WP#6: Sustainable Urban Transformation (ការផ្លាស់ប្តូរទីក្រុងដោយនិរន្តរភាព)


Building upon the literature on urban transitions research, WP#6 will analyze the socio-institutional system of the building industry and assess the current urban governance system.

Based on these analyses, a conceptualization of a governance approach that could initiate and support transformative change towards urban sustainability in Cambodia will be developed.

Following these analytical and conceptual steps, WP#6 will actively support the sustainable urban transformation in Phnom Penh by applying the previously developed approaches, i.e., context sensitive interventions based on transition management or the nurturing of niches in the field of sustainable building and sustainable urban development. These interventions will include a Sustainable Building Arena (SBA) and a Sustainable Building Incubator (SBI) that will be implemented together with local partners, e.g., Phnom Penh Impact Hub. 


Cambodia has been witnessing highly dynamic urbanization processes in the recent past.

However, its current urban development path is considered multidimensionally unsustainable because it goes along with carbon-intense growth – particularly in the building sector, social segregation, environmental degradation, strains on infrastructure, lack of affordable housing, insufficient public service delivery, etc. All this is leading to a less livable urban environment.

Within our project we want to analyze and to explore innovative pathways towards a sustainable urban transformation. We define this as a long-term purposive and vision-led systemic change.


We draw on a number of conceptual frameworks for analysis, including:

  • Multi-level and multi-phase perspectives on transition (niche, regime, landscape) (Geels, 2002),
  • Power in sustainability transitions (Avelino 2017),
  • Collaborative intermediary organisations in urban sustainability transitions (Hamann & April 2013),
  • Transdiscplinary Transition Management Arenas (Noboa & Upham 2018)

and adapt them to the Cambodian Context, considering aspects of informality, external dependency, inclusivity and the politics” of “just transitions” (Swilling 2016, Hansen et al 2018, Sengers & Raven 2014, Wieczorek 2018, Noboa & Upham 2018).

Figure: Multi-level and multi-phase perspectives of sustainable transformation (Build4People graph based on Geels 2002)


How can transformative and collaborative governance approaches be developed, employed and analysed in Phnom Penh to support processes of transformative urban and sectoral change in the building sector?

  • Which drivers and barriers exist for an urban sustainability transition in Phnom Penh’s building sector? 
  • How can local sustainability and liveability discourses be characterized in Phnom Penh? How can de-politicized low-carbon green urbanism and urban liveability discourses then be employed to support transformative change towards urban sustainability in Phnom Penh? 
  • How can a sectoral transition of the building sector be brought together with a sustainable urban transformation in Phnom Penh? 
  • How does the socio-political and socio-institutional context of Phnom Penh influence transition pathways and to what degree can SUT frameworks from the Global North be applied in this context and how can they be adapted? 


Overall objective:
To co-develop and implement together with local stakeholders a transformative and collaborative governance approach tailored to the local context of Phnom Penh to support processes of transformative urban and sectoral change in the building sector towards sustainability and a better urban quality of life.

WP#6 has a two-tier approach of scientific analysis and of actively supporting change in Cambodia:

Analytical Level

  • In-depth understanding of local transition dynamics, the socio-techno-political system of Cambodia’s building sector and Phnom Penh’s urban development regime

Action research level

  • Implementation of Sustainable Building Arena, including:
    • Participatory problem framing & development of a shared vision
    • Development of an Urban Transition Agenda
  • Implementation of Sustainable Building Incubator
  • Facilitation and analysis of transformative experiments

All these will support transformative change towards urban sustainability and towards the realization of the SDGs, particularly SDG11.

Figure: Aims of the Sustainable Building Arena Process (Build4People graph based on Noboa et al. 2018: 6)


Based on our previous analysis we will further conceptualize and explore urban governance patterns. Our aim is to influence speed and direction of transition towards urban sustainability with a focus on the building sector.

Thereby, we will draw on approaches of:

  • Transition Management (Loorbach et al., 2017) with instruments such as:
    – visioning, backcasting, transition labs (i.e., Build4People Eco City Transition Lab), and
  • Strategic Niche Management (Raven et al., 2010, Schot & Geels 2008) with its focus on key niche processes such as:
    – learning, network building & expectation dynamics, as well as the development of niche-regime relations.
Figure: Integration of SBA & SBI (Build4People graph)

WP#6 is implemented by the University of Hamburg together with the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP).

Download link to WP#6 DEF Phase Research Poster (pdf-file)

WP#6 Key References

Avelino, F. (2017) Power in Sustainability Transitions: Analysing power and (dis)empowerment in transformative change towards sustainability, Environmental Policy and Governance, 27(6), pp. 505–520.
Chang, R. and Lu, Y. (2017) Facilitating Systemic Changes Towards Green Buildings: Developing Conceptual Frameworks of Socio-Technical Transitions, Energy Procedia, 143, pp. 301–306.
European Environment Agency (EEA) (2017) Perspectives on transitions to sustainability. Copenhagen: Publications Office of the European Union.
Geels, F. W. (2002) Technological transitions as evolutionary reconfiguration processes: a multi-level perspective and a case-study, Research Policy, 31, pp. 1257–1274.
Geels, F. W. (2014) Reconceptualising the co-evolution of firms-in-industries and their environments: Developing an inter-disciplinary Triple Embeddedness Framework, Research Policy, 43(2), pp. 261–277.
Hansen, U. E., Nygaard, I., Romijn, H., Wieczorek, A., Kamp, L. M. and Klerkx, L. (2018) Sustainability transitions in developing countries: Stocktaking, new contributions and a research agenda, Environmental Science & Policy, 84, pp. 198–203.
Loorbach, D., Frantzeskaki, N. and Avelino, F. (2017) Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 42(1), pp. 599–626.
Mendizabal, M., Heidrich, O., Feliu, E., García-Blanco, G. and Mendizabal, A. (2018) Stimulating urban transition and transformation to achieve sustainable and resilient cities, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 94, pp. 410–418.
Nevens, F., Frantzeskaki, N., Gorissen, L. and Loorbach, D. (2013) Urban Transition Labs: co-creating transformative action for sustainable cities, Journal of Cleaner Production, 50, pp. 111–122.
Noboa, E. and Upham, P. (2018) Energy policy and transdisciplinary transition management arenas in illiberal democracies: A conceptual framework, Energy Research & Social Science, 46, pp. 114–124.
Noboa, E., Upham, P. and Heinrichs, H. (2019) Building a Coalition with Depoliticized Sustainability Discourse: The Case of a Transdisciplinary Transition Management Arena in Peru, Journal of Sustainable Development, 12(1), pp. 84-107.
Raven, R., van den Bosch, S. and Weterings, R. (2010) Transitions and strategic niche management: towards a competence kit for practitioners, International Journal of Technology Management, 51(1), p. 57-74.
Rohracher, H. (2001) Managing the Technological Transition to Sustainable Construction of Buildings: A Socio-Technical Perspective. In Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 13 (1), pp. 137–150. DOI: 10.1080/09537320120040491.
Rohracher, H. (2018) Analyzing the Socio-Technical Transformation of Energy Systems: The Concept of ‘Sustainability Transitions’. In: Gross M and Davidson D (eds) Oxford Handbook of Energy and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 45-60.
Rohracher, H. and Späth, P. (2017) Cities as Arenas of Low-Carbon Transitions. Friction Zones in the Negotiation of Low-Carbon Futures. In: Frantzeskaki, N., Castan Broto, V., Coenen, L. & Loorbach, D. (Eds): Urban Sustainability Transitions. London: Routledge, pp. 287-299.
Roorda, C., Wittmayer, J. M., Henneman, P., van Steenbergen , Frantzeskaki, N. and Loorbach, D. (2014) Transition Management in the Urban Context: Guidance Manual. Rotterdam, 49 pages.
Schot, J. and Geels, F. W. (2008) Strategic niche management and sustainable innovation journeys: theory, findings, research agenda, and policy, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 20(5), pp. 537–554.
Sengers, F. and Raven, R. (2014) Metering motorbike mobility: informal transport in transition?, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 26(4), pp. 453–468.
Swilling, M., Musango, J. and Wakeford, J. (2016) Developmental States and Sustainability Transitions: Prospects of a Just Transition in South Africa, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 18(5), pp. 650–672.
Wieczorek, A. J. (2018) Sustainability transitions in developing countries: Major insights and their implications for research and policy, Environmental Science & Policy, 84, pp. 204–216.

Build4People RD Phase Milestone WP#6 R1: Updated bibliographic research and literature


Hamburg University • Department of Human Geograpy • Bundesstraße 55 • 20146 Hamburg • Germany
WP#6 Leader: Dr. Michael Waibel (michael@build4people.org)
WP#6 Research Associate: Dr. Thuy Nguyen (tthuybs@gmail.com)
WP#6 Local Research Partner: Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP)