Transformation involves fundamental change, which in the context of sustainability, requires radical, systemic shifts in values and beliefs, patterns of social behavior, and multilevel governance and management regimes (Olsson et al. 2014). Transformation has been described as a process with three distinct phases: (1) preparing for change, (2) navigating the transition, and (3) building resilience of the new trajectory of development (Olsson et al. 2004).

Research has highlighted the important roles of shadow networks and leaders, as well as other strategies used by institutional entrepreneurs during transformation processes (Westley et al. 2013).

The related concept of transformability is defined by Walker & Salt (2006) as "the capacity to create a fundamentally new system (including new state variables, excluding one or more existing state variables, and usually operating at different scales) when ecological, economic, and/or social conditions make the existing system untenable."


Moore, M.-L., O. Tjornbo, E. Enfors, C. Knapp, J. Hodbod, J. A. Baggio, A. Norström, P. Olsson, and D. Biggs. 2014. Studying the complexity of change: toward an analytical framework for understanding deliberate social-ecological transformations. Ecology and Society 19(4): 54. Working Groups

Olsson, P., C. Folke, and T. Hahn. 2004. Social-ecological transformation for ecosystem management: the development of adaptive comanagement of a wetland landscape in southern Sweden. Ecology and Society 9(4): 2. [online] URL:

Olsson, P., V. Galaz, and W. J. Boonstra. 2014. Sustainability transformations: a resilience perspective. Ecology and Society 19(4): 1.

Walker, B. H. and D. Salt 2006. Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World. Island Press. Washington, U.S.A.

Westley, F. R., O. Tjornbo, L. Schultz, P. Olsson, C. Folke, B. Crona, and Ö. Bodin. 2013. A theory of transformative agency in linked social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 18(3): 27.

RA Working Group

Transformations & Regime Shifts

The working group on Transformation proposes a framework that outlines the process and phases of transformative change in SESs in "Changing the frame: towards a transdisciplinary analytical framework for understanding social-ecological transformations" part of a special issue of Ecology & Society "Exploring Social-Ecological Resilience through the Lens of the Social Sciences: Contributions, Critical Reflections and Constructive Debate". Following a presentation at the Earth System Governance conference held at UEA (Norwich, UK) in July 2014, the group plans to build on this framework and apply it to a variety of case studies.