Pathways, Transitions and Backcasting for Sustainable Lifestyles and Sustainable Communities


Jaco Quist, Delft University of Technology, [email protected]

& Adina Dumitru, University of Corunna & West University of Timisoara, [email protected]

Over the last decade there has been a growing interest in long-term pathways, transitions and visions for sustainable consumption, sustainable lifestyles and sustainable communities. The origin of this interest goes back to the Agenda 21 in Rio in 1993 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002, but in the last decade these topics have been related to long-term visions, pathways and transitions needed to achieve the bring about these visions, as well as to participatory approaches that are able of generating such visions and pathways, as well as facilitating agenda building and making first steps towards these visions. Well known approaches include backcasting and transition management. Interestingly, in the application of these approaches, a shift towards sustainable lifestyles and sustainable communities can be observed. In addition, the individual level and the potential of so called alternative consumption niches and grass roots innovations for long-term transitions is an emerging topic that has relevance for long-term transitions and visions for sustainable consumption and communities. Recent examples include international, partly FP7 projects, like Individuals in Context (InContext, Low Carbon At Work (LOCAW, CRISP(CReating Innovative Sustainability Pathways’, SPREAD (, RESPONDER (, and CORPUS (

The aim of the proposed symposium is to present and discuss these topics, approaches and developments at the IAPS Conference and to provide examples of how these methods have been applied to particular cases and to exchange and compare concepts, methodologies and results on visions, scenarios, transitions and pathways for sustainable lifestyles and communities from a range of projects and cases. An additional aim is to search for similarities, complementarities and further lessons, not only for researchers and practitioners, but also to develop additional recommendations with regard to pathway development and facilitation to the EU and to learn from bottom-up emerging developments like in transition towns and sustainable energy cooperatives. It is also aimed for that the symposium could also shed more light on developments in transition management and backcasting with regard to the involvement of end-users, citizens, employees, consumers and communities.

In order to address all aspects and issues discussed above, the workshop called for the following topics

• 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-opportunities-capabilities 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.

• Cases in which visions, pathways, and backcasting have been combined with (agent-based) modelling.

Organisers & Practicalities

We invite papers on the topics mentioned above. We also invite papers that compare cases, or relate cases and methods to other theoretical fields. If you are interested to participate in this symposium, please send your abstract (max. 200-250 words, title and keyword + address details) asap [email protected] and [email protected] For more information on the IAPS 23 Conference, see or the CfP at


Jaco Quist, Delft University of Technology, [email protected]

Next to Local Agenda 21 processes, other participatory approaches for initiating and supporting stakeholder action on sustainable development have been developed in the last decades. In the Netherlands, Canada, UK, Sweden and Belgium, significant efforts have been and are being undertaken with two participatory approaches, transition management and participatory backcasting in areas such as energy, building, health care, food, mobility and water management.

Transition management has rapidly emerged over the past decade as a new approach addressing complex societal problems and the governance of these problems towards sustainability. It is a participatory learning and experimenting process aiming at creating societal movement that can put pressure on dominant policy (Loorbach 2007, 2010). Backcasting has been defined as "generating a desirable future, and then looking backwards from that future to the present in order to strategize and to plan how it could be achieved" (Vergragt & Quist 2011: 747); over the last decades a participatory variety has strongly emerged. Both transition management and backcasting have mainly involved professional stakeholders. Recently, transition management was applied on the local level with citizens, while participatory backcasting has also been applied to consumption involving both citizens and consumers since a decade.

This paper will review developments in participatory backcasting and transition management with regard to their application to communities, lifestyles and consumption, and briefly present two cases in which the author has been involved: (1) sustainable household nutrition, and (2) the community arena methodology as developed in the EU funded InContext ‘Individuals in Context: Supportive environments for sustainable living’ project and applied in communities in The Netherlands, Austria and Germany. The evaluation will focus on stakeholder involvement, learning by those involved, the development and role of visions and the methods needed to realise participatory vision development and learning among citizens and stakeholders involved. It will finalise with a discussion on the implications of the cases for applying backcasting in the forthcoming Glamurs project

Keywords: Participatory backcasting; transition management, sustainable communities, sustainable lifestyles 


Adina Dumitru*

Ricardo García Mira

Pedro Vega Marcote

Miguel Muñoz Cantero

Ildiko Erdei

Corina Ilin

Giuseppe Carrus

Fridanna Maricchiolo

Linda Steg

Angela Ruepert

*Presenter, University of Corunna & West University of Timisoara

In future and sustainability studies, back-casting scenarios are defined as a methodology that allows us to envision and analyze different types of sustainable futures and develop agendas, strategies and pathways to reach them (Vergragt & Quist, 2011). It has a strong normative component, as it starts from desirable future states or set of objectives and then analyzes the steps and policies that are needed to get there, in order to be able to design agendas that can be implemented and that normally require cooperation and communication among different types of actors in complex socio-economic and political environments. It is considered a useful tool in going toward alternative futures in issues of climate change (Giddens, 2009).

The LOCAW project has used participatory back-casting in four case-study organizations (University of A Coruña, Spain; Aquatim, Romania; Enel Green Power, Italy; Municipality of Groningen, The Netherlands) with a two-fold purpose: to create scenarios for the future with the input of workers at different levels of the organization and to design reasonable pathways for sustainable change that could then be tested in a simulated environment. It used a combined approach, using a methodology of focus groups to develop the scenarios, inspired in part by the one used by Svenfelt et al. (2011) in their study on decreasing energy use in buildings but significantly adapted to fit the objectives of LOCAW; and the stepwise approach of Kasper Kok et al. (2011), to orient the process and help stakeholders in getting disengaged with the present, and being able to create truly innovative visions of the future, one of the hardest aspects of back-casting scenarios both with stakeholders and experts (Svenfelt et al., 2011).

The present paper will discuss the results obtained in the four case studies and the pros and cons of different back-casting approaches. It will also discuss the relevance of scenario building for long-term participatory planning in organizations, also looking at the advantages and potential drawbacks of scenario tools for transitions to sustainability.

Keywords: Backcasting, scenario development, sustainability, transitions, participatory planning

Giddens, A. (2009) The Politics of Climate Change, Polity Press, Cambridge UK

K. Kok, M. Van Vliet, A. Dubel, J. Sendzimir, I. Bärlund, Combining participative backcasting and exploratory scenario development: experiences from the SCENES project, Technological Forecasting and Social Change 78 (2011) 835-851

Svenfelt, A., Engström, R., Svane, O. (2011) Decreasing energy use in buildings by 50% by 2050—a backcasting study using stakeholder groups. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, special issue.

Vergragt, P. & Quist, J. (2011) Backcasting for sustainability: Introduction to the special issue, Technol.Forecast. Soc. Change;


Udo Pesch, [email protected]

Delft University of Technology

A range of new energy systems, relating to both the consumption and production of energy, are currently in development, which all aim to diminish the environmental and economic pressures that evolve from the current use of fossil fuels. One may think of smart grids, exploration of unconventional fossil fuels, decentralized production of renewable energy, etc.

In these new energy systems, one may recognize different conceptions of the ideological role of individual users, which, in turn, relate to different conceptions of civil society. Or in other words, ideas about new energy systems are based on an assumption to which extent such a system can intervene in the personal life sphere of an individual user. For instance, users can be seen as autonomous customers whose intensity of energy use should not be interfered with, or they can be seen as citizens who get actively involved in new patterns of energy production and consumption in order to create a shared identity. Because of the multitude of conceptions of civil society and the role that individual users can or should have, most new energy systems can only be said to be provide suboptimal results, seen from the perspective of sustainability.

This paper will place the development and advocacy for new energy systems against the backdrop of the different conceptions of civil society and it will explore which options there are for further development of energy systems that are sustainable.


Felix Rauschmayer, Ines Omann, Torsten Masson, Ines Thronicker & Christine Polzin, UFZ – Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, [email protected], & Anke Fischer, Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences Group, James Hutton Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, UK, [email protected]

Within transition theories, individuals are treated as change agents, front runners and the like, but rarely analysed on their own behalf. Here, the discussion on why people engage in or adhere to niches remains underdeveloped. We start our work from findings of previous studies that suggest that the experience of internal conflicts is widespread where individuals are confronted with complex decisions related to sustainable behaviour. We take these internal conflicts as a starting point for the identification of variables that might help to turn unsustainable into sustainable behaviour.

We build our work on concepts from social psychology and behavioural research that suggest a variety of ways in which individuals experience and process such conflicts. For example, dual process models postulate that information processing preceding behaviour takes place on a spectrum between systemic–analytical and heuristic– holistic decision-making. Conflicts are experienced differently along this spectrum. According to Bamberg’s stage model of self-regulated behavioural change, the efficacy of interventions varies according to the stage in which individuals stand with regard to their behavioural change. Conceptualisations of coping with stress also vary with regard to the determinants of successful coping with internal conflicts. At the same time, coping, even though individually experienced as successful, does not necessarily result in more sustainable behaviour (e.g., emotion focussed coping that leads to denial of existing environmental problems).

Policies that aim to (a) reduce internal conflicts – as a part of increasing wellbeing, and that (b) aim to increase the tendency towards more sustainable behaviour, can address different and complementary levers of change. First, they may reduce potential sources of conflict through rather classical measures based on providing information, economic incentives, or command-and-control. Second, they may increase individuals’ competence of dealing with internal conflicts. For example, mindfulness-based stress reduction programmes and results from social learning processes might generate useful insights for policies. The political coalitions required for initiating and implementing such programmes will probably differ substantially from those governance processes that aim to reduce the potential for internal conflicts before they occur.

In this presentation we analyse and review relevant psychological literature, in particular, with regard to the policy implications for sustainability transitions. In the context of the recently started EU FP7-funded project GLAMURS, we will contrast empirical evidence to be gained through qualitative in-depth interviews in several EU countries with this conceptual knowledge, aiming at a better understanding of the psychological lock-ins with sustainability transitions and at identifying ways how to open up these lock-ins.