Disruptive seeds: A scenario approach to explore power shifts in sustainability transformations

Lucas Rutting*, Joost Vervoort, Heleen Mees, Laura Pereira, Marieke Veeger, Karlijn Muiderman, Astrid Mangnus, Klara Winkler, Per Olsson, Tanja Hichert, Richard Lane, Bruno Bottega Pergher, Laura Christiaens, Nivedita Bansal, Abe Hendriks, Peter Driessen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Over the last 2 decades, it has become increasingly evident that incremental adaptation to global environmental challenges—particularly climate change—no longer suffices. To make matters worse, systemic problems such as social inequity and unsustainable use of resources prove to be persistent. These challenges call for, such is the rationale, significant and radical systemic changes that challenge incumbent structures. Remarkably, scholarship on sustainability transformations has only engaged with the role of power dynamics and shifts in a limited fashion. This paper responds to a need for methods that support the creation of imaginative transformation pathways while attending to the roles that power shifts play in transformations. To do this, we extended the “Seeds of Good Anthropocenes” approach, incorporating questions derived from scholarship on power into the methodology. Our ‘Disruptive Seeds’ approach focuses on niche practices that actively challenge unsustainable incumbent actors and institutions. We tested this novel approach in a series of participatory pilot workshops. Generally, the approach shows great potential as it facilitates explicit discussion about the way power shifts may unfold in transformations. It is a strong example of the value of mixing disciplinary perspectives to create new forms of scenario thinking—following the call for more integrated work on anticipatory governance that combines futures thinking with social and political science research into governance and power. Specifically, the questions about power shifts in transformations used in this paper to adapt the Seeds approach can also be used to adapt other future methods that similarly lack a focus on power shifts—for instance, explorative scenarios, classic back-casting approaches, and simulation gaming.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1117–1133
Number of pages17
JournalSustainability Science
Early online date27-Nov-2022
Publication statusPublished - May-2023


  • Anticipatory governance
  • Futures
  • Power shifts
  • Scenarios
  • Transformations

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