Bottom-up, social innovation for addressing climate change

Size: px
Start display at page:

Download "Bottom-up, social innovation for addressing climate change"


1 Bottom-up, social innovation for addressing climate change Noam Bergman, University of Oxford Nils Markusson, University of Edinburgh Peter Connor, University of Exeter Lucie Middlemiss, University of Leeds Miriam Ricci, University of the West of England Corresponding author: Noam Bergman Environmental Change Institute School of Geography and the Environment University of Oxford South Parks Road Oxford OX1 3QY UK Abstract Innovation is essential for addressing climate change. It is recognised that technological innovation alone is insufficient, and we suggest that a greater focus on research, policy and practice in the area of bottom-up, social innovation could yield benefits if integrated into wider considerations of research and policy development concerning climate change. Taking social innovation to include behaviour and lifestyle changes, energy saving through new forms of business and governance, and users employing new technical solutions, we identify these as warranting more research, policy and support. Bottom-up innovation emerges from the interaction of less powerful actors and meets regulatory, institutional and resource barriers that its primary stakeholders have less ability to overcome. Similarly, non-technical innovation, where potential savings are unknown or hard to quantify, is not coherently supported by existing policies, regulations, institutional frameworks and infrastructures. Without policy intervention there could be many missed opportunities for energy and emission reducing innovations. Keywords: social innovation, low carbon innovation, bottom-up, grassroots 1

2 Bottom-up, social innovation for addressing climate change 1) Introduction The current strategies for combating climate change reflect the technological, commercial and industrial dominance of our market led society. Meanwhile, people s behaviour is seen as separate from these predominantly technological solutions, and is considered difficult to influence and change. As an alternative, we here draw attention to bottom-up, social innovation as an overlooked, but potentially significant contribution to climate change mitigation. New low-carbon social practices sometimes involving technology are emerging in localised niches like communities and work places. The distance of these origins from the established power structure make such innovation less visible and less supported, and this is exacerbated by their often non-commoditised form, which fits less well with mainstream, market-oriented ways of diffusing novelty across society. All this makes them difficult for policy makers to address, with widespread adoption of policy measures to drive forward application of social innovation prone to various barriers. Social science has a role to support low carbon, bottom-up, social innovation, as well as to uncover its potential. This paper aims to define the notion of low carbon, bottom-up social innovation (sections 1 and 2), and to review what we know about it (section 3) with a view to developing policy recommendations (section 4). While our focus is the UK, the discussion and conclusions are relevant further afield. a) Innovation Innovation can be succinctly defined as the successful exploitation of new ideas (Steward et al. 2009, p.7). In other words, an innovation is not merely an invention, but a new idea that is put into practice. Innovation is most often understood in technological, commercial, top-down terms, and here we will sketch out an alternative focus on social, bottom-up innovation, and argue that it has an important role to play in addressing climate change. 2

3 While technological or technical innovation might be relatively straightforward to define, there is no universal definition of social innovation. The difficulty in definition is both because all innovation, including technical innovation, involves social processes, and because every social change could be described as innovative in one way or another. Innovation can refer to new technologies, new products or new services, but also to new practices, institutions or (social) structures. All innovation, including technical innovation, is social in the sense of being the outcome of a creative process involving a range of actors, and usually requiring some change in behaviour among adopters (MacKenzie and Wajcman 1999). Nevertheless, we may distinguish innovation where the technical content is central from innovation where the social aspect is key, see Figure 1. Equally, we may see policy instruments applied preferentially such that support is provided to attempt change primarily in the technical paradigm with social changes being considered auxiliary or inconsequential. In the climate change and sustainability context, attempts to drive innovation range from new technologies aimed at providing energy more efficiently or with lower carbon, such as wind turbines or hydrogen cars; through social innovation which employs new technical solutions, such as community-owned renewable energy generation; to socially focused innovation, aimed at reducing energy demand, such as car share schemes or the Transition Towns movement. There are sometimes attempts at social change in the form of policy to encourage more efficient resource management, but these tend to apply to large institutions, as for example, with incentives to utilities to reduce distribution losses. social/non-technical innovation focus technical new institutions new practices new models of using technology new technologies new products Figure 1. Socio-technical axis of innovations. 3

4 Innovation is most often understood as involving the commercialisation of an idea, but can also refer to the adoption of a new idea for non-commercial purposes. For technological innovation commercialisation is the dominating path to implementation since the potential for competitive advantage strongly incentivises diffusion, whereas social innovation is often not susceptible to or even compatible with commoditisation (Hess 2007), thus presenting a challenge to wider transmission of new and potentially beneficial social paradigms. In this paper, we are primarily interested in the social end of the socio-technical spectrum, and in non-commercial innovation. b) Social innovation Mulgan (2006) defines social innovation as innovative activities and services that are motivated by the goal of meeting a social need. Mulgan suggests the drivers of social innovation are rooted in discontent or an apparent need; the cultural basis of social innovation can be considered a combination of exclusion, resentment, passion and commitment. Phills et al. (2008) present another useful definition, that social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals (p.36). They argue that social innovation is the most appropriate concept to understand and produce lasting social change. Mumford (2002) uses the term to mean the generation and implementation of new ideas about how people should organize interpersonal activities, or social interactions, to meet one or more common goals. This could involve creating new social institutions or movements on the one hand, or lead to new social or business processes and practices on the other. Marriage, money, laws, schools and a free national health service were once radical social innovations. Even excluding the commercial examples mentioned, this is clearly a too broad definition for the purposes of this paper, and we thus restrict it further to low-carbon social innovation. Mumford s definition is broad and includes groups of people from small-scale, interpersonal interaction settings to entire societies. The definition thus includes goals that are common to groups of people from small groups or 4

5 communities to entire countries, or indeed the global community. It is less clear whether the private gain of a business group is to be included. For the purposes of this paper, we focus primarily on non-commercial, social innovation. The term social, when used in conjunction with innovation, has a very broad meaning in the literature. This paper defines it as referring to two things: (1) the benefits stemming from the innovation, which accrue primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals/businesses etc. (2) the means used to solve the problem. We are interested in innovations that are NOT technologically-focused, but which revolve primarily around new social practices, behaviours, and institutions (hence technology may have a secondary role). c) Bottom-up, low carbon, social innovation We define bottom-up innovation as innovation generated by civil society (individual citizens, community groups, etc), rather than government, business or industry. Bottom-up thus relates to the locus of the innovation. This can also be linked to the concept of user-led innovation (Von Hippel 1988, Ornetzeder and Rohracher 2006). These scholars are mainly interested in technological innovation, but some of their thinking could be applied to non technologically-focussed innovation as well. Rogers (1995) points out that users can make significant improvements to innovations at the diffusion stage, by giving feedback to manufacturers or re-inventing the innovation for their own purposes and applications. Low carbon innovation refers to innovation that contributes to reduction in carbon emissions from human activities. This can be defined either according to the intention behind the innovation or by the outcome (see Markusson (2009) for an analogous discussion of environmental innovation). The two need not coincide: well-intended ideas may fail to deliver, and substantial CO 2 emissions reductions may be the accidental side-effect of achieving other objectives. In summary, in our paper social is linked to the nature (or focus), motivation and impact of the innovation; bottom-up is 5

6 related to the locus of the innovation; and low carbon, again, to the motivation and impact of the innovation. Low carbon can refer to a more specific social need or problem that the innovation addresses. We sum up our concept of low carbon, bottom-up social innovation in Figure 2. Figure 2. Low carbon, bottom-up social innovation as the intersection of a Venn Diagram. Within innovation discourse, the focus is normally on mainstream, establishment actors in industry, academia and government. But bottom-up, social innovation has played an important part in shaping modern society, with civil society often providing the impetus for social change. The industrialisation and urbanisation of the nineteenth century were accompanied by extraordinary social innovation including new models of childcare, community development and social care in Britain, all originating in civil society (Mulgan 2006). More recently, environmental NGOs have been instrumental in pioneering social practices, and their proposed policies have since become government policies in many countries (Henderson 1996, p. 214) and behavioural change has been identified as being a necessary and key element of meeting environmental goals (DEFRA 2008). And as for the future: There is every reason to believe that the pace of social innovation will, if anything, accelerate in the coming century (Mulgan 2006). Government policy in support of innovation is strongly focussed on technical, commercial activities, giving little attention and resources to social, not-for-profit innovation. That said, there are clearly policies in place which aim to achieve social goals and which support social innovation, without using the term. One of the 6

7 aims of this paper is to connect the discourse around innovation with policy for social change in the context of a transition to a low carbon society. In the climate change context, there is recognition that a shift in the innovation focus is needed, with not only technological change, but societal change including cultural and behavioural changes as essential elements. The UK government recognises that it is not just technical feasibility or even the economics of solutions, but also non-economic barriers and non-technical barriers that need to be overcome. This shift has led to more interest in communities and local places as sources of innovation (Steward et al. 2009, p. 2). Finally, social innovation could help spread technological innovations or maximise their benefits as new norms or institutions increased the demand for various greener technologies and technical solutions. One significant problem with social, bottom-up, low-carbon innovation is the difficulty in assessing outcomes: it is hard to quantify the effects of a phenomenon that is not standardised or traded and which might include potentially nebulous outcomes. This can be difficult as regards carbon reduction and even more complex in terms of outcomes like social inclusion, social capital, etc. Below we will argue that this is one of the reasons why more research is needed about this class of innovation. For this reason, we limit this paper to intentional low-carbon innovation, in line with the definitions above emphasising the intention to achieve common goals and meet social needs. In the rest of the paper we will give a brief review of social innovation in the literature, giving appropriate examples of such innovation. We then and look at the dynamics and barriers to social innovation, using some social science theories, and sum up with some conclusions. 2) Empirical work to date on local, bottom up, social innovation a) The empirical literature So what characterises the empirical literature to date on bottom-up, low-carbon, social innovation? We found a rather disjointed body of work, with coverage of a series of specific empirical problems that are not commonly conceived of as areas of innovation. Examples of this 7

8 include the literature on social or sustainability entrepreneurship which emphasises the role of small (or single) businesses in innovating for a sustainable society (Horst 2008, Parrish 2008). There are a series of contributions on grassroots initiatives such as Local Exchange Trading Schemes (LETS), and other action by the voluntary and community sector (Seyfang 2006b, Middlemiss and Parrish forthcoming). Other work looks at workplace innovation, including the role of workplace champions in transforming public and private sector organisations (e.g., Markusson, 2009). Some of these contributions have begun to draw on transitions theory as a common theoretical approach (Seyfang and Smith 2007, Parrish and Foxon 2009). Alongside this academic literature we can see a series of bottom-up, low-carbon, social innovations happening in society at large which are attempting to address climate change issues. The recent burgeoning of Transition Town initiatives is the most visible example in the UK of how an innovative social form related to environmental issues can evolve (Transition Towns Network 2008). Transition Towns have been replicated around the UK and overseas. If we take a rather loose definition of bottom-up innovation, to include independent action by innovative actors (whether based in large or small organisations), a series of other examples come to mind. For instance, local councils are finding new ways to fund and implement radical programmes, such as Kirklees Council s insulation of every house under its jurisdiction (Kirklees Council 2009). Social innovations sometime accompany technical innovation. This is exemplified by Ray Anderson s reform of his carpet manufacturing company Interface, the radical change he stimulated to reduce his company s impact on the environment required both technical and social innovation (Anderson 2006). b) Case studies of low carbon, bottom-up, social innovation A series of examples of innovations from the literature follows, starting with social innovations that involve new institutions and practices, followed by innovations that also impact on technology. Grassroots action on climate change 8

9 The emergence of Transition Towns forms part of an upsurge in interest in grassroots innovation in practitioner, academic and policy circles (Defra 2005, Seyfang 2006a, Middlemiss and Parrish forthcoming). Note, this kind of activity is rarely labelled innovation but, given its focus on creating new institutions through which to address participant and community practices, it is clearly an innovative movement. Grassroots innovations involve a group of socially motivated volunteers adapting tools like the Transition Towns Handbook, the EcoTeams programme (see Global Action Plan 2010), or LETS, to their specific local needs, or inventing new ways of engaging with each other and their local communities. In doing so they create variants of an innovative type of organisation: a voluntary association of citizens who act together in creative ways on climate change issues. Such grassroots innovations for climate change act on a belief by stakeholders that locally instigated initiatives have more power to effect change than do top-down initiatives (Transition Towns Network 2008). Bollington Carbon Revolution (BCR) is an example of socially-driven innovation at the grassroots level (see Middlemiss and Parrish forthcoming). This community group is attempting to reduce the Cheshire town of Bollington s carbon footprint by running a series of activities around climate change. The name revolution is a positive take on climate change, as the group see the climate problem as an opportunity much like the industrial revolution, during which Bollington prospered. Like many of these initiatives, BCR has adopted some of the resources, tools and ideas for social change available in the public domain (including showing films such as The Inconvenient Truth, using the EcoTeams programme, taking up community gardening, and exploiting the tradition of community action that exists in the town). Equally BCR has drawn on its own resources in innovative ways, for instance persuading the local council to set up a grant to subsidise insulation for local householders. Many of the members of the group use their professional skills within the community context to apply for funding, and to organise the group. These volunteers tend to be involved in their community for the first time, and as such have to invent new ways of working 9

10 together in this informal context. This includes finding means of coping with the transient nature of volunteers. Workplaces as sites of social innovation Workplaces are important settings for innovative decisions including low carbon social innovation. In addition to top-down company strategies, employee initiatives have a demonstrated history in driving innovation in the private sector. De Jong (2006) suggests that the role of such actors has been under-investigated even with regard to economic activity, let alone social innovation. Work place initiatives are often led by individuals, as environmental champions, but the emergence of successful champions is also a matter of opportunity, offered to the individual by his or her social context. An organisational environmental strategy and not least strong regulatory pressure can open up opportunities for individuals to successfully promote environmental action. Environmental championing can be a matter of expressing personal concern and reconciling private life interests with the work situation, but it may also be done to further one s career for more pragmatic or individualistic reasons. In industry, the context in terms of especially regulatory pressure is more important than (at least moderate) differences in general norms in national culture and levels of public awareness expressed through individual initiatives in the workplace. The strength of contextual shaping may be different in public sector or civil society organisations. Labour unions have often been slow on taking up the environmental agenda, for fears that abatement costs would depress employment. But we have also seen examples of unions engaging with globalisation and environmental issues, and currently with climate change and promoting workplace initiatives. For example, the Scottish Trade Union Council supports such initiatives, and the University and College Union have joined the 10:10 campaign and together with other unions and NGOs they are running climate action groups, and training individuals to lead this work. The Transitions Edinburgh University group is running courses about climate change and peak oil for 10

11 staff as well as many other activities. This initiative is also part of the Transition Towns movement, and is supported by the Scottish Climate Challenge Fund, showing the link between workplace and community action. Social innovation creating wind technology Socially motivated grassroots movements can also have significant influence on technological development. The innovation process which led to the three-bladed Danish concept wind turbine the dominant paradigm in global wind energy generation was strongly influenced by grassroots involvement in two key ways. The first of these saw activist engineers driving Danish technical developments in wind energy. Motivated by opposition to Danish adoption of nuclear energy, these activists developed and built their own smaller scale turbines despite the trend of the time both in Denmark and internationally to favour large-scale models. They were able to do this by keying into their own resources and those of similarly motivated activists. The result was smaller, three bladed turbines which were durable and able to generate electricity for an extended period, unlike the larger less reliable technologies which were the focus of government support in many nations. The scaled-up versions, which are the direct descendants of these turbines, are the most successful of the new renewable energy technologies (Madsen 1990, Gipe 1995, Andersen 1998, BP 2009). This development in Denmark in the 1970s led to a rising demand for wind turbines, with environmental activists often amongst the purchasers. Unfortunately this led to the introduction to the market place of poor quality technology. The activists responded by introducing a reporting system on the operating quality of the turbines sold into the market. Transmission of this information within the public sphere meant good quality machines benefited while poor quality kit was unable to secure market share. This effectively incentivised operational improvements and drove forward the quality of Danish technology, putting it among the most competitive when a global market appeared in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. Demand was further assisted by a Danish socio-cultural imperative, a desire amongst some actors to find a replacement for the village 11

12 farming co-operatives that were becoming centralised during the period. Later national legislation further assisted with acceptance of the technology by effectively compelling those investing in turbines to live within a relatively small distance of their turbines. The Danish establishment has since supported the growth of the Danish wind sector considerably, and Denmark remains the nation with the highest installed capacity of wind energy per capita, Danish companies grew to dominate the global wind turbine market with turbines now representing one of Denmark s largest exports. This may not have been possible without the initial actions of concerned and motivated individuals acting in concert (Jamison et al. 1990, Karnøe 1990). Summary In summary, there is a good deal of variation in the empirical literature on bottom-up, low-carbon, social innovation. In some senses it cannot yet be said to constitute a literature, in that the individual contributions are not inter-referential. In addition, in some of the work referenced above the word innovation is not used. This is most likely because there is broad variation in the locus of bottomup, low carbon, social innovation in this literature: which in itself is contributing to literatures on social movements, community-based change, workplace environmental initiatives, and technological innovation. Much of this work indeed addresses sustainable innovation more generally, with low-carbon innovation as just one strand. What brings this empirical literature together is the focus on new social practices and institutions. Practices and institutions, again, are varied (R&D on small scale turbines, new travel plans, voluntary associations, workplace action groups) and have varying relationships to technology (no technologies involved, use of technology to further social innovation, development of technology to further social innovation). As a result of this variation while there is a strong common interest in the role of social innovation the field lacks both empirical and theoretical coherence. 12

13 3) From innovation to system change In order to have a significant impact on climate change, any innovation must spread beyond its origins. There are no doubt a large number of small scale social innovations, the large majority of which do not spread to impact society as a whole or a significant part of it. Some of these are groups which are content to keep their social innovation at a local level with no broader effect, but we focus here on those which consider the bigger picture. We look at the literature to consider what mechanisms and dynamics come into play. The replicating, upscaling and mainstreaming of innovations, which spread to achieve systemic change, including the dynamics of change and barriers to uptake, are studied in various theories such as transition theory and diffusion of innovation, and also in various literatures dealing with social change and dynamics. Concepts from transitions theory (e.g., Rotmans et al. 2001, Geels 2005b) and strategic niche management (e.g., Hegger et al. 2007) are used throughout this section to integrate the findings. We first introduce some ideas on how social innovation might spread, and then focus on barriers specific to bottom-up social innovation, in the context of sustainability and climate change. a) Systemic change A social innovation that affects society as a whole can be seen as a systemic change. Mulgan (2006) describes four phases of widespread social innovation: (1) coupling of ideas with a need that isn't being met; (2) developing a promising idea and testing it in practice; (3) scaling up, replicating, adapting and otherwise diffusing of an idea that has proved itself in practice; and (4) learning and adapting ideas into forms that may be very different from the original. This bears some resemblance to the four phases of a systemic transition in transition theory (e.g., Rotmans et al. 2001), which are: pre-development, take-off, acceleration and stabilisation. Specifically, the third phase in both describes the widespread uptake of an idea into the mainstream, which changes as it grows and adapts. Both models describe complex, non-linear dynamics, and the phases describe the resulting process, rather than cause and effect. Mulgan specifies that the social innovation phases do not 13

14 always happen in the exact order, and different phases can happen simultaneously. Henderson (1996) describes citizens organisations, which match our definition of bottom-up social innovation. These organisations question conventional wisdom and can be a priceless social resource offering new paradigms to societies stuck in old ways (p. 218). This is another parallel with transition theory, in which niches outside the mainstream are seen as the source of innovation, with the existing regime unable to break out of its paradigm (e.g., Rotmans et al. 2001, Smith et al. 2005). However, in contrast to the emphasis on technological niches, (e.g., Geels 2005b), Henderson sees this innovation as critiquing mainstream technological innovation by looking at its social and environmental effects, and supplying the social inventions that the mainstream cannot supply. This loosely conforms to Mulgan s first two phases. Phills et al. (2008) identifies three critical mechanisms of social innovation: first, exchanges of ideas and values between actors that can have very different sets of values and motivations to innovate, such as governments, businesses or community groups, NGOs and the third sector; second, shifts in roles and relationships between these different actors; and third, the integration of private capital with public and philanthropic support. These mechanisms refer to Mulgan s latter two phases, describing the innovation spreading and changing. b) Growing pains The above discussion of systemic change does not cover the many barriers to potential change. Mulgan (2006) reviews how most (potential) social innovations which aim for large scale impact fail to achieve it, and failure can happen at any phase. Movements and organisations can fall apart when initial enthusiasm fades. Various barriers - regulatory, financial or cultural - might doom an innovation or confine it to a small niche. Some suffer a lack of adequate mechanisms to grow and replicate. Some innovations are implemented prematurely due to high motivation, which could speed up their evolution, but could also result in failure. Many innovations require several failed attempts before they work. This is reminiscent of innovative niches in transition theory, where most 14

15 potential systemic transitions fail, and suggests social innovations must cross the chasm (Moore 1991) just as technological or business innovations. The ideas of complexity and unpredictability from transition theory also apply: it is not possible to predict which social innovation(s) will spread and cause a systemic change, nor what path such a change would take. It is useful to consider three different processes of growth and diffusion of niche innovation (Seyfang 2009, ch. 8): upscaling, the growth in scale of activity; replication, in which more similar niches are formed (growth across contexts); and translation, in which practices are adopted by other groups, and ultimately the mainstream. Different barriers can apply to different processes. One barrier to replication is the local context in which bottom-up innovations emerge. Bottom-up innovations need to be adapted to local circumstances and owned by local actors. Copying effective innovations without local ownership makes them less effective, and can lead to a vicious circle of misdirected investment in localism which perpetuates a lack of confidence in local solutions (Bunt and Harris 2010, p. 5). When social innovations do succeed in upscaling, new pitfalls appear: communication is essential to capture the wider community. The necessary propitious environment and organisational capacity for growth are usually lacking. Founders often cling on too long, as different skills are needed to grow and consolidate. Governments can play a crucial part at this stage with resources, legislation and public agency support. On the other hand, the growth stage is becoming much faster in the internet age as ideas can spread far and wide very quickly (Mulgan 2006). Members of successfully scaled up innovations might have to choose between selling out by joining the dominant culture or moving to a more cutting edge stance (Henderson 1996). Smith (2006a) researches examples of translating sustainable technologies (organic food, wind energy, eco-housing) into the mainstream. While these are technological niches, they include elements of social change, and their transfer (or lack thereof) to the mainstream has to do as much with cultural, institutional and economic factors as with technology. Besides the difficulty enrolling 15

16 support, mainstreaming can reduce sustainability: when radical innovations are taken up widely, it is usually only those elements compatible with the mainstream. Niche actors understand practices and frame issues differently from mainstream actors, leading to mutual miscomprehension. The example of organic food has been well documented (Smith 2006b): the original holistic approach of the organic movement, which involved returning nutrients to the soil, was incompatible with modern agricultural practice; the supposed merits of organic farming did not conform to established mainstream criteria, and baffled the mainstream. The later uptake of organic food by mainstream food actors took the perspective that organics were a high-value opportunity to satisfy customers, and limited the definition to farming without chemicals. We suggest that this is an especially important barrier to social innovation: lacking the resources of technologically focused innovation, there is greater potential for complete change of the original idea when it is replicated or scaled up. A deeper translation would be when the guiding principles, knowledge, and user relations constituting the niche become internalised by the regime. This kind of translation is necessary if sustainable innovations are to have a serious impact. Hess (2007) studied the fate of innovations emerging from environmental and localist social movements. Whilst many reached only limited niche markets, others have had an impact on mainstream markets. Hess makes similar observations to Smith (2006a) and shows how alternative practices are transformed into less disruptive forms. A specific mechanism for this is the establishment of a multitude of consumer options, ranging from substantial product modifications to little more than greenwashing, which modify or even dilute the original alternative innovation. Another mechanism, in the case of technological innovation, is to peel off the alternative social practices from the technology. In the case of innovation from localist movements, e.g. farmers markets, local food labels, fuel banks, community gardening, etc., the new practices are often dependent on volunteering, and here the transformation into mainstream practice often takes the shape of professionalization of the work and standardisation of the practices. 16

17 c) Lock-in Henderson (1996) contrasts citizens organisations with the dominant technological / economic top-down approach. She describes them as stemming from a blind spot on the side of the dominant culture. Blind spots emerge in part from organisations conscious interest in building on what they have already done and invested in, but also on the bounded rationality (Simon 1982) of any organisations that makes it easier to identify and become aware of new opportunities that are similar to what has already been done. This is reminiscent of transition theory ideas of regime and lock-in, with innovative niches appearing to fill in gaps the regime cannot address. Government and corporate elites often remain ignorant of... viable policy alternatives, insulated within top-down hierarchies from such inconvenient information. They and their institutions are creatures of the existing order, conventional thinking and past investments in earlier technologies (Henderson 1996, p. 214). These bottom-up groups are often forced to innovate because existing institutions cannot respond to their proposals. (ibid p. 215). Lock-in can be understood as the manner in which future trajectories are limited by existing frameworks, routines, investments, cultural norms, and even expectations about what knowledge will be profitable in the future. (Seyfang and Smith 2007). The barriers discussed below can be seen as manifestations of the lock-in to technical, top-down innovations in general, and in the climate change arena in particular. d) Underfunded, under-supported The lock-in discussed above can be seen in the ways social innovation tends to be underfunded and under-supported compared to technological innovation. Research Castellacci et al. (2005) argue that scholars concerned primarily with the relationship between innovation (mainly technological innovation) and economic performance/growth/employment have 17

18 so far neglected wider impacts of innovations (including those that are not amenable to standard economic analysis and valuation), such as the quality of employment, inequality issues and environmental and sustainability implications. The focus on the needs of mainstream actors biases the research carried out in society, with research supporting the needs of environmental and localist social movements often neglected, remaining undone science. (Hess 2007). Thus it is left to a minority of under-funded interdisciplinary programs (Henderson 1996) to address broader questions and concerns over the direction society and technology are taking. Existing models of funding of new ideas discriminate against social inventions, with governments supporting scientific research without equivalent resources to researching social problems (e.g., Albery 1996). While innovation from the business sector is hyped in advertising and marketing and also supported by government subsidies... and by grants to universities, research labs, and think tanks (Henderson 1996, p. 217). Knowledge is both a key driver and barrier to the innovation process (Jain et al. 2008). It can be highly codified and therefore difficult to transmit across actors with different backgrounds and expertise. The lack of research into bottom-up social innovation can therefore translate into a lack of knowledge acting as a barrier. The role of social science The lack of research and support is linked to the role of social science in current culture. For example, Albery (1996) suggests the role of social innovations is undermined by the fact that social scientists are wary of being inventors. There is no doubt that many social scientists are innovative (although their ideas might not meet mainstream notions of inventions ), but this point of view might be dominant in mainstream thinking. The focus on science and technology for invention and innovation is leading industrialised societies, which are already energy and resource junkies, to become technological innovation and capital-investment junkies as well (Henderson 1996, p.231). In this atmosphere, it is perhaps not surprising that [b]ehavioural change is fast 18

19 becoming a kind of holy grail for sustainable development policy and in particular for sustainable consumption policies (Jackson 2005, p.94). In other words, while engineered behaviour change leading to increased sustainability is coveted, it is seen as unattainable. We suggest this paradigm supports a policy atmosphere where social innovation is supported in theory, but will not be funded or regulated for until it is proven to be possible and practicable. e) Norms and values We now look more explicitly at how dominant norms and values can act as barriers to social innovation. The lack of support for social innovation can be seen as an example of innovation which is in opposition to the mainstream practices, and therefore finds it difficult to obtain resources, political backing and support from mainstream actors. Social innovation will frequently hold the possibility of delivering societal benefits other than the straightforward opportunity for economic enrichment, for example through reduced environmental impact or increased social inclusion, and this has less appeal within the established funding frameworks. The difficulty in enrolling mainstream, powerful actors hinders the potential social innovation found in the niche from spreading (Smith 2006a). Niches concerned with sustainability deliberately diverge from mainstream socio-technical culture and practices, putting them in direct opposition to the regime, or in other words, opposition to established interests, implying strong sources of opposition and weaker champions. Social innovation in the climate change context often involves movement to lower carbon lifestyles, energy demand reduction or other measures of reducing consumption. Without technical elements that can be incorporated into the market economy, social innovations are a difficult sell, and those which involve consumption reduction might be actively opposed by the mainstream. This opposition can take the form of bottom-up social innovations being... widely resisted by the dominant culture and media as 'impractical,' or frivolously portrayed, unlike those innovations in 19

20 technology, production, and marketing in the private sector which are usually hailed as progress (Henderson 1996, p. 217). Values are another key barrier and enabler to the bottom-up innovation process (Jain et al. 2008). The values being incorporated in the design of the innovation may not be widespread and universally shared, so this could make it difficult for the innovation to succeed and be scaled-up. Seyfang and Smith (2007) identify ideology as a driver of grassroots innovators, which could include alternative values and reordering priorities; niches can therefore emerge explicitly in order to oppose the mainstream. 4) Policy context Both transition theory and strategic niche management have been critiqued for being heuristic tools, which are difficult to apply to the complex real world of policy making (Lovell 2007, Genus and Coles 2008) We next discuss the policy context of bottom-up social innovation. a) Niche management The discussion above focuses on innovation niches small groups of actors with new ideas or technologies, or practices and culture, outside or peripheral to the mainstream which are often researched as the source of radical innovation (Rotmans et al. 2001, Geels 2005b, Geels 2005a, Smith et al. 2005). Strategic niche management (SNM) is a theory promoting the idea of protecting innovative niches, as well as purposeful creation and nurturing of niches as controlled experiments in intervening to drive technological growth. SNM was originally developed with the idea of supporting innovative technologies which were not yet able to compete in the market. However the idea has evolved and diversified, including looking at conceptual new regimes with both social and technical elements (Hegger et al. 2007); this could include ideas such as community owned renewable energy, for example. Some research highlights how lessons from niches can be taken up into mainstream practice, with the niche itself acting as a centre and an incubator for a new networks of actors (e.g., Smith 2005, Hegger et al. 2007), an idea which is clearly applicable to 20

Exploring the Relationships Between Evidence and Innovation in the Context of Scotland s Social Services

Exploring the Relationships Between Evidence and Innovation in the Context of Scotland s Social Services Exploring the Relationships Between Evidence and Innovation in the Context of Scotland s Social Services Jodie Pennacchia Report commissioned by IRISS December 2013 COPYRIGHT AND ATTRIBUTION 2013 Institute

More information

Horizon 2020 dedicated Expert Advisory Group on Innovation in SMEs Consultation on the EU Strategic Work Programme 2016 17

Horizon 2020 dedicated Expert Advisory Group on Innovation in SMEs Consultation on the EU Strategic Work Programme 2016 17 Horizon 2020 dedicated Expert Advisory Group on Innovation in SMEs Consultation on the EU Strategic Work Programme 2016 17 Final Report to the European Commission July 2014 Contents Executive Summary...

More information

No school an island. Suffolk education inquiry final report. Louise Bamfield, Joe Hallgarten and Matthew Taylor

No school an island. Suffolk education inquiry final report. Louise Bamfield, Joe Hallgarten and Matthew Taylor No school an island Suffolk education inquiry final report Louise Bamfield, Joe Hallgarten and Matthew Taylor May 2013 No school an island The RSA in partnership with Contents Acknowledgements 4 Foreword

More information

Conceptual Synthesis 1: Learning from the Diffusion of Innovations

Conceptual Synthesis 1: Learning from the Diffusion of Innovations ESRC UK Centre for Evidence Based Policy and Practice: Working Paper 10 Conceptual Synthesis 1: Learning from the Diffusion of Innovations Sandra Nutley Huw Davies Isabel Walter Research Unit for Research

More information

System failure. Why governments must learn to think differently. Second edition. Jake Chapman

System failure. Why governments must learn to think differently. Second edition. Jake Chapman System failure Why governments must learn to think differently Second edition Jake Chapman Open access. Some rights reserved. As the publisher of this work, Demos has an open access policy which enables

More information



More information

Blueprint for a Co-operative

Blueprint for a Co-operative International Co-operative Alliance Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade January 2013 BLUEPRINT FOR A CO-OPERATIVE DECADE This Paper has been written under the guidance of the Planning Work Group of the

More information

Backing the Future: why investing in children is good for us all

Backing the Future: why investing in children is good for us all Backing the Future: why investing in children is good for us all nef is an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being. We aim to improve quality of life by promoting

More information



More information

Inequality between whom?

Inequality between whom? 1 Inequality of what? Inequality between whom? [There is a] false dichotomy between outcome and opportunity inequality. The two are but opposite sides of the same coin. Hence, development policy focusing

More information

In and out of sync. The challenge of growing social innovations. Geoff Mulgan with Rushanara Ali, Richard Halkett and Ben Sanders

In and out of sync. The challenge of growing social innovations. Geoff Mulgan with Rushanara Ali, Richard Halkett and Ben Sanders Research report: September 2007 In and out of sync The challenge of growing social innovations Geoff Mulgan with Rushanara Ali, Richard Halkett and Ben Sanders In and out of sync The challenge of growing

More information


MORE THAN TENURE MIX: DEVELOPER AND PURCHASER ATTITUDES TO NEW HOUSING ESTATES MORE THAN TENURE MIX: DEVELOPER AND PURCHASER ATTITUDES TO NEW HOUSING ESTATES Available in alternative formats This publication can be provided in alternative formats, such as large print, Braille, audiotape

More information

When Will We Ever Learn?

When Will We Ever Learn? When Will We Ever Learn? Improving Lives through Impact Evaluation Report of the Evaluation Gap Working Group May 2006 Evaluation Gap Working Group Co-chairs William D. Savedoff Ruth Levine Nancy Birdsall

More information

IT and sustainable development - a central issue for the future

IT and sustainable development - a central issue for the future IT and sustainable development - a central issue for the future Dennis Pamlin Ewa Thorslund August 2004 For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong. H.L. Mencken Summary

More information

Why we need European cultural policies

Why we need European cultural policies european cultural foundation Why we need European cultural policies by Nina Obuljen the impact of EU enlargement on cultural policies in transition countries Why we need European cultural

More information

Build a Ladder to the Stars

Build a Ladder to the Stars Build a Ladder to the Stars Report from the University of Oslo s Strategic Advisory Board 2012 14 Contents 04 Preamble: The International Strategic Advisory Board (SAB) 11 Part 3: Profile Dimension Analysis

More information

About learning. Report of the Learning Working Group

About learning. Report of the Learning Working Group About learning Report of the Learning Working Group Open access. Some rights reserved. As the publisher of this work, Demos has an open access policy which enables anyone to access our content electronically

More information

MAKING IT. BiG. Strategies for scaling social innovations

MAKING IT. BiG. Strategies for scaling social innovations MAKING IT BiG Strategies for scaling social innovations Madeleine Gabriel July 2014 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thanks to all the Nesta staff and associates who helped develop the ideas and frameworks in this document:

More information

SYSTEM STEWARDSHIP. Michael Hallsworth. The future of policy making? Working paper. Contents 1

SYSTEM STEWARDSHIP. Michael Hallsworth. The future of policy making? Working paper. Contents 1 SYSTEM STEWARDSHIP The future of policy making? Working paper Contents 1 Michael Hallsworth Contents About this report 3 1. Introduction and summary: the case for system stewardship 4 2. Reassessing policy

More information

A rose by any other name

A rose by any other name A rose by any other name Revisiting the question: what exactly is volunteering? Working paper series: Paper one Angela Ellis Paine, Matthew Hill and Colin Rochester 2010 About the Institute for Volunteering

More information


CREATING MARKETS FOR THINGS THAT DON T EXIST CREATING MARKETS FOR THINGS THAT DON T EXIST The Truth About UK Government R&D and How the Success of SBRI Points the Way to a New Innovation Policy to Help Bridge the Valley of Death and Rebalance the

More information

Co-production: an emerging evidence base for adult social care transformation

Co-production: an emerging evidence base for adult social care transformation RESEARCH BRIEFING March 2009 Review date: March 2012 31 Co-production: an emerging evidence base for adult social care transformation Dr Catherine Needham, Queen Mary University of London and Sarah Carr,

More information

Not a one way street: Research into older people s experiences of support based on mutuality and reciprocity

Not a one way street: Research into older people s experiences of support based on mutuality and reciprocity JRF programme paper: Better Life Not a one way street: Research into older people s experiences of support based on mutuality and reciprocity Interim findings Helen Bowers, Marc Mordey, Dorothy Runnicles,

More information

Education. The Need for Social Work Intervention

Education. The Need for Social Work Intervention Education The Need for Social Work Intervention THE NEED FOR SOCIAL WORK INTERVENTION A DISCUSSION PAPER FOR THE SCOTTISH 21 st CENTURY SOCIAL WORK REVIEW Don Brand, Trish Reith and Daphne Statham (Consultants)

More information

Are you innovation ready? Plotting your journey on the Innovation Readiness Model

Are you innovation ready? Plotting your journey on the Innovation Readiness Model Are you innovation ready? Plotting your journey on the Innovation Readiness Model Message from Andy Green CEO, Logica I believe that the future success of our global economy relies on building a dynamic

More information

Engineering the Future. The action forum for engineering. An insight into modern manufacturing

Engineering the Future. The action forum for engineering. An insight into modern manufacturing Engineering the Future The action forum for engineering An insight into modern manufacturing Engineering the Future The action forum for engineering Engineering the Future is a broad alliance of engineering

More information

There are alternatives!

There are alternatives! working papers in Early Childhood Development 53 There are alternatives! Markets and democratic experimentalism in early childhood education and care By Peter Moss Cover: Children aged 4-5 playing in free

More information

The use and abuse of the logical framework approach

The use and abuse of the logical framework approach NOVEMBER 2005 OLIVER BAKEWELL & ANNE GARBUTT SEKA Resultatredovisningsprojekt The use and abuse of the logical framework approach INTRODUCTION The logical framework approach (LFA) has come to play a central

More information



More information

How can telehealth help in the provision of integrated care?

How can telehealth help in the provision of integrated care? HEALTH SYSTEMS AND POLICY ANALYSIS POLICY BRIEF 13 How can telehealth help in the provision of integrated care? Karl A. Stroetmann, Lutz Kubitschke Simon Robinson, Veli Stroetmann Kevin Cullen, David McDaid

More information