In its strategy ‘Transformation in Time’ EIT Climate-KIC aims to act as an orchestrator to catalyse systemic change. In September 2019, the MOTION project set out to make a substantial contribution to that ambition by developing a methodology for working on catalysing systems change. Looking back to two years of collaboration and co-creation with EIT Climate KIC partners, this blog reflects on the key outcomes and learnings of this project’s journey.
Key outcomes of the project
We started MOTION with two goals in mind. The first one was to test and further develop the TIPC-MOTION methodology of Transformative Theory of Change for a practitioner’s audience, particularly the EIT Climate-KIC community. During the project’s runtime we worked closely with partners from the EIT Climate-KIC community – ACT on NBS, SATURN and SuSMo. For each of these projects A Transformative Theory of Change was co-developed, resulting in a visual and textual narrative about each of the projects that placed the transformative potential front and centre. The Transformative Theories of Change made explicit the logic and anticipated change process of each project, facilitating reflections with partners about how to improve it, unveiling bottlenecks, contextual dependencies and transformative potentials. See blog 1 and blog 4 for more information about the methodology. During 2021, these ToCs were used as a guide to develop a Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation (MEL) approach. The insights gained through this process were incorporated into each project’s results and future outlook. MOTION thus supported capacity building and monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) activities to enhance the transformative potential of these projects on a project level. For more information on our work with the three partner projects, please see blog 5.
On a programme level, MOTION consolidated its capacity-building efforts to support the creation of a community of practitioners. We organised two capacity building sessions for the broader EIT Climate-KIC community to familiarise participants with the MOTION principles, and we developed a handbook, which functions as a comprehensive guide for practitioners to apply the Transformative Theory of Change methodology in their contexts.
When we started this journey in September 2019 we had a clear work plan in place, but we were waylaid in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to move our methodology online. As is always the case when bringing academic concepts to the real world, the process of implementation has taught us many new concepts and methods that ended up shaping our approach in unexpected ways. More than that, the process taught us to listen and to be flexible when working with real cases of Transformation, adapting to the needs of the partners. In terms of concepts and frameworks, these are some of the key insights and lessons learned:
Working with a portfolio approach for system transformation
The portfolio approach is an important component of EIT Climate-KIC’s strategy. Through the engagement with each of the three partner projects (SuSMo, SATURN and Act on NBS), we were able to experience and really understand what this portfolio approach means in practice. The three projects are organised around what is known as a portfolio of knowledge services, that is, a series of activities that support the exchange and co-creation of knowledge between practitioners and researchers, that address different aspects of a systemic problem. For example, as in the case of SuSMo, this included research-oriented activities such as the development of new evaluation methodology for shared mobility, to action-oriented actions such as the development of new business models for private-public partnerships in shared mobility. Each of the three projects was organised as a portfolio of knowledge services that, combined, led to outcomes that could be transformational. Furthermore, each of these projects is part of a portfolio under the Innovation Ecosystem Programme, that combines actions in different regions and socio-technical systems that together and supported by European level programmes and regulations, build the momentum for system transformation across Europe.
Relating the transformative outcomes to activities that are relevant at the project level.
We started the project with a well-developed theory of Transformative Outcomes (TOs), and our goal was to test how these could be used in the context of projects. Each of the three projects had a different way of working with the Transformative Outcomes, but a shared issue was the need to make them more tangible and relatable with the outcomes and related activities that these projects developed. This was a process of translating academic concepts, but most importantly, a process of co-design where listening to projects and their needs was the driver to specify the TOs. For example, in the case of SATURN, the two selected outcomes – Circulation and Upscaling – were developed as knowledge management issues, which was one of the identified weaknesses of the project. The question to raise here was, what knowledge management practices are needed for effective circulation and upscaling of projects? As a result, the MOTION team was able to produce a series of suggested and concrete actions for projects and programmes for each TOs, which can be found in the MOTION handbook.
The difference between co-creation and co-design
We started the project with a set of six principles drafted by Molas-Gallart et al (2021), as central elements of the Transformative Theory of Change approach, which included the notion of co-creation. In practice, each of the three MOTION partners had different needs and availability to work with us, and we needed to acknowledge that the degree of engagement of the partners in an online setting would not be as we had envisioned before the pandemic. The concept of co-design, which places the emphasis on understanding the context together, and choosing tools and methods accordingly, was very useful. Co-design has a service orientation, as it refers to facilitating processes of knowledge exchange in the science-policy interphase. It acknowledges the role of the researcher or person delivering the service in adapting and choosing a methodological approach that suits the needs of a given audience. Co-design is an integral part of a co-creation approach. The concept of co-design allowed us to take a more service-oriented perspective in the design of the interactions with the projects ensuring its effectiveness while at the same time adapting the methodology to the needs and time constraints of each partner project.
The importance of knowledge management.
The whole MOTION approach has been implemented through a series of online, interactive tools that capture ideas and discussions from participants, tailored to each specific case and interaction. The diversity of methods and tools used through the three projects made us realise the importance of carefully harvesting the data and knowledge produced by each interaction and creating practices within the MOTION team that allowed for knowledge exchange between the three cases and institutions.
The need to develop specific skills to communicate and make actionable scientific concepts.
One of the key results of the MOTION project is the handbook, where we try to capture the key learnings into a step-by-step guide that can be accessible to broad audiences. Drafting the handbook has highlighted the challenge of writing for a non-academic audience, and how much we are not used to doing so. The guidance of our communications officer, Jenny Witte, has been essential in reminding us of the perspective of the practitioner and trying to structure and dissect each of the academic concepts, making them relevant for innovation projects.
The MOTION Blog Series
Blog 1: Moving Applied Research Online During the Corona Crisis: The MOTION Experience
Blog 2: MOTION capacity building: How to develop a theory of change for systems transformation? Our training session at the International Sustainability Transitions Conference (IST) 2020
Blog 3: A Narrative About the Transformation to Sustainable Land Use Management: SATURN’s Portfolio of Actions
Blog 4: When Transformative Outcomes meet a Theory of Change: making policy experiments more transformative with MOTION
Blog 5: Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning for Transformative Change Projects: Lessons from MOTION’s Collaboration with SuSMo, SATURN and ACT on NBS
Blog 6: MOTION Citizen Engagement Towards Sustainable Cities
Blog 7: Outcomes and reflections of the MOTION project