Modelling Sustainability Transitions: An Assessment of Approaches and Challenges
Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation
Transition modelling is an emerging but growing niche within the broader field of sustainability transitions research. The objective of this paper is to explore the characteristics of this niche in relation to a range of existing modelling approaches and literatures with which it shares commonalities or from which it could draw. We distil a number of key aspects we think a transitions model should be able to address, from a broadly acknowledged, empirical list of transition characteristics. We
... haracteristics. We review some of the main strands in modelling of socio-technological change with regards to their ability to address these characteristics. These are: Ecoinnovation literatures (energy-economy models and Integrated Assessment Models), evolutionary economics, complex systems models, computational social science simulations using agent based models, system dynamics models and socio-ecological systems models. The modelling approaches reviewed can address many of the features that di erentiate sustainability transitions from other socio-economic dynamics or innovations. The most problematic features are the representation of qualitatively di erent system states and of the normative aspects of change. The comparison provides transition researchers with a starting point for their choice of a modelling approach, whose characteristics should correspond to the characteristics of the research question they face. A promising line of research is to develop innovative models of co-evolution of behaviours and technologies towards sustainability, involving change in the structure of the societal and technical systems. modelling science for understanding the complex behaviours of societal system changes. A survey of peerreviewed articles reveals a developing interest in this area, with articles published on transitions modelling up to compared to articles up to . . Holtz et al. ( ) discuss the possible uses and benefits of modelling in transitions research providing examples of modelling to develop scenarios for examining transition narratives and to explore transition dynamics. Papachristos ( ) argues that simulation modelling can study system interactions and support policymaking for transitions. . There are a few publications that have reviewed transitions models. Timmermans & de Haan ( ) found almost no modelling research and proposed some mathematical and computational approaches, including the importance of increasing returns to scale in economic representations. Holtz ( ) argued that transitions models need to address transitions in specific contexts to enable the development of strong microfoundations and empirical validation. Safarzyńska et al. ( ) reviewed evolutionary approaches to modelling transitions and Zeppini et al. ( ) consider threshold models of transitions. Halbe et al. ( ) argue that Integrated Assessment Models, environmental modelling and socio-ecological modelling have similar characteristics to models in transitions research and develop a classification of uses of models from these fields in comparison to transitions models. Li et al. ( ) review existing socio-technical energy transitions models and the extent to which they include factors covered by transitions theory. . The objective of this paper is to clearly identify a niche for sustainability transition modelling in relation to the broader range of existing modelling approaches. It identifies some specific approaches which modellers could use to contribute to the field of sustainability transitions research. As such, this paper is complementary to the general discussion of the state of transitions modelling and its potential in Holtz et al. ( ). Of the many model uses in transitions research Holtz et al. ( ), the models we will consider in particular are models for understanding the dynamics of transitions in socio-technical systems towards sustainability. We do not aim to identify an 'ideal' or 'preferred' approach, nor do we suggest excluding approaches to modelling transitions. A wide range of di erent kinds of models and model uses are also viable and useful in transitions research. The comparison of di erent classes of model provides researchers with a starting point for their choice of an approach to modelling transitions, in order to address the characteristics of the research question they face.