Transition Engineering Methods

Complex Anthropogenic Systems

Complex change problems that involve communities and organizations.  The first challenge for engineers from any discipline is to develop a conceptual framework for the Anthropogenic Activity System.  The frameworks shown below can be used to describe the different types of activities that all human societies carry out, and to characterize the energy use in each and the energy used in access between the activities.

62343_Complex Prob

A vibrant and prosperous community 100 years in the past, and 100 years in the future has the same pattern of human activity. The economy is the connections between people in these activity systems. There are always development issues in a community. There will always be things that could be improved. However, because every aspect of modern life is underpinned by the availability of cheap oil, every investment decision now must be considered in the context of the future where fossil energy is increasingly expensive with diminishing supply.

Our work helps communities address local and immediate issues while building the resilience and resourcefulness essential for adapting to the future oil supply and carbon emissions constraints. The UN Sustainable Development Goals specifies a number of social aspects. The Transition Engineering method is a major breakthrough that facilitates all engineering projects to incorporate social aspects in a meaningful and fruitful manner. The majority of the company CEO's today list sustainability and energy as the top issues facing their businesses. Numerous reports on the future of business and industry describe a need for innovation and path-break thinking to bring about the energy transition. Transition Engineering is the brainstorm process that generates these innovations and path-break ideas. 

Essentiality and Importance

Engineering projects always start with a problem definition and setting out of requirements. The requirements are graded as must-have, good to have, and wish list.  With complex anthropogenic systems, these gradings need to focus on well-being and standard of living and the ability to continue providing well-being. This perspective is quite different from focusing on the current economics or lifestyle.  Focusing the problem definition on essentiality for well-being and importance for standard of living for all members of the society into the future is a necessary challenge for Transition Engineering. The Theory of Anthropogenic System Dynamics is useful for understanding how the economy develops to accommodate the physical reality of resource availability and technology, and not the other way around. 

Interdisciplinary Transition Innovation, Management and Engineering (InTIME) Methodology

Innovation can only happen in the absence of existing solutions. The wicked problems of transportation, buildings, products and other energy activity systems have "things we could do" but in fact there are no known ways to affect the transition from the business as usual scenarios to the transition pathways.  Transition Engineering is an emerging field providing the research, analysis, design and implementation of projects to manage the risks of un-sustainable resource use, environmental impacts, economic balance, and social consistency. The approach is a series of projects carried out "from the ground up" utilizing local knowledge, providing local jobs, increasing local resilience and building adaptive potential.


The Transition Engineering team conducts research and interviews with people to get a sense of the historical context and identify particular issues. The team brainstorms ideas, and conducts some preliminary analysis. The results of the initial exploration project are presented to the community, back-casted to explore potential for development. Then local leaders decide if the Transition Engineering team will carry out further analytical and pre-design work and conduct a Transition>Scape workshop. The outcomes of the workshop are projects planned by teams organized at the local level. The project plans are for the trigger, or pilot, activity, with the long-term outlook for continuation and growth into community transition projects.

1. Past Trends

What are the past trends? How were things in the past, and how have they changed? What are the resources that have always been important, and what are the roots of our shared values? Data gathered by government is analyzed, but community records and oral histories are also important information to be gathered by discussion with long-term residents.

2. Current Situation

Government statistics define the current state of the community. The perceptions and attitudes of residents are also important and are best understood by discussions with a wide range of individuals and groups. The regional assets and resources are also understood through interviews.

3. Future Scenarios

If a trend is unsustainable, then it will change. Future trends can be explored using simple mathematical models and a range of assumptions. A future timeline is developed that sets the framework for development of targets for changes in unsustainable trends.

4. Path-Break Concepts in the Forward Operating Environment

Concepts are generated by collaborative and multidisciplinary brainstorming process. Enterprises or systems, at a future time, are conceived to meet the essential needs of people and operate sustainably. Concepts have multiple benefits and are mutually beneficial for the sectors involved. Historical issues and current problems do not hinder the concept generation. Strategic analysis of complex systems method is used to quantitatively explore the possible concepts in preparation for a Transition>Scape workshop.

5. Back-Casting

Resources in the local community and region are evaluated in relation to each concept. Back-casting evaluates the resourcefulness of particular people, business opportunities, known technologies, innovative ideas and synergies. Barriers to the development of the path-break concepts are also explored.

6. Triggers or Shift Projects

The shift project is a pilot-scale activity that brings together the resources and talents in the community and demonstrates the beneficial outcomes. The shift project is also an opportunity to work out the problems and make adjustments to the project. A well designed shift project incorporates learning, stakeholder participation, and reflection on how the project leads to further transition changes in different or related areas.  Triggers can also be external disruptions, like a fuel shortage, or failures of the existing systems, like a high death toll amongst cyclists, or poor public health outcomes, like respiratory disease from cold, moldy conditions in homes.

7. Transition Projects

Transition projects are change projects led by communities and organizations, which will probably lead to adaptation of measures by government later. Transition projects involving infrastructure, transport, energy and buildings will require professional work to be commissioned. The Transition Engineering method leads to projects which deliver real value, and which are justifiable both in the short-term capital investment and the long-term cash flow and sustained value of local society, environment and economy.

Biophysical Systems Approach

Economics is actually about human behavior and the way people interact with each other through a fiat money exchange for goods and services, labor and time. Money is a good way to understand the world, as long as the world is very big and very free for the taking. In this century, the physical flows of energy, materials and resources are going to become the focus for understanding how things work. The figure below shows relationship between the energy transformation sector and the economy. A recent workshop on biophysical economics and how it informs future scenarios has presentations and videos which may be helpful in understanding the issue of "Low Hanging Fruit" and the human factors in decisions for changing course. 


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