• English
  • Deutsch
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
Twitter icon
YouTube icon
Header image Ecologic

Ecovillages as Change Agents of Societal Transformation

Ecovillages as Change Agents of Societal Transformation

Exploring a framework to assess their transformative impact

Ecovillages are change agents as models of sustainable lifestyles implementing structural change and intending a political statement. They are intentional communities with larger settlement structures designed and owned by their inhabitants, oriented to live within ecological boundaries and fulfill their socio-cultural needs of community, autonomy, participation and personal development. As complex socio-ecological systems they show a diversity of innovative sustainable practices, institutions and systems of these: They share common goods, property and sometimes income as well as norms and values of a sustainable lifestyle. Established ecovillages show that sustainable societal systems are possible.

There is potential that these change agents can alter the 'mainstream' regime. Ecovillages emerged from civil society and have formally and internationally organised, interact more intensely with the political and scientific sphere and offer increasingly popular seminars to the public. However, their immaterial aspects of community and autonomy as well as their diverse approaches towards sustainability make their impact complex to assess. Recent research acknowledges ecovillages as change agents contributing to a societal transformation by a "silent revolution" creating small-scale places of resilience (KUNZE 2015). However, no framework allows assessing their impact on changes to the interlinked elements of the established regime, centering them as complex socio-ecological systems and diagnosing barriers and opportunities to overcome the (re)production of unsustainble practices.

This thesis developed such a framework using concepts on multiple levels of change (GEELS 2011), complex socio-ecological systems (OSTROM 2006, POTEETE et al. 2010) and practices-as-entities (SHOVE et al. 2012). It is explored how to integrate the change agent’s valued stable practices that formed institutions (rules, norms, forms of organisation). The transformative impact of a change agent is conceptualised as a process of diffusion (SCHOT et al. 2008) of its innovative socio-ecological (ZAPF 1989, CAULIER-GRICE et al. 2012) practices and institutions. Finally, the case of Ökodorf Sieben Linden is analysed in a mixed-method approach to show the explanatory potential of the developed framework.


Albrecht, Stefanie (2016): Ecovillages as Change Agents of Societal Transformation - Exploring a framework to assess their transformative impact. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Faculty of Life Science. Master thesis supervised by the German Environment Agency. Department on Fundamental Issues, Sustainable Strategies and Scenarios.

102 pp.
Table of Contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Research Objective
1.2 Research Questions
2 Literature Review & Framework Deduction
2.1 Research Area & Definitions
2.2 Frameworks on Complex Systems & Transition
2.2.1 Different Dimensions of Stability: The Multi-Level Perspective
2.2.2 Analysing Complex Socio-ecological Systems: The SES Framework
2.2.3 Focus on the Change Agent & Action Situation: The IAD Framework
2.2.4 Change Processes: Institutions Evolving from Stable Valued Practices
2.3 A First-tier Framework Deducted from Theory
2.4 Second-tier Variables to Assess Change Processes & Change Agent Impact
2.4.1 Practices  as  Variables  to  Analyse  Everyday  Change:  Social  Practice Theory
2.4.2 Selecting  the  Change  Agent’s  Practices  &  Institutions: Socio-ecological Innovations
2.4.3 Diffusion Processes: Strategic Niche Management
2.5 A Framework for Assessing the Transformative Impact of Change Agents
3 Methodology
3.1 Deductive Research Strategy
3.2 Case Study Design
3.3 Mixed-method Approach
3.3.1 Participatory Observations
3.3.2 Content Analysis of Print & Online Media
3.3.3 Semi-Structured Expert Interviews
3.3.4 Online Survey
3.4 Directed Content Analysis for Data Analysis
4 Ecovillages as Change Agents of Societal Transformation
4.1 Overview of the German Ecovillage Movement
4.2 Identifying Seven Established German Ecovillages
4.3 Common Practices and Institutions in the Seven Ecovillages
4.4 Interaction Points of the Change Agent with other Participants
5 Indicators to Assess a Change Agent’s Transformative Impact
6 Analysing the Case of Ökodorf Sieben Linden
6.1 Micro  Level  Context:  Material  Conditions,  Attributes  of  the  Community  &  Institutions
6.2 Innovativeness: Assessing the Change Agent’s Practices & Institutions
6.3 The Diffusion Process: Interactions & Outcomes
6.3.1 Managing Expectations
6.3.2 Building Social Networks
6.3.3 Learning Processes
6.3.4 Translation
6.3.5 Modified Replications
6.3.6 Growth
6.4 Barriers and Opportunities for the Change Agent
6.4.1 Landscape Level Implications
6.4.2 Trends on the Regime Level
6.5 Summary of the Analysis
6.6 Assessment of the Transformative Impact
7 Discussion of the Results
7.1 Discussion of the Framework
7.2 Discussions of the Methods
7.3 Recommendations for Political Action & Scientific Research
8 Conclusion
9 References
9.1 Thesis
9.2 Media Content Analysis
10 Appendix

transformation, transition, socio-ecological systems, social practice theory, change agents, ecovillages,