An actionable understanding of societal transitions: The X-curve framework

Aniek Hebinck, Gijs Diercks, Timo von Wirth, P. J. Beers, Lisa Barsties, Sophie Buchel, Rachel Greer, Frank van Steenbergen, Derk Loorbach*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)


Sustainability transition research seeks to understand the patterns and dynamics of structural societal change as well as unearth strategies for governance. However, existing frameworks emphasize innovation and build-up over exnovation and break-down. This limits their potential in making sense of the turbulent and chaotic dynamics of current transition-in-the-making. Addressing this gap, our paper elaborates on the development and use of the X-curve framework. The X-curve provides a simplified depiction of transitions that explicitly captures the patterns of build-up, breakdown, and their interactions. Using three cases, we illustrate the X-curve’s main strength as a framework that can support groups of people to develop a shared understanding of the dynamics in transitions-in-the-making. This helps them reflect upon their roles, potential influence, and the needed capacities for desired transitions. We discuss some challenges in using the X-curve framework, such as participants’ grasp of ‘chaos’, and provide suggestions on how to address these challenges and strengthen the frameworks’ ability to support understanding and navigation of transition dynamics. We conclude by summarizing its main strength and invite the reader to use it, reflect on it, build on it, and judge its value for action research on sustainability transitions themselves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1009-1021
Number of pages13
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number3
Early online date18 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors acknowledge all the valuable insights, comments, and feedback from all colleagues at the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions and especially Marleen Lodder and Chris Roorda (2017 ) who led the first State of Transition? project. This paper and the (continuous) iterative development of an action-oriented framework would not have been possible without such a great collective of action researchers and their creativity in using the X-curve in sustainability practice. In addition, we are thankful for the constructive feedback from the handling editor and the two reviewers.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


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