Pathways of system transformation: Strategic agency to support regime change

Lara Werbeloff, Rebekah Ruth Brown, Derk Albert Loorbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


There is a well-recognised need to transform existing systems of production and consumption towards a more sustainable orientation. However, there is much uncertainty about how to achieve sustainability transitions in practice, and what transition advocates and actors can do to catalyse and steer regime transformation. We therefore need evidence of how transitions are operationalised, in order to better understand the on-ground dynamics of regime change. To address this gap, this research paper examines three contemporary cases of transformational change in the Australian urban water sector and the dominant strategic approach to change adopted in each city. It focuses on the strategic behaviour of actors, in particular examining how agents navigate and respond to the opportunities and constraints of their context, and what initiatives (or combination thereof) can facilitate innovation diffusion and regime transformation. The results reveal three distinct patterns of change, each of which favour particular strategic interventions by transition proponents.

In order to incubate transformational change, the results suggest that actors may be best served by initially employing strategies that are immediately compatible with their existing context. However, examination of the strengths and weaknesses of each pattern confirm that no single strategic approach is in itself sufficient, and in order to embed a novel innovation and bring about regime change, actors will eventually need to broaden the range of interventions used. The results also reveal the possibility of a ‘pattern-dependence’ that actors need to deliberately work to overcome in order to fully mainstream the desired change. These findings therefore provide insight into the links between regime transformation, patterns of change and actor strategies while also offering practical guidance that can be used to inform the design and implementation of regime transformation agendas and programs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-128
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Sustainability transition
  • Regime change
  • Water management
  • Strategic agency
  • Culture
  • Structure

Cite this