Field: Sustainable living
Global Technical function: Managing
Technical Function Unit: Data analysing, Networking, Strategic planning
Geographic Area: Germany


INCONTEXT stands for Individuals in Context. This project aims to understand the role of transformative communities in addressing societal challenges.

To achieve this, the project makes use of a data analysing approach based on case studies as well as pilot projects. By doing so, the project focuses on the interplay between internal (agent-based) and external (structural) contexts of individual and collective behaviour for enabling societal transition towards a sustainable living. In other words, the initiative, which appraises how the inner and outer context at both individual and group level impact individual and collective strategies and/or practices, attempts to answer the following question: “What do people need to achieve a sustainable life?

The exploration of case studies is grounded on the rationale that it is necessary to learn essential messages from alternative consumption and production patterns that emerged unsolicited, i.e. from the ground. Therefore, the project analysed four transformative initiatives in Belgium, Germany and Austria. The four case studies aim to provide an understanding of the interaction between factors that are linked to the external context of the niches and factors that are linked to agent-based / internal factors. The main focus of the case study exploration is the dynamics and forces at work at the level of “collectives”.

The exploration of the case studies complements other parts of the project (especially the related “Pilot projects” –, which more particularly focus on the inner context and take the stance of Action Research) by actively managing transition processes on a local level. The management of the pilot projects entails joint reflection processes and empowerment of individual members of these local communities. To do so, various theoretical constructs are integrated into a methodological framework, such as transition management, backcasting, social learning and inner context.

The core concept of transition management consists in structuring a process of co-creation to make new insights emerge at both individual and societal levels. Therefore, by the networking of various types of actors that debate, think and experiment, incremental and breakthrough innovations can arise. Backcasting means literally looking back from the future. It consists in generating a desirable future and then looking backwards from that established future by carrying out a strategic planning approach to achieve it. Finally, inner context of individuals (i.e. internal behavioural processes of an individual towards external factors as well as shared processes between individuals within a social group) is found to mainly deal with needs, strategies and capabilities. To assess these features, the following indicators are set up: awareness of needs, awareness of how strategies relate to these needs and perceived capability to influence one’s local environment.

The key concepts (i.e. transition management, backcasting, social learning and inner and outer context) are integrated in a methodological framework called the community arena. It is a co-creation tool for sustainable behaviour within local communities. Phases of community arena consist of six steps that are respectively (i) pre-preparation which includes the transition team formation, (ii) preparation and exploration including the overview of major issues and tensions to focus on, (iii) problem structuring and envisioning to allow the community to share a common vision, (iv) backcasting, pathways and agenda building, (v) experimenting and implementing and (vi) monitoring and evaluation.

This project, which focuses on sustainable living achievement, is funded under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission (FP7), a grant funding programme, and coordinated by the Ecologic Institute (headquartered in Berlin, Germany). As the project is still running and its outputs are not complete yet, the technology readiness level is currently estimated to be 7 on the TRL scale.