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System Innovation and the Transition to Sustainability

Theory, Evidence and Policy

Edited by Boelie Elzen, Frank W. Geels and Ken Green

This book considers two main questions: how do system innovations or transitions come about and how can they be influenced by different actors, in particular by governments. The authors identify the theories which can be used to conceptualise the dynamics of system innovations and discuss the weaknesses in these theories. They also look at the lessons which can be learned from historical examples of transitions, and highlight the instruments and policy tools which can be used to stimulate future system innovations towards sustainability. The expert contributors address these questions using insights from a variety of different disciplines including innovation studies, evolutionary economics, the sociology of technology, environmental analysis and governance studies. The book concludes with an extensive summary of the results and practical suggestions for future research.
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Chapter 9: Bounded Socio-Technical Experiments (BSTEs): Higher Order Learning for Transitions Towards Sustainable Mobility

Halina Szejnwald Brown, Philip J. Vergragt, Ken Green and Luca Berchicci


1 Halina Szejnwald Brown, Philip J. Vergragt, Ken Green, Luca Berchicci INTRODUCTION A bounded socio-technical experiment (BSTE) attempts to introduce a new technology, service, or a social arrangement on a small scale. Many such experiments are ongoing worldwide. They are carried out by coalitions of diverse actors and are driven by long-term and large-scale visions of advancing society’s sustainability agenda. This chapter analyses two such experiments from the domain of personal mobility, focusing on the processes of higher order learning that occur through BSTEs. Based on the conceptual frameworks from theories of organizational learning, policyoriented learning and diffusion of innovation, we identify two types of learning: the first type occurs among the participants in the experiment and their immediate professional networks; the second type occurs in society at large. Both types play a key role in the potential or envisaged societal transition towards sustainable mobility systems. Two Dutch case studies, in which the Design for Sustainability Group at the Technical University of Delft has participated, provide empirical data for the analysis. One case consists of the development of a three-wheeled, bike-plus vehicle (Mitka); the second case seeks to solve mobility problems on the island of Texel. We find that higher-order learning of the first type occurs among the BSTE participants and beyond. Learning can be facilitated by the deployment of structured visioning exercises, by the diffusion of ideas among related BSTEs, by innovative couplings of problems and solutions, and by creating links among related experiments. Government agencies, universities...

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