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 and to be guided by some appropriate ToCs. There are indeed many different ToCs to work with in TTDR processes and deciding which ones to adopt is always context dependent. One example, found particularly useful for conducting TTDR in an informal settlement context in South Africa (see the Enkanini case referred to below), has been that of Radical Incrementalism (RI). Here are some of the main features of this approach:

  • Small-scale incremental innovations – initiating multiple strategic small-scale changes with the greatest potential of small changes producing big effects;
  • Complexity – dealing with emergence of the un/intended consequences produced by both enabling and disabling conditions in the emergent present – developing anticipatory awareness of this is critically important;
  • Adjacent possibles1 2 – small-scale changes are embedded within a particular context to be recognized as from the context, but also different to what already exists within the context by pointing to what is still possible; working with/in this creative tension between actuality and potentiality is indeed a fine balancing act to maintain throughout the entire research process;
  • Evolutionary potential in/of the present – focusing on what changes are possible in/under the prevailing conditions of the current situation vs. being overly future-focused (teleological) with pre-determined end-goals of what the future should look like – normally constructed as highly idealistic / normative scenarios, incapable of dealing with the complexities of the emergent present – impossible to be implemented;
  • Directionality – working without pre-determined end-goals means that both the speed and direction of change is determined in the present when figuring out the next steps in/under prevailing conditions – the directionality of such change processes can be both side-ways and forwards, illustrated as follows:
  • Risks – there are no automatic guarantees that RI will necessarily produce large-scale, systems change. This may (not will) happen if small-scale changes are strategically and institutionally connected with each other for figuring out the next steps of co-constructing the adjacent possibles1 2 by amplifying what works and dampening what does not work in the current situation. This also amounts to a process of continuously re-assembling the social by deliberately creating learning actor networks — within and from which to initiate said small-scale social change and transitioning processes.

Note: Purposefully creating actor learning networks are primarily outputs of TTDR processes, but they can also become social change outcomes (see the Jahn framework on the processes and methods pages) by extending their role and function well beyond the (limited) time duration of the TTDR processes — as was the case with the iShack project morphing into an entrepreneurial business opportunity when the research process came to fruition with a timely exit point emerging on the horizon.

Although the Enkanini case was intentionally initiated as a TTDR case study, RI was not, at the time of setting things up in 2011, a well-developed ToC merely to be adopted & applied by those involved in this case study. It was more of an (emergent) outcome of a bottom-up grounded theory building process, rooted in the multiple interactions with the social actors in their informal settings and networks in a Track 2 type process — which can be briefly illustrated as follows:

Note: co-designing and -constructing the iShack has been a good example of the praxis1 2 of the adjacent possible embedded within the Enkanini informal settlement context as a socio-technical innovation and in a manner capable of navigating said delicate balancing act between actuality and potentiality — by providing a living example of what was not present yet possible in the emerging Enkanini situation.