The Deep Transitions Framework

At FreedomLab, we believe that our transdisciplinary research and imaginative future scenarios nurture free thought, which in turn helps shape an open, just and sustainable society. By addressing the major challenges of our time - socio-economic inequality, climate change, and ecosystem degradation - we can build such a future. However, this requires a fundamental transition of our economy and society. The current state of the world is shaped by rules that have evolved over 250 years of economic growth. To foster a profound reorientation, new rules must be defined and embedded in society and economy to create a healthy planet for both humans and nature.  

We utilize the Deep Transitions Framework to develop this long-term perspective for a just and sustainable world. It encompasses seven guiding principles that collectively show strong signs of becoming the new rules for such a world. The framework provides a lens through which we can envision a long-term perspective on a better future. It inspires thinking about transforming socio-technical systems, rather than incremental improvements. It helps us navigate an uncertain future filled with trade-offs between social, ecological, and economic factors. The guiding principles help us to keep an eye on fundamental goals of systemic change.

The framework is an elaboration on Johan Schot's Deep Transitions research.

Explainer video

Guiding principles

The interactive visual presented below illustrates the Deep Transitions Framework and its associated guiding principles. By clicking on each principle, you can find an explanation, along with relevant examples and signals that illustrate the emergence of these principles. The principles have mutual relationships amongst each other. For instance, root principle 'internalization of social and ecological costs and benefits' is a crucial condition to safeguard principle 'societal wellbeing', ensuring that decision making in society puts human and natural wellbeing first. Such decisions cannot be made if costs of ecological damage like water pollution or social costs like modern slavery are excluded from value chains. For more examples and an elaboration of the framework, please read long-form article The Deep Transitions Framework; an elaboration.
A planetary perspective

Our worldview is driven by a planetary perspective instead of an anthropocentric perspective. This means that we appreciate and respect the intrinsic value of nature and the planet as a whole. This perspective puts emphasis on complex interdependencies between (eco)systems and emphasizes the need to learn from non-human beings, but also from non-Western cultures. It thus contradicts the instrumental perspective on nature in which we value human interests over the rest of the planet. The principle of planetary consciousness is ideological by nature and is difficult to enforce. It is both the ultimate precondition to other principles, as well as their result.

Examples of planetary consciousness in daily life:
– Multiple countries granted rights to nature
– Mother Nature gets a seat in the board of a soap and beauty-products producer
The planet as an emerging category
Nitrogen crisis in the Netherlands; ecological value is prioritized over economic value
Societal wellbeing

Rather than having a one-dimensional focus on GDP and economic growth, the goal of politics and economy is to create societal wellbeing for all. Along with economic growth, other factors such as health, education, living and safety play are taken into account as well. Also, economic and societal resilience are of crucial importance to the wellbeing of future generations, even though it may come at the expense of economic growth in the short term. Societal wellbeing must play a central role in both public as private decision making.

Examples of societal wellbeing in daily life:
– Monitor Brede Welvaart from CBS is used in political debates
– Citizens Assembly (like in Ireland)
– EU trying to develop a more independent energy system through hydrogen and renewable energy
– In NL: from reactive healthcare to preventive, value-based healthcare (CZ and VGZ)
– Investment and subsidies for housing isolation and higher standards for buildings
A collaborative economy

We currently live in a closed economy that runs on capital-intensive and protected technologies. In a collaborative economy, knowledge and resources are made available in a network of users and developers. This happens, for instance, in the form of open-source software and intelligence, boosting the use of the sharing, renting, and other as-a-service models. Web3-related developments around blockchain and decentralized finance could play a role in this economy as well. Because of such an open economy where resources and knowledge are shared, inequality is reduced. Also, ecological damage is reduced due to optimal use of natural resources and extended use of existing products.

Examples of a network economy in daily life:
European acts and regulations covering digital markets, AI and data are being developed and implemented, also concerning data sovereignty.
– Sharing initiatives on mobility are adopted by larger corporates (Pon, Louwman, BMW)
Cryptocurrencies and Web3 protocols are on the rise
Open AI like SingularityNET
– Open public data (Estonia’s X-Road)
– GaiaX
A circular economy

We should move from a linear economy based on resource extraction, to a circular economy based on reusing resources and renewable energy. The circular economy consists of two layers. The lower layer entails an economy that only uses renewable energy. Resources are continuously being reclaimed and reused, without the loss of economic value. On a higher level, a circular economy is a broader socio-economic paradigm wherein economy, innovation and competitiveness are reshaped, and where new business models emerge. It thus calls for a fundamentally different approach to business operations and the use of natural resources. However, it is only truly transformative if businesses and governments adopt a systemic perspective, and entire value chains are made circular. 

Examples of a circular economy in daily life:
– Increasing the share of renewable energy
– Hydrogen as a versatile and circular energy carrier (Gasunie, Northsea)
– Development of smart grids 
– Neighborhood batteries, Vehicle2Grid
Circular ambitions in The Netherlands and the EU (Nederland Circulair in 2050)
Participatory and inclusive governance 

Rather than having an instrumental perspective on human capital, companies and governments should ensure the entire population and all employees are represented in decision making. The community is part of the powerplay, and everyone should be taken into consideration. It is important not to focus on a one-dimensional approach to, for example, diversity. An interdisciplinary approach is key, built on a joint network of employees, employers and citizens. This can be done through active participation of stakeholders, showing vulnerable and transparent leadership, or for example making employees co-owner of the company. Also, by applying a broader and longer horizon of capital markets. 

Examples of inclusive governance in daily life:
– The rise of metamodern leadership qualities and virtues (honesty, embracing uncertainties)—new forms of leadership, shown in New Zealand, resignment of Liliane Ploumen, Barack Obama
– Employee stock programs
– KPIs on sustainability and inclusion/diversity ambitions in governments and corporates
Transformative innovation

In the current economy, there is almost unconditional belief in technological progress. Instead of embracing technological innovation for the sake of endless progress, innovation should be transformative for society and nature. This type of transformative innovation is one of the preconditions to a circular network economy. It entails a socio-technological perspective (with an eye on technological and social aspects) at the core of (technological) innovation. The principle has a policy-based approach, where governments must stimulate innovations based on long-term societal and ecological missions (for example the energy transition). It also includes a business-approach; innovators should anticipate potential societal impact when designing a product or service. Digital tools, such as modelling and AI can play a big role in such assessments.

Examples of mission-oriented innovation in daily life:
– Dutch government investments in moonshot-like projects and transitional innovations through for example SHIFT-invest and Invest-NL
Digital twinning (for example for city planning)
– Earth system virtual mapping (Global Ecosystem Typology)
– More support for the Modern Monetary Theory
Internalization of social and ecological costs and benefits 

To ensure a fair and equal collaborative circular economy, social and ecological costs and benefits of production and consumption must be taken into account in any (economic) decision making. This principle goes against the current mechanism that social and ecological costs (i.e. ‘externalities’) are placed outside the valuation of products and services. However, the producer and consumer must carry responsibility for the negative effects of production processes, either through pricing or through the establishment of social norms. This can be done by including social and ecological costs into the price of products and services, but also by making supply chains transparent (for example by using blockchain technology) in order for consumers and other buyers to make informed decisions. It also begs the question whether some products should be sourced more locally, in order to lower social and ecological costs.

Examples of internalization in daily life:
Vertical farming/urban farming
– 3D-printing meat and products
– Value tokenization (United Economy)
– Zero-growth companies (Patagonia)
Natural capital inventory accounting
Local energy sourcing (renewable energy)
– Blockchain-based supply chains for transparent reporting


Are you struggling with complicated and wicked policy and/or business challenges related to societal wellbeing? If so, we organize co-creative workshops specifically geared towards transition-related, multi-stakeholder questions called TransitionLabs. Our approach leverages the powerful Deep Transitions Framework as a theoretical lens to help you guide your endeavors. Through interactive methodologies like stakeholder roleplaying, the transition canvas and the wheel of reasoning, we assist businesses, government and civil society organizations in navigating the complexities surrounding societal wellbeing.


If you would like to collaborate with us or learn more about the Deep Transitions Framework, please contact Sjoerd Bakker at If you would like to learn more about his responsibilities, background and interests, we invite you to visit his team member page.