The paper proposes that a reason why long-term disaster initiatives fail is the adoption of a linear, complicated problem based approach rather than seeing recovery as a complex system. The argument is that initial post-disaster responses are complicated with a subsequent transition to a complex problem. Transition is proffered as a missing link between short-term responses (rescue and relief) and long-term disaster recovery. Case data from Japan and Christchurch suggests that three system elements influencing potential transition are: the actors and their purpose; new forms of social capital and a move to greater co-production with community. Influencing these effectively will support enhanced traction to achieve the move to long-term recovery.