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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 12: Conclusion. Transitions to Sustainability: Lessons Learned and Remaining Challenges

Boelie Elzen, Frank W. Geels and Ken Green


Boelie Elzen, Frank W. Geels and Ken Green In Chapter 1, we argued that system innovations are necessary to achieve sustainability, a scale of change that is much larger than that implied in the incremental paths of innovation that are currently being pursued. Based on this, we raised two research questions, notably: 1. How do system innovations (for transitions) develop? What theories can be used to conceptualize (part of) their dynamics and what gaps exist in those theories? What can we learn from historical examples of transitions? Can system innovations be influenced by actors, in particular public authorities and, if so, how? What instruments and tools are available, are additional tools needed and how should they be used? 2. In this final chapter, we will review the answers that have been suggested in this book to these two questions. Given the embryonic stage of transition research, our aim is to tease out interesting insights and reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of these findings. We conclude by presenting an agenda for future research. UNDERSTANDING TRANSITIONS – LESSONS LEARNED Grasping Heterogeneity – the Multi-level Perspective In Chapter 1, we defined system innovations (for transitions) requiring changes in those socio-technical systems that meet human needs. Such systems are characterized by a range of technologies, infrastructures, patterns of behaviour, cultural values and policies. A transition implies a process 282 Lessons learned and remaining challenges 283 of change that affects all or a large proportion of these dimensions; that is, they are...

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