Date and location

  •   July 10, 2014 - July 11, 2014
  •   Bildungszentrum BVS (Vadianstraße 45), St. Gallen, Switzerland

Conference details

In order to achieve sustainable development, large socio-technical systems must be remodelled, implying fundamental transformation processes for technologies, industries and lifestyles. Although the relatively young research fields of Sustainability Transitions and Transition Management have already produced a substantial body of literature (e.g. Geels 2005; Meadowcroft 2009; Grin, Rotmans and Schot 2010; Frantzeskaki, Loorbach and Meadowcroft 2012), the spatial aspects of this transition have so far been little investigated by researchers (e.g. Bulkeley et al. 2010, Späth and Rohracher 2010; Hodson and Marvin 2012; Truffer and Coenen 2012). Given the scale advantage of a regional-based analysis – whereby sufficient detail is combined with a broader strategic perspective – the Regional Studies Association Research Network seeks to explore questions and challenges around the governance of the postulated Transition from a regional perspective.

The focus of this second workshop is how to govern the sustainability transition. While such transition will impact diverse scales from the very local to the global scale, the focus here is on the regional scale. The main challenge is to determine how best to govern and steer these inter-scalar efforts and the impact chains that feed up and down the scalar hierarchy. The governing or political steering of fundamental transition processes poses various challenges: the formation and regulation of complex societal processes, the development of a ‘transformative literacy’ (Schneidewind 2013) as well as the creation of diverse instruments such as:

• Discursive Instruments, for example to shape normative discourses and to facilitate interplay between different actors with their own specific and inherent ‘logic’;

• Analytical instruments, for example to enable forecasting, risk assessment and impact analysis;

• Instruments for intervention in order to influence the behaviour of all actors concerned.

There are a number of very different approaches to sustainability transition such as (informal) learning, transdisciplinarity or system dynamics modelling. One question which must be answered is how the globally-endorsed normative concept of sustainability can help guide political and societal efforts to develop resilience against the unwanted impacts of transformation processes such globalisation, urbanisation, climate and demographic change. It is against this background that the conference focuses on the issues of governance and steering.


At this second workshop we intend to explore this topic by inviting empirical, methodological and conceptual papers as well as posters which address one or more of the following questions, in particular with a regional backdrop:

• How is sustainability defined and how is the sustainability transition currently governed or managed? Who defines sustainability? How is sustainability operationalized? How do we move from sustainability as a value, undermined by interpretative vagueness, to a set of concrete goals and targets to be achieved? Who defines the transition agenda? Which are the dominant political forces? Who is responsible for the prevailing normative discourse on sustainability and how can this discourse be redesigned? How can the normative background of science be taken into account? How can we identify the drivers of spontaneous change as well as the factors of resistance to necessary change? What is the best way to deal with diverse planning cultures in different countries and regulatory contexts? How do we know that the outcome of a proposed strategy / programme / measure actually promotes sustainability?

• What are the limits and challenges of current governance and management practices? As institutional responsibilities often do not fit the problem space, which processes of rescaling are needed? How can we deal with discrepancies such as political versus bureaucratic approaches (i.e. the short term vs. the long term) or centralised versus decentralised solutions (i.e. different mode of intervention)? How do we anticipate possible trajectories of future development? How can transdisciplinary approaches be utilised (i.e. challenge-led approaches)?

• And how can we better manage the interplay between government and governance processes? Who should govern for whom? What is the role of different players such as economic actors, NGOs, scientific actors, civil society etc.? As governance takes place in the ‘shadow of hierarchy’, which kind of hierarchical steering is needed to enable and complement governance processes? Could education, participation or informal collective learning help?


Of course, we also invite any other papers that address the topic of sustainability transition from a local and regional perspective.

A particular aim of the workshop series is to further develop the conceptual and analytical groundwork for the investigation of prospective regional development processes. To this end, one element of the workshop are open debates on these basic challenges with respect to the overall goal of sustainable development. The RSA Research Network intends to depart from the traditional conference design whereby presentations are accompanied by a few questions or comments. Instead the aim is to set up an interactive framework of intensive scientific discourse within a workshop atmosphere. The conference seeks to be as inclusive as possible, and therefore explicitly encourages the participation of practitioners.

We hope that this topic has a broad appeal and look forward to proposals of interesting papers that will foster lively and enjoyable workshop discussions. Please note the following timeline.




15th April

Researchers and practitioners who would like to present their relevant research and experiences at the conference should send an extended abstract of around 500-800 words to the e-mail addresses shown below no later than 15th April 2014. At the conference there will be full paper sessions chaired by a discussant as well as poster presentations and accompanying discussions.

5th May

By this date contributors will be informed whether their paper / poster has been accepted.

15th June

Deadline for notified presenters to register for the conference. This also applies to those who would like to participate without presenting a paper or exhibiting a poster.

10-11th July

Conference dates


Location and Organization

The workshop is hosted by the University of St. Gallen. There is no participation or registration fee, but registration is required for participation. For further information, expression of interest and submission of abstracts, please contact both

• Manfred Walser, Institute for Systemic Management and Public Governance IMP-HSG, University of St. Gallen (CH); local organiser, E-Mail:

• Dr. Gerd Lintz, Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development, Dresden, Germany; network management, E-Mail:

Further information on the RSA Research Network may also be found under


Travel and Accommodation Bursaries

Thanks to the support of the Regional Studies Association, we are able to offer one travel bursary of £300 to assist an eligible attendee with his/her travel and accommodation costs. The bursary is redeemable on presentation of receipts for appropriate expenses (to the specified limit). Those eligible to receive the bursary are any student member of the RSA, any early career member of RSA, any associate (retired) member of RSA, and any member working in a Band B, C or D country. Those wishing to apply for the bursary should include an additional paragraph in their abstract submission to the workshop organisers indicating their eligibility and wish to apply. The closing date for bursary applications is also 15th April 2014.

Related Documents

How to get there

Bildungszentrum BVS (Vadianstraße 45), St. Gallen, Switzerland