Transdisciplinarity is not intrinsically transformative. Many TDR processes are more interested in the understanding (Verstehen) and explaining (Erklärung) of the world — rather than changing (Verändern) things. For TDR processes to be/come transformative it is critical to have some explicit knowledge & human interests — at both the practical and theoretical levels — in contributing to social change. In this sense, the ‘trans’ in trans-disciplinarity gives rise to the notion of transformative transdisiplinarity — TTDR for short.

Embarking upon actual social change processes needs to be guided by some appropriate context-sensitive theories of change (ToCs). There are indeed many different ToCs to work with during TTDR processes. Deciding on which ToCs to adopt is always context dependent. The notion praxis of change (PoC) is also an appropriate term to use in this regard — if by ‘praxis’ is understood a two-way theory–practice relationship, namely: theory-informed practice and practice-informed theory.

One example of an appropriate PoC, for pursuing TTDR work in an informal settlement context in South Africa (see the Enkanini case referred to below), has been that of (Radical) Incrementalism (1) (2). Some of the main features of the latter are as follows:

  • Co-creating small-scale incremental innovations — initiating multiple strategic small-scale changes with the potential of producing broader systems change when socially and institutionally connected to each other;
  • Dealing with complexity — developing some anticipatory awareness of / for any un/intended consequences — emerging from by both enabling and disabling conditions in the present;
  • Implementing adjacent possibles (1) (2) — i.e. small-scale changes which are embedded within a particular context — recognized by the relevant social actors as being from their context, but also what is different from their context and which may not necessarily exist as yet — pointing to what is potentially possible in the present by discovering the evolutionary potential in / of the present (see next feature);
  • Discovering the evolutionary potential in/of the present — this involves focusing on what changes are possible in / under the prevailing conditions of the current situation vs. being overly future-oriented pursuing highly idealistic and normative pre-determined end-goals — normally presented as desired scenarios — incapable of dealing with the complexities of the emergent present — making it impossible to be implemented;
  • Directionality — this means focusing on both the direction and speed of change in / under the conditions of the current situation — rather than pursuing said normative and highly idealistic pre-determined end-goals. The directionality of actual change processes can be both side-ways and forwards, as illustrated below:
  • Disclaimer — there are no automatic guarantees that RI will necessarily produce large-scale, systems change. This may (not will) happen if the small-scale changes are strategically and institutionally connected with each other when figuring out how to amplify what works and dampen what does not work in the current situation. This, in turn, implies a continuous process of working with/in the (above) creative tension of actuality vs potentiality — indeed a fine balancing act to navigate throughout the entire research process.

The Enkanini case was intentionally initiated as a TTDR case study. However, at the time of initiating the latter in 2011, RI was not a well-developed PoC merely to be adopted & applied ‘as is’ by the researchers involved in this case study. On the contrary, it was something which had to figured out during the multiple interactions with the social actors in their informal settings and networks. On reflection, it was more of an (emergent) outcome — the result of a bottom-up Track 2 grounded theory building process — which can be briefly illustrated as follows:

As things turned out though, co-designing and -constructing the iShack has been a good example of the transformative praxis (1) (2) of the adjacent possible embedded within the Enkanini informal settlement context as a socio-technical innovation. In practice, this meant re-assembling the social in a manner capable of navigating said delicate balancing act of actuality vs potentiality. Providing a living example of what was not yet present (but possible) in the emerging Enkanini situation was absolutely critical — without which all the theorizing about RI would have turned out to be nothing more than mere abstract, decontextualized theorizing (aka as ‘hot air’).