Transitions are structural systemic changes resulting from interacting cultural, economic, technological, behavioral, ecological and institutional developments at multiple levels. A transition path is a strategy to work towards a shared future ambition with a number of milestones along the way. Typical transition challenges include:

Managing scale and complexity;

Getting from vision to action; and

High possibilities of an unjust transition.

Transition management methodology

Societies face persistent problems that cannot be solved by traditional approaches alone. Societal change is a highly complex and non-linear process at multiple scale levels. Transition management consists of a deliberate attempt to stimulate a transition towards a more desirable future. However, transitions are the result of the interplay of many unlike processes, several of which are beyond the scope of management, such as cultural change. Transitions therefore cannot be ‘managed’ in a traditional sense. We can influence the direction and speed of a transition through various types of steering and coordination. Thus, transitions defy control but they can be influenced.

The implementation of transition management is dependent on factors such as creativity, perseverance and communications skills, rather than technocratic planning.

Transition management uses the power of both markets and planning, and is engaged with the establishment of new as well as the change of old institutions

Transition management is based on a two-pronged strategy. It is oriented towards both system improvement (improvement of an existing trajectory) and system innovation (representing a new trajectory of development or transformation).

Transition management breaks with the old planning-and-implementation model aimed at achieving particular outcomes. It is based on a different, more process-orientated, partnering and goal-seeking approach which helps deal with complexity and uncertainty in a constructive way.

Why take a partnership approach?

The scale and complexity of the challenges we face (as a community, city, region, nation, world) is beyond any single sector, discipline or sphere. There is the need for a ‘whole of society’ approach rather than just ‘capable state’.

Cross-sector collaboration has the potential to drive change through a “deliberate juxtaposition of opposing and even conflicting interests, ideas, practices, experiences, behaviours and organisational cultures” (Prof Ralph Hamann).

Structured partnerships (as opposed to symbolic encounters) are necessary to create sustainable platforms for dialogue, trust building and joint action.

Collaborative intermediary organisations can create a safe ‘in-between space’ for the creativity, experimentation and innovation needed to steer and guide transitions.

Combining Vision and Action


The Cape Town Partnership is a good example of a hybrid model. On the one hand, the CCID focuses on the ‘here and now’. Its strength is its attention to detail, and its ability to provide immediate responses to urban management problems and have a visible presence on the streets. In other words, implementation.

On the other hand, the Partnership concentrates on ‘what happens tomorrow’. It focuses on the broader socio-economic context, brings diverse partners (and points of view) together, and is able to initiate new ideas and longer-term programmes. In other words, an innovation and dialogue partnership, focusing on strategic initiatives. Similarly, the EDP attempts to combine vision and action in one.

Within a commitment to common objectives and a shared style of work, there needs to be room for differences. A partnership won’t work if you try and force all partners to think and act the same. Trust needs to be built over a period of time, through openness, transparency and knowledge-sharing, as well as being able to understand the diverse work styles and organisational cultures of the partners.

How does one begin to overcome these various types and levels of mistrust? The authors Covey and Brown use the term ‘critical cooperation’ to describe partnerships that are based on learning how to manage not just cooperation or conflict, but cooperation and conflict in the same relationship.



In effective partnerships, decision-making power is not held or exerted primarily by organisational hierarchy, state mandate or market competition, but rather on the basis of legitimacy brought about by the ‘right’ people being involved in authentic and solutions-orientated dialogue.

Competence of collaborative leadership

In conclusion, technical and academic qualifications matter less, and competencies of collaborative leadership matter more, if you want to find the ‘right’ people to organise and lead partnership organisations, and the partners that are part of the partnership.