By Vicky Sword-Daniels, Emmeline Henderson, Chris Barnett, Dave Wilson

We urgently need a low carbon and climate-resilient future. Incremental adaptation may no longer be enough – transformational change offers the potential for fundamental change across and within complex and messy systems. There is significant recent interest in transformational change, but what does it mean in practice, and how can we know whether we are making progress?

The concept of transformational change has gained traction and significant interest internationally, as the complex challenges of climate change demand immediate and uncompromising action to affect large-scale change across the globe. The potential to encourage far-reaching and lasting changes in market, governance, technological, and behavioural systems reflects the interconnected challenges behind the Sustainable Development Goals. Within this context, climate change programmes aim to catalyse or support transformational change that accelerates low carbon and climate-resilient development.

Transformational change is generally understood as a fundamental change at a systemic level, across complex, dynamic challenges that have a web of interconnected elements. The scale of ambition distinguishes transformational change from incremental adaptation processes. Transformational changes are multi-faceted, multi-causal, and non-linear, and as such, they may manifest in diverse ways, as changes across scales, innovative or catalytic changes, wider systemic changes and sustainable impacts.

Our first think piece shares thinking that has evolved across a number of recent projects, including our award-winning evaluation of the CIF (Climate Investment Fund’s) TCLP (Transformational Change Learning Partnership), our work on transformation through evaluating the UK’s International Climate Finance (ICF) Climate Change Compass, and DFID’s BRACED programme.

The frameworks we have developed in our evaluations of transformational change are informing our ongoing climate change work, where we are building on this knowledge, and aiming to improve our understanding of this concept and how best to evaluate it. Gaps in understanding include unpacking the pathways and processes that drive transformational change – something we are keen to explore in future work.

Partner(s): Itad