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Sustainability transition research seeks to understand the patterns and dynamics of structural societal change as well as unearth strategies for governance. However, existing frameworks emphasize innovation and build-up over exnovation and break-down. This limits their potential in making sense of the turbulent and chaotic dynamics of current transition-in-the-making. Addressing this gap, our paper elaborates on the development and use of the X-curve framework. The X-curve provides a simplified depiction of transitions that explicitly captures the patterns of build-up, breakdown, and their interactions. Using three cases, we illustrate the X-curve's main strength as a framework that can support groups of people to develop a shared understanding of the dynamics in transitions-in-the-making. This helps them reflect upon their roles, potential influence, and the needed capacities for desired transitions. We discuss some challenges in using the X-curve framework, such as participants' grasp of 'chaos', and provide suggestions on how to address these challenges and strengthen the frameworks' ability to support understanding and navigation of transition dynamics. We conclude by summarizing its main strength and invite the reader to use it, reflect on it, build on it, and judge its value for action research on sustainability transitions themselves. Supplementary Information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s11625-021-01084-w.

Original publication




Journal article


Sustain Sci

Publication Date





1009 - 1021


Action research, Breakdown, Build-up, Societal transitions, Transformative governance, Transition dynamics