Agents of change, changemakers, change agents. These are different terms that indicate more or less the same: a mean, either a person or a tangible product, that induces change. Within the TwentyOne network we are using the term changemakers.

Urban transitions  

TwentyOne’s starting point is addressing the need for sustainable urban transitions. Such transitions entail fundamental systemic innovations, resulting in changes in the market, user practices, infrastructures, cultural discourses, policies and governing institutions and the restructuring of systems of consumption and production. These changes require radical innovations that differ from small improvements. In order to achieve a shift in urban systems in the direction towards more sustainability, human creativity and innovation potential need to be harnessed. In these transitions, experimentation spaces are created, where for example new value models are (co)created, technological and social innovations are smartly connected, new financial rules are developed and the roles of public and private partners are being reassessed. 

Defining changemakers 

Many of such successful experiments hinge on changemakers. They act as the main catalysts, but can have widely varying backgrounds. Changemakers are impact driven connectors and inspirators who colour a vision of their city. While they may have various backgrounds, they all work across the traditional borders of their fields and institutions: they are connectors and go-betweens. From a position of relative independence they mobilise the right stakeholders, shift between execution and strategy, between local and global, and between citizens, the private sector, researchers and (local)governments. Without these changemakers it is difficult to reach results that surpass the interests of individual stakeholders and that will ultimately lead to urban system innovations. Agents of change actually develop sustainable urban value propositions, which are lucrative for public and private investors.

Changemakers could be:
•    Activist administrators
•    Initiating spatial designers
•    Creative citizens
•    Inclusive entrepreneurs
•    Practice-oriented academics

Innovation comes with change     

It becomes clear that change is evidently inherent to innovation and thus to transitions. Change is often considered a disruptive and threatening process and in order to achieve lasting change easily, security is an important factor. Hence changemakers can create a supportive environment in which involved stakeholders feel able and willing to take on the challenge of change. The change encouraged by changemakers is often considered normatively positive and involves a collectivity, where changemakers affirm that they act for the benefit of the wider community. 


The relatively isolated position of changemakers is the reason why many of the cases that take place in the experimentation spaces remain in a niche. It lacks of effective and coordinated learning, innovating and embedding between cities. This again affects the cases’ impact. TwentyOne aims at creating a growing network of locally rooted changemakers that stimulate urban transitions and innovation processes. In this process changemakers are able to map local challenges and solutions, mobilise local and global stakeholders, facilitate co-creation and develop sustainable business cases. A network of changemakers enables the exchange of their expertise and experience which ultimately benefits the scaling-up process of each individual project. By stimulating linking and learning between changemakers the lessons learned accumulate and helps to tackle similar urban challenges more efficiently.

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