WP#6: Sustainable Urban Transformation


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

Based on these analyses a first conceptualisation 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.


Cambodia has been witnessing highly-dynamic urbanization 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, economic fragmentation and 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 analyse and to explore innovative pathways towards a sustainable urban transformation. We define this as long-term purposive and vision-led systemic change.


Transitions Theory seeks to (a) understand & anticipate transitions, and (b) explore ways to advance transitions (Loorbach et al., 2017).

We will apply two core conceptual frameworks for analysis:

  • Multi-level perspective on transition (niche, regime, landscape) (Geels, 2005),
  • Multi-phase concept of transition (predevelopment, take-off, acceleration, stabilization) (Chang & Lu, 2017),

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).


  • How can people-centred governance-approaches be identified that could (potentially) initiate and support a sustainable urban transformation of Cambodia and increase the urban quality of life?
  • What are the incumbent routines / practices, powers, interests, discourses, and regulations that create path dependencies in Cambodia building sector?
  • Which drivers and barriers for a sustainable transition can be determined and is there potential for (social) learning?
  • How can the identified approaches then be applied to strengthen or initiate transformative change towards urban sustainability in Cambodia?


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

Analytical Level

  • Assessment of the current urban governance system and transition dynamics
  • First conceptualisation of a governance approach that initiates and supports transformative change towards urban sustainability and improvement of urban quality of life

Normative / Prescriptive Level

  • Implementation of explorative governance experiments
  • Support transformative change towards urban sustainability and towards the realization of the SDGs, particularly SDG11


  • Implementation of extensive qualitative analysis
  • Co-implementation of the quantitative Build4People household survey investigating urban quality of life
  • Conceptualization of pathways towards a sustainable urban transformation with a focus on the transition of the building sector
  • Baseline Report: Analysis of the current governance system and transition dynamics
  • Baseline Report: Measuring urban quality of life from a transition perspective
  • Preparation of a solid theory-based proposal in regard to RD-phase


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 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.

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

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


Chang, Ruidong; Lu, Yujie (2017): Facilitating Systemic Changes Towards Green Buildings: Developing Conceptual Frameworks of Socio-Technical Transitions. In Energy Procedia 143, pp. 301–306. DOI: 10.1016/j.egypro.2017.12.688.

European Environment Agency (2017): Perspectives on transitions to sustainability. European Environment Agency (EEA). Copenhagen (EEA Report, 25). Available online at https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/perspectives-on-transitions-to-sustainability/perspectives-on-transitions-to-sustainability/viewfile#pdfjs.action=download, checked on 9/6/2019.

Geels, Frank W. (2005): Processes and patterns in transitions and system innovations: Refining the co-evolutionary multi-level perspective. In Technological Forecasting and Social Change 72 (6), pp. 681–696. DOI: 10.1016/j.techfore.2004.08.014.

Geels, Frank W. (2014): Reconceptualising the co-evolution of firms-in-industries and their environments: Developing an inter-disciplinary Triple Embeddedness Framework. In Research Policy 43 (2), pp. 261–277. DOI: 10.1016/j.respol.2013.10.006.

Loorbach, Derk; Frantzeskaki, Niki; Avelino, Flor (2017): Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change. In Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 42 (1), pp. 599–626. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-environ-102014-021340.

Mendizabal, Maddalen; Heidrich, Oliver; Feliu, Efren; García-Blanco, Gemma; Mendizabal, Alaitz (2018): Stimulating urban transition and transformation to achieve sustainable and resilient cities. In Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 94, pp. 410–418. DOI: 10.1016/j.rser.2018.06.003.

Nevens, Frank; Frantzeskaki, Niki; Gorissen, Leen; Loorbach, Derk (2013): Urban Transition Labs: co-creating transformative action for sustainable cities. In Journal of Cleaner Production 50, pp. 111–122. DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2012.12.001.

Raven, Rob; van den Bosch, Suzanne; Weterings, Rob (2010): Transitions and strategic niche management: towards a competence kit for practitioners. In IJTM 51 (1), p. 57. DOI: 10.1504/IJTM.2010.033128.

Roorda, Chris; Wittmayer, Julia M.; Henneman, Pepik; van Steenbergen; Frantzeskaki, Niki; Loorbach, Derk (2014): Transition Management in the Urban Context. Guidance Manual. DRIFT. Rotterdam. Available online at https://drift.eur.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/DRIFT-Transition_management_in_the_urban_context-guidance_manual.pdf, checked on 9/9/2019.

Milestone WP#6 II.M1: Bibliography of the most current and relevant publications


Hamburg University • Department of Human Geograpy • Bundesstraße 55 • 20146 Hamburg • Germany
WP Leader: Dr. Michael Waibel (michael@build4people.org)
WP Research Associate: Ravi Jayaweera M.A. (ravi@build4people.org)
Local Research Partner: Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP)
Associated Research Partner: Cambodian Development Resource Institute (CDRI)