Grassroots innovations for sustainability: a perspective from the UK Adrian Smith SPRU (Science & Technology Policy Resear...
Aim <ul><li>Grassroots innovations for sustainability in the UK </li></ul><ul><li>The approach we are developing – niche s...
Grassroots innovations for sustainability networks  of activists and organisations generating novel  bottom–up solutions  ...
Examples in the UK ... …  business models …   exchange …  infrastructure …  research …  standards and certification …  soc...
Locating grassroots innovation Community development  is ‘a movement to promote better living for the whole community [ i....
Grassroots innovation knowledges Framings of grassroots innovation Forms of knowledge emphasised Visionary vanguard Pionee...
Socio-technical experimentation Markets Infrastructure Distribution networks Appropriate knowledge Risk strategies Committ...
<ul><li>Prevailing innovation systems are restricted to the grassroots due to interdependent path-dependencies: </li></ul>...
Niche spaces and politics <ul><li>Shielding </li></ul>B. Nurturing C. Empowering Source: Geels and Raven, 2006; Markard an...
Formalising grassroots innovation? Intermediaries <ul><li>Intermediaries  have multiple roles: </li></ul><ul><li>Support g...
Time Prevalence 2. Diffusion into markets transforms niche innovation 5. Niche reaction to mainstreaming 4. Value-laden ni...
Time Prevalence 2. Diffusion into markets transforms niche innovation 5. Niche reaction to mainstreaming 4. Value-laden ni...
Summarising A niche framing emphasises the spaces where grassroots experiment with deep ‘visions’ for sustainability.  <ul...
Grassroots innovation practitioner claims and insights <ul><li>some local communities provide settings that allow grassroo...
Socio-technical transitions to sustainability Source: Frank Geels Socio-technical perspective: Attend to social and techno...
Wider civil society engagements in sustainability transitions Source: Geels (2002) Grassroots innovation Green consumption...
Framing a long-standing undercurrent <ul><li>Vanguard for new sustainability economies  and societies (Seyfang, 2009; Dagn...
A multi-level perspective on grassroots innovations Source: Geels (2002) Socially inclusive pathways Dominant / excluding ...
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Aps grassroots nistads june 2011 final

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Presentation on Grassroots Innovations in the UK to conference on Innovation, Sustainability and Deevelopment in Delhi, June 2011

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  • Privilege to be here at the launch of Indialics, and to learn from the diverse debates concerning innovation, sustainability and development. Me – researcher at SPRU and STEPS working on governance of innovatin for sustainability, and its politics. GIs for sustainability – focus today. Undertaken a number of projects in the UK, as well as a study into the history of AT (UK and globally), and working with colleagues in Argentina about social technologies movement in South America. Hope is to develop more international comparison in the future, including perhaps India. Simply offering some views on the situation in the UK. Very different to India. Reasons for being here: - Learn more about issues in STI and sustainable development debates in India, and to learn something from the frameworks you are developing for analysing - Provide some comparative perspective by discussing GIs in the very different context (the UK) - Intent is that I can then have a dialogue with you, since you will understand my (mis)conceptions here. I am keen to learn about GIs in other contexts, including here in India, in order to broaden my own perspectives on alternative innovation. But perhaps there are generic issues and dilemmas that confront activists and policy-makers in both places, but also important differences that nevertheless cast our own concerns into a more interesting and informative light, and from which we can learn. - Finally, more practically, my attendance here is funded by UK-India network, whose purpose is also to nurture dialogue between our research communities and traditions
  • Cf. Anil Gupta GI – focused on innovation by the poor in India (and elsewhere). Definition we work with in the UK is not exclusively the poor. It includes wealthier communities concerned about their over-consumption of resources, and trying to find solutions to become more sustainable. Failure means remaining high consuming cf. remaining in poverty. International social justice dimension is often about creating space for others to increase their consumption – socially just wealth. Cf. Saradindu Bhaduri and Hemant Kumar (2011): “The term grassroot refers to individual innovators, who often undertake innovative efforts to solve localised problems, and generally work outside the realm of formal organisations like business firms or research institutes.” Social innovations enabling technology use and development: comprise novel organisational forms, resourcing models, and underpinning values, that facilitate the use of greener technologies; any technological innovation tends to be incremental High degrees of voluntarism, serial grant-funding; shifting funder priorities; volunteer burnout and turnover - which undermines any ability to be strategic Driven by evaluative criteria different to rent-seeking in markets Do not fit normal classification of producers/users High involvement in process and outcomes makes this form of innovation a community development issue, and not solely rent-seeking market behaviour. Theories of innovation developed for firms in markets and conventional knowledge institutions may need adapting to these social economy situations
  • Schumpeter defined innovation as the commercial development of novel products, processes and services; and we see grassroots community groups involved in all these types of innovation: New technologies (straw bale housing) Production standards (organic food standards and trade mark since 1974) Social values (LCCN – networks local groups working on sustainable energy projects and decarbonising their towns) Infrastructure (Sustrans is community-led design and development of a national cycle lane network) Organization (Diggers self-build community in Brighton, or direct links with farmers selling local, seasonal food) Finance and business models (Baywind wind energy cooperative, allows communities to gain a stake in renewables) Exchange (Lewes Pound – alternative local currencies intended to capture local multiplier effects) Research (CAT – real world experimentation of living with green technologies with a visitor centre &gt;50k visitors per year) However, most of the innovative activity is in terms of social organisation and ‘software’, some incremental adaption of hardware, but generally these groups are technology takers, and without their voice/perspective feeding back to technology developers.
  • Procedural and distributive justice – not so vocal in the UK, more frequently framed as a question of community development. Community development been a contested term and resource throughout its history. Providing competing legitimacies for different interests and purposes. Signals three enduring issues in community development generally: Community development as conservative/ameliorating treatment of immediate surface issues or transformational/empowering address of root causes in socio-economic justice Issues about the balance between community development as a technical, professionalised service cf. value-based radical activism. 3. Cutting across these two: Development for communities – top-down, role in management/delivery of activities (targets and outputs) Development with communities – bottom-up, role in strategic direction/negotiation of activities (process and outcomes)
  • Even critical framings of grassroots innovation do not negate their knowledge production potential. Rather, they emphasise different forms of knowledge. ‘ Be reasonable, demand the impossible’ – points out structures at same time as possibilities.
  • Innovation happens in each of these elements, and in the processes for articulating and aligning these elements into a working configuration. Analysis can learn much about specific grassroots innovation processes: e.g. GIs can champion causes and needs unmet by mainstream innovation systems, and provide an important source of diversity. Local knowledge is pre-eminent But: many grassroots initiatives struggle from grant to grant under ever-changing criteria: undermines strategic approach Poor and marginalised communities cannot bear the risk exposure and uncertainties inherent in innovation. Have to be sure they are willing innovators, and not reluctant guinea pigs. Many communities are still technology takers. Learning from inevitable failures is important. But how, given donor pressures for success? BUT: questions of diffusion, scaling-up and translation into other innovation policy domains and development pathways is beyond this kind of analysis. For this, we need to understand dominant innovation systems and discourses.
  • Capabilities. The skills and training of engineers, entrepreneurs and so on is not oriented towards grassroots activities, so a lack of skills and career aspirations relevant to social inclusion. Economics. Scale-efficiencies and learning efficiencies of incumbent technologies, and prevailing economic models and opportunities. • Vested interests. Incumbents have sunk investments (in capital, competencies and social networks, for example) that they will try to protect. • Politics and power. Incumbent businesses, regulators and others enjoy important positions in the current system. Economic power bestows considerable influence; they have voices that will be listened to by innovation policy processes. • Infrastructure. Existing technological devices may be embedded in dedicated infrastructures or aspire for these infrastructures. • Institutions. Government regulations and subsidies, professional associations, and market rules have co-evolved as part of existing systems and tend to reinforce existing trajectories of development. • Technological and user cultures. Prevailing social attitudes influence the kinds of technical performance deemed acceptable; whilst the business models, lifestyle norms and routines that are created around them can resist novel practices. Programmes for ICTs, biotech, nanotech and so forth risk dominating innovation policy styles and priorities. Grassroots innovation activity exists in a parallel track (e.g. Brasilian agriculture: hi-tech export, intermediate tech family farms). GIs struggle to benefit from similar levels of support, analogous modes of provision, and opportunities to influence national and international innovation agendas. BUT: regimes can become unstable, sometimes. (e.g. environmental change, social pressure, demography, development ideologies, internal dynamics and contradictions); Therein lies hope: GI policies need to unsettle the regimes, and help GIs by opening up opportunity for influencing mainstream innovation agendas. GI policy cannot be limited to support projects and networks. It needs to give grassroots innovators entrance and voice in mainstream innovation debates.
  • Shielding: the construction of alternative selection environment - socio-cognitive / heuristics; - markets; - institutions; - infrastructures; - users; - cultural associations; - policy and politics Nurturing: - learning processes - networking - expectation development Empowering: - pressing for institutional reforms - forming alliances and coalitions - support from intermediaries NB: strength of grassroots innovations is that they are formed locally and hence sensitive to context. However, this local rootedness can make their spread difficult – abstracting more mobile practices can make the innovation less appealing. Intermediarites: there are a variety of organisations that help to network grassroots innovator groups and share knowledge and experience. They also serve as an advocate of grassroots innovation and interface with policy and business communities. Finally, meetings and web-based bulletins serve to keep people interacting and sharing too. Groups sometime visit one another, for first hand experience. We do not have regular Shodh-Yatras (though Anil did attend one organised five years ago or so)! Policy: there is some policy support, in the form of grants and competitions. But it is inconsistent.
  • Intermediaries include: policy-makers (such as DECC) businesses interested in community energy (such as Good Energy)
  • Findings from our empirical research into: Food Housing Energy Economic activity Waste materials
  • Findings from our empirical research into: Food Housing Energy Economic activity Waste materials
  • These views are deliberately presented in an ad hoc way, since this is how they came across. Suggested to us that a more systematic analysis is needed, one that can be informed by innovation theory, as well as testing and informing that theory. So, spent the last three years trying to secure funding for grassroots innovation research in the area of community energy
  • Socio-technical system perspective - technological developments and use underpinned by social processes 1. the cognitive frameworks, routines, resources, capabilities, and knowledge of technology producers and users, and expectations about what kinds of knowledge will be profitable in the future; 2. the way specific social and technical practices are embedded within wider, facilitating institutions (and infrastructures), which subsequently restrict opportunities for alternatives; 3. incumbent practices enjoy economies of scale (e.g., mass markets) and positive network externalities that have been built up over long periods of investment (it is easier and less risky to follow established practices than to invest in new practices); 4. the co-evolution of institutions with technological practices, like professional associations, government policies, investment risk analysis and market rules, that reinforce existing trajectories; 5. prevailing market and social norms influence the kinds of performance deemed satisfactory, and the lifestyle routines and norms that develop embed these practices further. Historical research into major structural change in the past – multi-level processes that unsettle and disrupt existing technological and institutional alignments, and that facilitate the configuration of alternatives in ever-expanding and increasingly influential niches. Many contingencies and rarely with a normative process like SD guiding them. Nevertheless, claimed that MLP provides a heuristic for appreciating current efforts at SD. Instead, tend to focus on emblematic sustainable technologies and explore the dynamics of their development, and the prospects for breaking through into widespread mainstream use (e.g. renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles, organic food, eco-housing) Some even argue it provides a policy framework, called TM. Transition platforms are multi-stakeholder arenas in which sustainable socio-technical visions are articulated, pathways devised through techniques like back-casting, and niche experiments provide initial first steps. Fundamental concern with these pragmatic activities is to learn more about socio-technical dynamics, including tensions in the regime and landscape developments that can provide opportunities. And then to seek institutional reforms that will permit the most promising niches and pathways to flourish.
  • Hesitate to use this diagram – since it gives the false impression that niche development and displacement of regimes is inevitable and coherent, which is never the case. Better to see multiple niches providing diversity and ideas that sometimes influence more mainstream and established systems of energy provision. But as a heuristic it does allow us to bring together proactive engagements at creating alternative pathways in niches AND the critical engagements with problematic energy regimes WITHIN a broader socio-economic and material landscape. We can then map onto this different repertoires of civil society activism – noting that in each case they are engaging also with commercial and policy processes too. But within each of these activities, there are contending directions within civil society. Community ESCOs specialising in different technologies (Energy4All; H2OPE; CORE; Brighton Energy Co-op) Providing diversity in niches and challenging established regimes.
  • Similar examples in US, going back to Whole Earth catalogue Elsewhere in world too: social technologies movement in Brasil that is spreading through South America, the People’s Science and Technology movement in India, and the earlier history of appropriate technology Grassroots innovation augmentation network (GIAN) India – Honey Bee Network, National Innovation Foundation, Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTRI) Viewpoint 3 sometimes seen as temporary measures until capacity to enter markets or development of state institutions Viewpoint 4 – study interactions with social movements, political economy, and institutions - how innovations and signifiers get taken up in wider debates
  • Putting GIs in context, and linking them to mainstream innovation policy and practice. Allure of this simple multi-level heuristic is an ability to cover the big, long-term picture. It can help us organise relations between more specific, in-depth considerations, e.g. the provision of skills in relation to niche markets, the influence of environmentalists in relation to pressure for incumbent businesses to become greener. Programmes to support diffusion, scaling-up and translation. The analogues to conventional innovation policy: Innovation Centres, Technology Parks, Technical Assistance Services, Innovator Clubs, Scientific Support Services, Education Programmes, and National Innovation Systems Imperative, in my view, that GIs are not ghetto-ised into technologies for the poor. Needs to be about innovation for greater social equality. In my view this means that intermediate programmes for GIs cannot be limited to supporting specific projects and networks. It needs also to articulate the GI experience into more dominant and conventional innovation policy programmes. Translation is important here: GIs might provide ideas for how to democratise high-science innovation, e.g. articulating demand for different end-uses, alternative kinds of expert-practitioner-citizen-politician relationship. So, need not be about a single pathway for STI, but rather empowering grassroots pathways and enable a more symmetrical role in national and international innovation agendas. A final footnote: I am not sure if top-down and bottom-up are helpful terms. We need to be clear what they mean. There are top-down and bottom-up processes at play in all kinds of innovation activity and pathways. I prefer to think about different socio-technical visions for how needs are realised (in twin senses of the term ‘realised’). It is then about the distribution of agency and power within those visions, and the way these visions interact and motivate the creation of actual pathways.
  • Aps grassroots nistads june 2011 final

    1. 1. Grassroots innovations for sustainability: a perspective from the UK Adrian Smith SPRU (Science & Technology Policy Research), University of Sussex International Seminar on Innovation, Sustainability and Development New Delhi 28-30 June 2011
    2. 2. Aim <ul><li>Grassroots innovations for sustainability in the UK </li></ul><ul><li>The approach we are developing – niche spaces in context </li></ul>
    3. 3. Grassroots innovations for sustainability networks of activists and organisations generating novel bottom–up solutions for sustainable development; solutions that respond to the local situation and the interests and values of the communities involved. In contrast to mainstream business greening, grassroots initiatives operate in civil society arenas and involve committed activists experimenting with social innovations as well as using greener technologies .
    4. 4. Examples in the UK ... … business models … exchange … infrastructure … research … standards and certification … social values … technology … organisation
    5. 5. Locating grassroots innovation Community development is ‘a movement to promote better living for the whole community [ i.e. outcome ], with active participation and if possible on the initiative of the community [ i.e. process ]’ (UN, 1953; italics added ) Source: John Pearce (2003) Source: Walker and Devine-Wright (2008)
    6. 6. Grassroots innovation knowledges Framings of grassroots innovation Forms of knowledge emphasised Visionary vanguard Pioneering new sustainability economies and societies <ul><li>Socio-technical practices under different value systems </li></ul><ul><li>Capabilities and resources required </li></ul><ul><li>Economic, social and environmental performance and feasibility under different contexts </li></ul><ul><li>Production and maintenance requirements </li></ul><ul><li>Advocate and participant perspectives – materiality of radical sustainability discourses </li></ul>R&D lab for utopia Naive R&D lab for utopia – flawed without a political programme for structural change <ul><li>Institutional misfit (and their reform) </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of infrastructure (and provision - material and social) </li></ul><ul><li>Economic (re-)structures, lack of capital and markets </li></ul><ul><li>Political context (opposing powers, targets and allies) </li></ul>Coping strategy Third sector coping for absence of provision through existing market and state processes <ul><li>Needs unmet by markets and states </li></ul><ul><li>Livelihood conditions and responses </li></ul><ul><li>Pragmatic sustainability improvements </li></ul><ul><li>Augmentation opportunities for bottom-up solutions </li></ul>Niche diversity A source of experimental space – diversity in debates and practices for sustainable innovation <ul><li>Spaces for socio-technical experimentation and social learning </li></ul><ul><li>Replicable, adaptable and scalable innovations </li></ul><ul><li>Manifestation of alternate agendas for innovation policy </li></ul><ul><li>Indicators of institutional challenges for sustainability </li></ul><ul><li>Empowering by linking to broader social movements </li></ul>
    7. 7. Socio-technical experimentation Markets Infrastructure Distribution networks Appropriate knowledge Risk strategies Committed and resourceful participants Business/organisational models Social acceptability Capabilities and skills Social values Key technologies Grassroots innovators align material, institutional and discursive elements into a working (socio-technical) configuration Idealists and entrepreneurs Institutions (norms and rules) Capital or grants GI = technical, organisational, economic, and political work
    8. 8. <ul><li>Prevailing innovation systems are restricted to the grassroots due to interdependent path-dependencies: </li></ul>Orthodox innovation systems <ul><li>Norms and routines of engineers and developers </li></ul><ul><li>Business models and markets </li></ul><ul><li>Scale and network economies </li></ul><ul><li>Infrastructures for connecting components </li></ul><ul><li>Institutions for regulating and coordinating systems </li></ul><ul><li>Consumer habits and lifestyle aspirations </li></ul><ul><li>Political power and access to decision-making </li></ul><ul><li>these systems are under pressure to become more sustainable </li></ul><ul><li>uncertainties and instabilities inform searches for alternatives </li></ul><ul><li>grassroots innovators (and others) exploit the spaces created </li></ul>
    9. 9. Niche spaces and politics <ul><li>Shielding </li></ul>B. Nurturing C. Empowering Source: Geels and Raven, 2006; Markard and Truffer, 2008 Niche space
    10. 10. Formalising grassroots innovation? Intermediaries <ul><li>Intermediaries have multiple roles: </li></ul><ul><li>Support grassroots activity, networks and partnerships </li></ul><ul><li>Share experience, good practice, expertise and advice </li></ul><ul><li>Opening political space – advocacy to policy-makers </li></ul><ul><li>Ethics of innovation failures (and successes) </li></ul>
    11. 11. Time Prevalence 2. Diffusion into markets transforms niche innovation 5. Niche reaction to mainstreaming 4. Value-laden niches persist 1. A grassroots niche adapted to pioneering settings Niche dilemmas: conform or transform? 3. Radical sustainability not part of market innovation 6. Re-asserted sustainabilities
    12. 12. Time Prevalence 2. Diffusion into markets transforms niche innovation 5. Niche reaction to mainstreaming 4. Value-laden niches persist 1. A grassroots niche adapted to pioneering settings Niche dilemmas: conform or transform? 3. Radical sustainability not part of market innovation 6. Further interactions ... Fitting and conforming strategy (sustainability diminished) Stretching and transforming strategy (limited influence in absence of empowerment)
    13. 13. Summarising A niche framing emphasises the spaces where grassroots experiment with deep ‘visions’ for sustainability. <ul><li>Niche opportunities : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Create new knowledge and diversity for sustainability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Re-evaluate socio-technical performance under new criteria </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Obtain resources (e.g. secure grants, nurture markets) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Explore future potential and new improvement criteria </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Build supportive constituencies and legitimacy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Press for institutional changes and new political economies </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Wider dilemmas : </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Innovation system elites invest different meanings in niche processes and interpret lessons differently </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Grassroots innovators depend upon opportunities beyond their agency – structural dependencies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Political economies and institutions often prevail – attenuating grassroots influence </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Wider social movements must open up innovation policy agendas further </li></ul></ul>
    14. 14. Grassroots innovation practitioner claims and insights <ul><li>some local communities provide settings that allow grassroots experimentation, and that can sometimes replicate elsewhere, scale-up or translate into mainstream forms </li></ul><ul><li>innovations often comprise novel organisational forms, resourcing models, and underpinning values, that facilitate the use of greener technologies </li></ul><ul><li>some communities champion fringe causes and approaches, which provides a diverse reservoir of ideas when similar issues become publicly salient </li></ul><ul><li>collective action at the local scale can help overcome problems associated with greening individual consumption choices (free rider, prisoner’s dilemma, insufficient agency over choice sets) </li></ul><ul><li>grassroots innovators struggle to survive - serial grant-funding; shifting funder priorities; volunteer burnout and turnover - which undermines any ability to be strategic </li></ul><ul><li>many initiatives are technology takers – poor feed-back into developing more appropriate hardware </li></ul><ul><li>local roots and radical routes can make scaling-up and translation into mainstream difficult </li></ul><ul><li>difficulties and frustration is not uncommon, and so learning from failure needs to be built in, as much as learning from successes: something difficult, since risk averse funders and policy-makers prefer not to dwell and highlight ‘beacons’ instead </li></ul><ul><li>significant change often arises through responses to social and economic forces way beyond the immediate local community </li></ul><ul><li>networks of similar innovators might help secure a broader niche identity and interest, and thereby lobby for higher-level changes, e.g. policy institutions, utility strategies, infrastructure planning; but this social movement / political role requires effective intermediaries working between local initiatives </li></ul>
    15. 15. Socio-technical transitions to sustainability Source: Frank Geels Socio-technical perspective: Attend to social and technological interdependencies in development of practices Multi-level model: socio-technical shifts proceed through interacting niche, regime and landscape processes Transition management: deliberately ‘modulate’ multi-level dynamics through social learning and institutional reforms Destabilise the incumbent regime? Transition goal & socio-technical vision Transition pathways Sustainable niche experiments
    16. 16. Wider civil society engagements in sustainability transitions Source: Geels (2002) Grassroots innovation Green consumption Citizen science Consumer boycotts Standards & counter-expertise Protest & lobbying Awareness raising Social pressure Community aspirations Plural visions in civil society
    17. 17. Framing a long-standing undercurrent <ul><li>Vanguard for new sustainability economies and societies (Seyfang, 2009; Dagnino, 2009) </li></ul><ul><li>Naive R&D lab for utopia – flawed without structural changes (Dickson, 1974; Rybczynski, 1980) </li></ul><ul><li>Third sector coping for absence in market and state provision (Amin, 2009; Kaplinsky, 2010) </li></ul><ul><li>Source of contentious plurality in debates and practices of innovation for sustainability (Smith, 2007) </li></ul>
    18. 18. A multi-level perspective on grassroots innovations Source: Geels (2002) Socially inclusive pathways Dominant / excluding modes of provision Translation Scaling-up Diffusion Grassroots innovations Internal dynamics and contradictions Environmental change, social pressure, demography, development ideologies

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