Transition management to boost the renewal and adaptivity of regional blue economies:
Midterm results of work package 2
Response to research targets so far
Transition arenas for blue bioeconomy
Transition management (Loorbach, 2010) is a long-term policy design and innovation methodology based on the reflexive governance of socio-technical systems. In BlueAdapt, we examine how transition management can support adaptation and sustainable blue growth in regional contexts, and on what conditions success can be expected. In transition arenas, practitioners from different backgrounds create transition pathways and identify critical steps to be taken to overcome main systemic barriers on key sectors and domains.
In 2018–2019 we organised two transition arena experiments in the regions of North Savonia and Southwest Finland. The arena in North Savonia (Valve et al., 2019a; see also the video) emphasised the need to foster the ‘curatory role’ of the public sector in enhancing networks in the key sectors of blue bioeconomy. Meanwhile, the arena in Southwest Finland (Valve et al, 2019b) focused more on sustainable food production and consumption; and on the development of more environmentally sound practices. Action is needed to enhance novel means of production, resource-making and market generation that have a minimal environmental footprint or improve the state of the environment. The differences between the regions are, in part, an outcome of scoping work and stakeholder selection, but they still show how blue growth policies diverge geographically.
Drawing lesson from the experiments
An objective of WP2 is to understand how transition management, as a method for stimulating transformative change, fairs when implemented in different geographical and institutional conditions. In other words, does reality correspond to the theoretical assumptions present in transition management approaches? Key assumptions identified within the transition management literature relate to (i) the pre-existence of transformative innovations aiming to disrupt conventional orders of production and consumption which are waiting to be upscaled, (ii) the existence of forerunners, champions and intermediary actors looking to take a lead in innovation and change processes, and (iii) a perspective of the environment as a production input factor (in contrast to one of the environment as an object with an intrinsic value in need of conservation). However, it seems that these preconditions were not always met. This observation forms the basis for analysis on which conditions transition management tools can best serve regional development and renewal of natural resource management.
We gathered stakeholder feedback to support retrospective evaluation of the processes through questionnaires and individual interviews with transition arena participants. According to this feedback, the arena participants valued learning and the creation of shared understanding and found the methodology especially suited in improving understanding on the complex interrelations on different sectors. They considered the transition arena process a well organised and worthwhile exercise. However, participants found the process resource intensive while being unsure if the results and recommendations would be sufficiently used in policy-making. Nonetheless, the participants welcomed the approach as a novel and useful addition to the mix of collaborative planning techniques and processes.
It is already evident that the two experiments helped to identify limitations that call for further development of the transition management approach. First, the transition pathways focusing mainly on the generation of producer value (e.g. in fisheries or nutrient recycling) were more straight-forward and better suited for the approach than those focusing on the consumer-oriented dynamics and governance of networks (e.g. nature tourism). Therefore, the methodology might benefit from better explication of starting condition.
Second, the methodology seems ill-equipped in facilitating transition in conditions in which political tensions prevail. This became most evident in the discussions related to the transition pathway on the potentials of environmentally sound increase of the fish aquaculture output of Southwest Finland.
Third, the facilitation of the process as well as single pathways proved even more resource intensive than originally considered. A facilitator needs strong expertise, experience in facilitation techniques and technical capacities to process results. Moreover, we learned that sometimes pathway-creation requires consultation of external experts.
Manure processing as a blue economy solution
In both transition arena experiments, the methodology proved to support the production of transition pathways for the creation of circular nutrient economies (Valve et al., forthcoming) at the regional scale. In both case study regions, manure is clearly the largest reserve of recyclable nutrients. However, the recycling of manure nutrients is impeded by the differentiation of livestock and arable agriculture, meaning that farms have specialized either on animal husbandry or on crop cultivation. In the conditions of excess manure, manure easily appears as a surplus biomass that just needs to be located somewhere as cheaply as possible. If manure—and along with it, manure phosphorus—is spread to fields irrespective of crop needs and legacy phosphorus potentially accumulated to the soil, the risk of nutrient losses and water eutrophication increases.
Processing is a means to enhance transportability and feasible reuse of manure. Processing enables nutrient recycling through concentrating the nutrients into smaller volumes; separating them into different fractions; enabling the reuse of the organic matter; and controlling risks related to harmful substances and hygiene (Marttinen et al., 2018). Anaerobic digestion in combination with digestate refinement makes a good example of a potentially effective processing chain. Efficient separation of the digestate into solid and liquid fractions and additional concentration of the liquid can help to recouple livestock and arable agriculture. The biogas produced can be used as heat, electricity or transport fuel. However, coordinated policy measures are needed to support renewal of business models in biogas production (Lazarevic and Valve, 2020; Valve et al., forthcoming).
The two transition arena processes initiate further actions at three levels. First, it is a common task of the regions, arena participants and identified ‘change-agents’ to put the pathways and constitutive change steps into practice. BlueAdapt develops and tests ways in which this can be supported. Second, since the fostering of blue economy transitions requires institutional and regulatory changes at national and sometimes even EU level, there is a need to communicate the findings to policy processes as a part of BlueAdapt Agora. Finally, careful analysis of the arena processes is needed before lessons can be drawn about (i) the ways the transition arena processes could be further developed; (ii) the suitability of the method to different settings and (iii) the potentials of the approach to serve adaptive governance as a part of a comprehensive approach or policy-mix.
Helena Valve, Finnish Environment Institute SYKE, firstname.lastname@example.org