TransportXtra features news, opinion and analysis from the UK transport policy & planning;
passenger transport; urban development & parking industries.

Finding ‘positive tipping points' for change

Strengthening positive feedbacks, but weakening the negative feedbacks that maintain an incumbent state, can be just as powerful as a leverage point

23 February 2022
In Chile, a small increase in public transport fares in Santiago triggered a social outburst (Estallido Social), ultimately leading to constitutional change
In Chile, a small increase in public transport fares in Santiago triggered a social outburst (Estallido Social), ultimately leading to constitutional change

 

Moving towards global sustainability requires a dramatic acceleration of social change, and there is there is growing interest in finding ‘positive tipping points’ at which small interventions can trigger self-reinforcing feedbacks that accelerate systemic change. 

A recent analysis led by Professor Timothy Lenton, University of Exeter, notes that examples have recently been seen in power generation and personal transport – encouraging the switch to active travel and EVs – but how, he asks, can we identify positive tipping points that have yet to occur? 

The response, he suggests, is to "synthesise theory and examples to provide initial guidelines for creating enabling conditions, sensing when a system can be positively tipped, who can trigger it, and how they can trigger it. All of us can play a part in triggering positive tipping points," he says.

The study, Operationalising positive tipping points towards global sustainability, published in Global Sustainability adds: "We bring these together to consider positive tipping points across social-technological-ecological systems and the potential for multiple actors and interventions to trigger them. 

"Established theory and examples provide several generic mechanisms for triggering tipping points. From these we identify specific enabling conditions, reinforcing feedbacks, actors and interventions that can contribute to triggering positive tipping points in the adoption of sustainable behaviours and technologies.

Within this more systemic view, Lenton suggests, it is vital to consider the political economy of positive tipping points. Perceived injustices can be a trigger of tipping. For example, in Chile a small increase in public transport fares in Santiago triggered a social outburst (Estallido Social), ultimately leading to constitutional change.

Conversely, any attempt to tip positive change is likely to meet resistance from the incumbent way of doing things. Existing regimes, whether social, technological or ecological, are stabilised by damping feedbacks that resist change and restore the status quo. 

This can take many forms, including in the social realm, cultural norms, sunk costs, subsidies, ease of raising finance and lobbying groups. Lenton has focused on strengthening positive feedbacks, but weakening the negative feedbacks that maintain an incumbent state can be just as powerful as a leverage point. 

This thinking tallies with what Peter Cox, author and professor of sociology at the University of Chester, says: "Infrastructure is political, and it's also about people. It needs to be viewed as a product of political contestation. Every intervention made in people’s lives is about power, and implicitly telling people that you like – or don't like – what they're doing.”

Let's hope that encouraging positive feedbacks, but weakening the negative feedbacks, can translate into policies that can be delivered at scale – and soon.

Principal Transport Planning and Investment Officers
Birmingham City Council
Birmingham
£36,371 - £44,624
Senior Travel Demand Officer
Birmingham City Council
Birmingham
£28,226 - £35,336
Senior Travel Demand Officer
Birmingham City Council
Birmingham
£28,226 - £35,336
View all Vacancies
 
Search
 
 
 

TransportXtra is part of Landor LINKS

© 2022 TransportXtra | Landor LINKS Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Subscriptions, Magazines & Online Access Enquires
[Frequently Asked Questions]
Email: subs.ltt@landor.co.uk | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7959

Shop & Accounts Enquires
Email: accounts@landor.co.uk | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7855

Advertising Sales & Recruitment Enquires
Email: daniel@landor.co.uk | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7861

Events & Conference Enquires
Email: conferences@landor.co.uk | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7865

Press Releases & Editorial Enquires
Email: info@transportxtra.com | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7875

Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Advertise

Web design sussex by Brainiac Media 2020