Design in community-led sustainability transitions - Learning across contexts, actors, dimensions and levels of change

Elif Erdoğan Öztekin

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Sustainability transitions require long-term and substantial changes in the prevailing systems, structures, cultures and practices that define the ways that we, as societies, settle and live within the world. It is difficult to understand, let alone intervene in and steer, the complexities of such large-scale changes. There is need to continuously challenge and reframe the ways that we think, strategise, organise and act for change. In relation to this, learning emerges as a key societal process for navigating through and proceeding with transitions. Deriving from the related literature, this thesis addresses three major ways to facilitate learning in transitions: (1) through experiments and reflective action, (2) through networks and multi-actor interaction and (3) through hybrids of networks and experiments which can further blend collaborative thinking and action together. This thesis argues that design is a significant means for facilitating these modes of learning. In that regard, design experimentation is defined as the hands-on iterative explorations that are aimed at formulating and implementing change actions. Design participation, on the other hand, is defined as the collaborative processes of rethinking and reframing the orientations, strategies and agendas of change. The thesis examines how, in the everyday contexts of transitions, these design processes go hand in hand with learning and change and how community initiatives utilise design as a means to leverage sustainability transitions from the bottom up. By doing so, this research aims to contribute to the field of design – and more particularly, to the expansion of the emerging field of design for sustainability transitions – by identifying the emerging roles of design that relate to the facilitation of learning in transitions. The case study includes four community initiatives that are designing, building and managing the sustainability transformations of their settlements (in Portugal, Germany and Sweden), and one (Europe-based) peer network of similar initiatives. Participant observation, semi-structured interviews, participatory mapping workshops and mapping interviews were utilised as the main methods of data collection. For the analysis of data, two integrated frameworks were developed and applied along with thematic analysis. The findings illustrate that design processes enable communities to attend several different depths and dimensions of learning and to refine their perspectives, practices, strategies and approaches related to change-making. The findings also illustrate that societal learning processes and large-scale change dynamics can be facilitated by means of design. The case community initiatives have built learning relations with each other and with societal actors with the aim of discovering, translating, diffusing and scaling novel sustainability actions. Based on these findings, this thesis conceptualises the phenomena of design-mediated learning and reframes design as a netweaving practice that links the processes of action, learning and change across the multiple contexts, actors, sectors, levels and scales of our societies.
Translated title of the contributionDesign in community-led sustainability transitions - Learning across contexts, actors, dimensions and levels of change
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Gaziulusoy, İdil, Supervising Professor
  • Gaziulusoy, İdil, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-0810-1
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-0811-8
Publication statusPublished - 2022
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • design for sustainability transitions
  • learning
  • community-led transitions
  • design experimentation
  • design participation
  • settlements
  • bottom-up change


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