Transdisciplinarity is not intrinsically transformative. Many TDR processes are not necessarily interested in changing (Verändern) things, but much more focused on the understanding (Verstehen) and explaining (Erklärung) of the world. In order to be/come transformative, TDR processes must have some real knowledge & human interests — at both the practical and theoretical levels — in contributing to social change.

Embarking upon actual social change processes needs to be guided by appropriate context-sensitive theory of change (ToC). There are indeed many different ToCs to work with during TTDR processes. Deciding on which ToC to adopt is always context dependent. We therefore prefer to use the notion of praxis of change (PoC) if by ‘praxis’ is understood a two-way relationship between theory and practice: 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 (RI). Some of the main features of this approach 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 possibles1 2 — i.e. small-scale changes which are embedded within a particular context — recognized the social actors as being from the context, but also what is different to and what does not exist as yet — pointing to what is potentially possible in the present — i.e. 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 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 praxis1 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’).