visualize the process of food production and the organization’s actions, as well as see the benefits of their participation and thus create more passion in individuals to help spread the causes’ message even further.

Transition Management aims to transition systems towards sustainability by rerouting ongoing transitions in changes in cultures, structures, and practices.[17] This is pushing for a general change in landscape, through smaller scale initiatives, such as KBHFF and other initiatives mentioned in this post and last. The experimentation phase of Transition Management is similar to SNM as it provides similar opportunities for a protected environment for an activity or initiative to gain support.

To conclude, Transition Management is an effective theory for analyzing a transition.  Its step by step approach is also effective for applying it as a method for creating a vision and commencing an organized transition process.  As conveyed in this post, it helped me to understand that while food distributors are competing in the market, they may share a common vision for promoting sustainable local and organic food production.  Transition Management shows how these organizations have the potential to collaborate and work together to define this vision and make progress towards realizing it, despite their market competition.

[1] (Loorbach, 2010, page 166)

[2] (Loorbach, 2010)

[3] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012, page 15)

[4] (Loorbach, 2010)

[5] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012, page 24)

[6] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012, page 24)

[7] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012, page 30)

[8] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012, page 30)

[9] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012, page 29)

[10] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012, page 31)

[11] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012, page 31)

[12] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012, page 41)

[13] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012, page 35)

[14] (Det økologiske marked, accessed 2015)

[15] (Skouboe, 2015)

[16] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012)

[17] (Roorda, Frantzeskaki, Loorbach, van Steenbergen, & Wittmayer, 2012)

References:

Det økologiske marked. (n.d.). Retrieved April 5, 2015, from Landbrug & Fødevarer: http://www.lf.dk/viden_om/oekologi/markedet.aspx

Loorbach, D. (2010). Transition Managment for Sustainable Development: A Perspective, Complexity-Based Governance Framework. Governance: An Inernational Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions , 23 (1), 161-183.

Roorda, C., Frantzeskaki, N., Loorbach, D., van Steenbergen, F., & Wittmayer, J. (2012). Transition Managmement in Urban Context – guidance manual, collaborative evaluation version. Erasmus University Rotterdam. Rotterdam: Drift.

Skouboe, L. (2015, January 9). Økologisk Lansforening. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from Okologi.dk: http://www.okologi.dk/aktuelt/nyheder/2015/jan/irma-boejer-sin-oeko-vision-i-neon.aspx

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