In Times of Transition: the role of game changers

More and more people recognize that we live in times of transition: a change of eras rather than an era of change - a rare period of profound and irreversible changes in our economy and society. Our society is gradually shifting from a centralized, top-down hierarchical society towards a decentralized, bottom-up, horizontal society, with an important role for entrepreneurial citizens. Transformative change is also a character of an emerging new economy driven by disruptive technological innovations, such as big data, the internet of things, robotization and the 3D-printer. This creates a digital global economy that enables communities of people to self-organise new modes of production in a decentralized, bottom-up manner. We therefore speak of a Great Transition, which in some aspects might be compared with the era of modernization during the second half of the 19th century. In that transitional period the economy transformed by the second half of the industrial revolution and the modernization of our society took place, resulting in new structures and institutions. Such a tipping period phase might take a few decades and is characterized by chaos, turbulence and uncertainty.

In such a tipping point period the role of game changers (or topplers) is of crucial importance, because old structures become vulnerable, whereas new ones need to be built up. Destabilizing interventions of game changers might have a significant impact on our society and economy. In practice, it turns out that combinations of topplers, frontrunners and connectors might be effective in creating an acceleration in sectoral transitions as part of the Great Transition. In the Netherlands a social movement is evolving around game changers, called: The Netherlands is Toppling (see For nine different sectors (from energy to building, from healthcare to education and from spatial development to water and even arts) it is followed to what extent game changers are dealing with radical innovation, in this way transforming the sector in which they are operating. The very idea is to learn from these radical innovations cross sectors and to stimulate cross-sector learning about radical innovation.

The keynote lecture addresses two parts. The first part is about the Great Transition that is unfolding in Europe, addressing the contours of a new society and new economy. The second part is about the role of game changers, where it is empirically reflected upon two game changers in the Netherlands, working in the fields of health care and the building sector. Their game changing strategies are analysed and explained and put in the context of transition governance.

Jan Rotmans

Jan Rotmans is a socially engaged scientist, with more than 200 publications in the field of climate change & global change modelling, sustainable development, and transitions and system innovations. After his PhD-research and work at RIVM he became the youngest professor of the Netherlands in 1997, at the Maastricht University (ICIS: International Centre for Integrative Studies). In September 2004 he founded the new research institute DRIFT, Dutch Research Institute For Transitions, and became full professor in transitions and transition management at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Apart from his scientific work he also wants to contribute to a better and sustainable society. Therefore a radical change, a transition, is necessary. With his knowledge he would like to make up the rules and transmit them to the people involved in any project, region or sector, so that they can give it a swing into a more sustainable direction. For a more sustainable future in the Netherlands he co-founded the Urgenda in 2007 and Nederland Kantelt in 2014. He tries to encourage as many people as possible to join this movement.

Follow up session discussants

Geert Wilms, Royal HaskoningDHV and Director of Agricultural Innovation Brabant (LIB)

Jan-Willem van de Groep, Strategic Director for the programme 'EnergieSprong', and strategic advisor of the Ministry of Internal Affairs

Chris Rowland, OVESCO