Author: GEIST

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.

New directions for RIS studies and policies in the face of grand societal challenges

by Franz Tödtling, Michaela Trippl and Veronika Desch

The regional innovation system (RIS) approach has become a widely used framework for examining the dynamics of innovation across space as well as for crafting policies aimed at promoting the innovation capacity of regions. The dominant focus of RIS studies and regional innovation policies has been on technological innovation that drives competitiveness and economic growth. In light of persistent environmental and social challenges such as climate change, health problems, and growing inequalities, this narrow understanding of innovation appears to be obsolete. This article claims that the RIS approach requires critical rethinking and reassessment to provide a solid basis for informing the next generation of regional innovation policies. We explore how RIS scholarship and policies could benefit from engaging more deeply with an alternative understanding of innovation. Inspired by recent work on responsible innovation, mission-oriented and transformative innovation policies, we develop the notion of ‘challenge-oriented RIS’ (CORIS). In contrast to conventional understandings of RIS, this approach embraces a broader and more critical understanding of innovation, captures the directionality of change, opens up to new innovation actors and novel coordination mechanisms between various stakeholders and territorial scales, and pays more attention to the application side and upscaling of innovation within the region and beyond. Acknowledging that regions vary in their capacity to fashion transformative change and challenge-oriented innovation, the paper outlines new directions for place-based innovation policies.

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Cite as: Tödtling F., Trippl M. and Desch V. (2021) New directions for RIS studies and policies in the face of grand societal challenges. GEIST – Geography of Innovation and Sustainability Transitions, 2021(01), GEIST Working Paper series.