Understanding transformation patterns in different socio-technical systems – A scheme of analysis

by Johan Miörner, Christian Binz and Lea Fuenfschilling

Transitions literature shows important gaps when it comes to specifying how, and why, transformation processes play out differently in different sectoral contexts. This paper develops a heuristic for analysing a socio-technical system’s inherent transformative potential and for comparing transition trajectories in different socio-technical systems with each other. The framework draws on insights from transition studies and organizational institutionalism to specify three features of a socio-technical system which shape its inherent transformative potential and most likely transition trajectories: the degree of institutionalization of socio-technical configurations, their coherence, as well as spatial characteristics of the system as a whole. The contribution of the paper is threefold: 1) it develops a systematic understanding of the basic characteristics of a sector’s socio-technical system and how they influence the likelihood, nature, and speed of transition processes; 2) it provides insights to whether and how lessons derived from one sector can be used for understanding transitions in others; 3) it guides the identification of places and spatial scales at which transitions unfold and where leverage points for transformative change lie in different sectors. The framework is illustrated with empirical examples from existing literature on the water- and urban mobility sectors.

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Cite as: Miörner J., Binz C. and Fuenfschilling L. (2021) Understanding transformation patterns in different socio-technical systems – A scheme of analysis. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(11), GEIST Working Paper series.

Transitions as a coevolutionary process: the urban emergence of electric vehicle inventions

by Andrea Ferloni

The transition to Electric Vehicles (EVs) is a coevolutionary process involving at least three sectors—EV, battery, and smart grid—in replacing combustion cars. This paper contributes to research on the geography of transitions by linking increased relatedness between technologies over time with their co-location, exploring the spatial emergence of transition industries and the role of local economic systems in enabling it. Patent citations are used to construct three main paths from 1920 to 2020 that permit to geolocate key inventions and to elaborate on the role of cities in supporting knowledge exchanges and recombinations. The case study suggests that a coevolutionary perspective can contribute to understanding the geography of transitions in three ways: by showing how new technology configurations imply varying power relations between industrial fields, by elaborating on the capacity of urban regions to adapt to these, and by illustrating the role of actors and networks in this process.

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Cite as: Ferloni A. (2021) Transitions as a coevolutionary process: the urban emergence of electric vehicle inventions. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(10), GEIST Working Paper series.

The emergence of a global innovation system – a case study from the water sector

by Jonas Heiberg and Bernhard Truffer

Innovation studies is increasingly acknowledging the multi-scalar nature of the systemic contexts, in which innovations are being developed and deployed. This paper builds on and further develops a recently proposed framework for studying global innovation systems (GIS). It aims at explaining the emergence of a GIS by outlining the specific local resource-related conditions that lead to the creation of structural couplings, i.e. actors, networks and institutions that allow for multi-scalar resource flows. Deploying a qualitative case study, the paper investigates eight demonstration sites for an innovative wastewater treatment technology in North-Western Europe. It shows how resource-related deficits lead actors to draw on resources generated outside of their local context. The paper contributes to the literature on the Geography of Transitions by highlighting the importance of resource complementarities among different local contexts, as well as the crucial role of translocal systemic intermediaries in shaping emergent GIS.

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Cite as: Heiberg J. and Truffer B. (2021) The emergence of a global innovation system – a case study from the water sector. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(09), GEIST Working Paper series.

Global regime diffusion in space: a missed transition in San Diego’s water sector

by Johan Miörner, Jonas Heiberg and Christian Binz

Socio-technical regimes are potentially global sets of highly institutionalized rationalities that have co-evolved with actors, technologies and institutions. Transition studies features an extensive focus on regimes dynamics within specific territorial contexts. However, we know surprisingly little of how regime rationalities are constructed, diffused and reproduced across geographical contexts. This is a key gap in the literature on the geography of sustainability transitions, in explaining why transitions happen in some places and not in others. This paper introduces a conceptual model to analyze transformative opportunities in regions and how regime actors strategically diffuse and implement regime solutions through combinations of discursive- and system building activities. The empirical analysis draws upon a combination of Socio-Technical Configuration Analysis (STCA) of 354 newspaper articles and 10 in-depth interviews to illuminate how regime actors prevailed in diffusing and legitimizing the water sector’s dominant socio-technical configuration in San Diego during a period of substantial transformation pressure..

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Cite as: Miörner J., Heiberg J. and Binz C. (2021) Global regime diffusion in space: a missed transition in San Diego’s water sector. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(08), GEIST Working Paper series.

Geography of eco-innovations vis-à-vis geography of sustainability transitions: Two sides of the same coin?

by Hendrik Hansmeier

The need to develop and disseminate solutions to address environmental challenges such as climate change or resource depletion is more urgent than ever. However, the spatial dimension of pathways towards sustainability has only attracted scholarly interest in recent years, particularly through largely parallel research on the geography of eco-innovations and the geography of sustainability transitions. By systematically reviewing the literature, this article aims to compare both lines of research, devoting special attention to the role of regions and actors. While the geography of eco-innovations field focuses on local and regional conditions that enable the emergence of environmentally friendly technologies and industries, research on the geography of sustainability transitions highlights the place-specific but multiscalar nature of socio-technical change, taking into account the role of different actor groups. The review identifies numerous complementarities between both fields that may serve as starting points to further integrate geographical work on eco-innovations and transformative change.

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Cite as: Hansmeier H. (2021) Geography of eco-innovations vis-à-vis geography of sustainability transitions: Two sides of the same coin? GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(07), GEIST Working Paper series.

Reconfiguring actors and infrastructure in city renewable energy transitions: a regional perspective

by Christina E. Hoicka, Jessica Conroy and Anna Berka

Cities as large centres of energy demand and population are important spatially and materially in a renewable energy transition. This study draws on available literature on material dimensions, energy decentralization, and regional approaches to provide a conceptual framework to analyse emerging city renewable energy transition plans for their material- and place-based actor scalar strategies. This framework outlines how the increase in renewable energy provided to cities results in new locations of productivity, interscalar relationships between new and centralized actors, and socio-economic outcomes. We use this to analyse 47 ambitious renewable energy transition plans in densely populated cities. Empirically, this study confirms that, for the most part, regions are important emerging actors in the decentralization of energy systems in a renewable energy transition; that city renewable energy transitions involve the forging of new economic relationships between cities and neighbouring communities and regions, and, as the community energy literature emphasises, that the involvement of a wide range of civic and local actors is important in shaping renewable energy transitions for cities. Further research can investigate how the institutional context is shaping these distinct actor material strategies and emerging interscalar relationships across regions. The socio-economic outcomes, particularly as they relate to new economic relationships between cities and the surrounding region and the re-spatialization of productivity and benefits, should also be examined.

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Cite as: Hoicka C., Conroy J. and Berka A. (2021) Reconfiguring actors and infrastructure in city renewable energy transitions: a regional perspective. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(06), GEIST Working Paper series.

Grasping transformative regional development from a co-evolutionary perspective – a research agenda

by Camilla Chlebna, Hanna Martin and Jannika Mattes

A comprehensive perspective of regional transformative development is pertinent in light of recurring crises and grand societal challenges. We propose an integrative research agenda for transformative regional development, based on a co-evolutionary perspective on industry-focused regional path development and transitions. Combining existing knowledge from the debates on evolutionary economic geography and transition studies we define three key dimensions of co-evolution: the interrelations between different paths and their impact, interregional and multiscalar development dynamics, and the interdependence between industries and society. We address each dimension separately and suggest concrete avenues for further research.

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Cite as: Chlebna C., Martin H. and Mattes J. (2021) Grasping transformative regional development from a co-evolutionary perspective – a research agenda. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(05), GEIST Working Paper series.

The evolving role of networking organizations in advanced sustainability transitions

by Sebastian Rohe and Camilla Chlebna

In transition studies, formal inter-organizational networks – ‘networking organizations’ – are considered essential for inducing socio-technical change. Yet, there is little research on how their structural composition and role evolve in advanced transitions and which tensions arise over time. We address these gaps by combining insights from network research in social and economic science with transition studies, where networking organizations are conceptualized as intermediaries and key elements of Technological Innovation Systems. We synthesize a framework capturing the evolution of and resulting tensions within networking organizations in sustainability transitions. It is applied to two regional energy networking organizations from Germany. We draw on qualitative expert interviews and a complementary social network analysis. We show that networking organizations do not necessarily stabilize once the initial technologies they were centered around become established. Instead, their member base broadens to different sectors. This can lead to tensions over the networking organizations’ scope. Tensions also arise from misalignments between ‘private’ goals of member firms and the ‘public’ goal of transforming system-level structures. Furthermore, complementary or competing networking organizations might emerge during the transition. Managers need to navigate these tensions and regularly review the networking organization’s mission to maintain its relevance in the transition process.

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Cite as: Rohe S. and Chlebna C. (2021) The evolving role of networking organizations in advanced sustainability transitions. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(04), GEIST Working Paper series.

Overcoming the harmony fallacy: How values shape the course of innovation systems

by Jonas Heiberg and Bernhard Truffer

The technological innovation systems (TIS) framework is one of the dominant perspectives in transitions studies to analyze success conditions of newly emerging technologies and industries. Key conditions for innovation success reside in overcoming so-called system failures. So far, TIS studies mostly adopted a rather harmonious view on the values, goals and interests that motivate the different actors and by this were unable to address competition, conflicts and, in particular, battles over diverging directionalities within the system. To tackle this “harmony fallacy”, we propose an institutional logics based measure for “value-based proximities” among actors, which serve to identify the “degree of harmony” in the field. To operationalize these concepts, we apply socio-technical configuration analysis (STCA) based on transcripts from 26 interviews, covering the case of modular water technologies in Switzerland. Results indicate that value orientations crucially affect system failures, diverging technological preferences and collaboration patterns. Conflictual field logics may prevent the stabilization of system structures in a specific country and drive actors to engage in sub- or transnational networks. This analysis enables to inspire key conceptual tasks of innovation system analysis, like the identification of system failures, the setting of appropriate system boundaries and the formulation of better policy implications.

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Cite as: Heiberg J. and Truffer B. (2021) Overcoming the harmony fallacy: How values shape the course of innovation systems. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions2021(03), GEIST Working Paper series.

Opportunities and threats of the rapidly developing Space sector on sustainability transitions: Towards a research agenda

by Xiao-Shan Yap and Bernhard Truffer

Sustainability transitions research has increasingly adopted global perspectives on how to deal with sustainability challenges. However, “global” has so far been limited to Earth’s surface and atmosphere. We argue that transitions research should include developments that relate to the orbit and outer space (hereinafter also Space). The Space sector has grown substantially over the last decade in terms of the number of rocket launches, the diversity of actors involved or new essential services that depend on Space-based infrastructures. This entails fundamentally new opportunities to manifold industrial sectors, and enables developing countries to potentially leapfrog polluting industrial development pathways. At the same time, the expansion of the Space sector creates manifold sustainability pressures like atmospheric pollution, high energy consumption, or Space debris in the orbit. This led to recent surges in arguably “green” innovations such as reusable rockets, but also the development of new governance arrangements protecting outer space as a finite resource for humankind. This research note sketches major recent developments in the Space sector and points to promising avenues of research for innovation and transition studies, not only in terms of a new empirical application field but also as an inspiration for new theoretical insights and innovation policies.

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Cite as: Yap X.-S. and Truffer B. (2021) Opportunities and threats of the rapidly developing Space sector on sustainability transitions: Towards a research agenda. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(02), GEIST Working Paper series.