Knowledge Centre for Sustainable System Innovations and Transitions (KCT)
KCT essay #2 (DRAFT, 26-08-08) please do not distribute
In May 2006 the Knowledge Centre for Sustainable System Innovations and Transitions (KCT) published its first practitioner oriented essay entitled ‘Transition experiments: Practical experiments with the potential to contribute to transitions’ (Kemp and van den Bosch, 2006). This essay presented a new perspective on experiments and made a first attempt to discuss how experiments could really contribute to transitions. Central in this approach was a combination of searching, learning and experimenting. The essay was spread among hundreds of Dutch practitioners working on transitions in different sectors and policy domains (e.g. energy, agriculture, health care, construction, mobility). Follow up discussions between transition researchers and practitioners, showed a gap between state of the art knowledge about transition experiments and practice. Practitioners expressed a need for more specific and practical guidelines for stimulating the contribution of experiments to transitions. The current literature on transition experiments, however, lacks an integrated framework for deriving such guidelines.
Recent research on transition experiments, which is conducted in strong interaction with practitioners, has elaborated on the initial ideas about how experiments could contribute to transitions. Central in this research are the mechanisms deepening, broadening and scaling up. This second KCT essay presents a next step towards an integrated conceptual framework for transition experiments, which is embedded in the existing sustainability transition literature and illustrated with several examples. It aims to share recent research results with the community of academics, policy makers, intermediaries and consultants, who are actively working on transitions and transition experiments, and who are interested in the theoretical notions that might shed a different light on their work.
Suzanne van den Bosch & Jan Rotmans
This essay presents a conceptual framework for analyzing and influencing the contribution of small-scale experiments to transitions towards a more sustainable society. This framework is aimed at providing academics and practitioners with action oriented concepts to both understand and ‘steer’ the contribution of experiments to transitions.
The central instrument in this framework are ‘transition experiments’, which provide an alternative approach to regular innovation projects that are aimed at realizing short-term solutions. A transition experiment is an innovation project with a societal challenge as a starting point for learning aimed at contributing to a transition. First we elaborate on the origin and context of transition experiments. We define what distinguishes a transition experiment from regular innovation projects and develop process- and substance- criteria for a successful transition experiment. We then build upon the sustainability transition literature by identifying three central mechanisms through which experiments contribute to transitions: deepening (learning as much as possible in a specific context), broadening (linking and repeating in different contexts) and scaling up (embedding the experiment in -new- dominant ways of thinking, doing and organizing).
The developed conceptual framework for steering transition experiments consists of a descriptive and a prescriptive part. To understand how experiments can contribute to transitions and what this contribution encompasses, the framework relates the mechanisms deepening, broadening and scaling up to desired changes in established ways of thinking (culture), doing (practices) and organizing (structure). Furthermore, it elaborates on the conditions under which experiments contribute to transitions. The prescriptive part of the framework translates the identified mechanisms in different management strategies for transition experiments and further specifies this in management guidelines for project and program managers that aim to increase the contribution of experiments to transitions. Different examples of transition experiments in the Netherlands (in the mobility and care sector) illustrate how these guidelines enable concrete recommendations and actions for steering transition experiments. This type of steering includes more than only managing internal aspects of an innovation project, it is also about managing interactions between projects, managing interactions between the experiment or niche and the broader societal context (regime) and managing interactions between the experiment and developments in the landscape.
1. Introduction 4
Why experimenting for transitions 4
Results and questions following from literature 4
Main objective and content of this essay 5
2. Defining transition experiments 6
The origin and context of transition experiments 6
Characteristics of transition experiments 8
Criteria for transition experiments 13
3. Mechanisms through which experiments contribute to transitions 15
Scaling up 18
4. Integrated conceptual framework for transition experiments 21
(i) Descriptive: How, what and when experiments contribute to transitions 21
(ii) Prescriptive: Management strategies and guidelines for transition experiments 24