The human dimension of transformative innovation ecosystems dynamics
There is increasing attention to the role of government to steer and speed the direction of social and economic development in order to face the societal challenges of our time. There is the belief amongst the epistemic community working in science and technology policy research that change is required and that innovation can play a major role. The notion of transformative innovation encapsulates the idea that a radical change in practices and behaviour of all actors across society is needed. But who is in position to lead or influence such change? Laudable goals for sustainability exist already for decades. It is clear that short and long terms visions of sustainable development fail to be implemented in practice. The major question we seek to answer here is under what conditions can different social actors converge to common visions and policy goals.
Following Platt (1973) and Constanza (1987) many of the current societal, economic and environmental challenges can be characterised as a social trap. A situation whereby is extremely difficult or impossible to escape from. Such situations are cumulative across time and are the result of short term “local reinforcements” guiding individual and social behaviour that are inconsistent with the long-run, global best interest of the individual and society. This is a common puzzle to ongoing work in sustainability research and more recently to innovation research addressing sustainability. Different streams of research on social and sustainable innovations (Howaldt et al., 2021), sustainable business models (Boons et al., 2013), and transitions (Köhler et al., 2019) are pointing to the need for understanding the underlying social dynamics that limit change towards sustainability. Furthermore, the importance of better understanding the human dimension, for example in the energy transition has been recognised. Steg et al., (2021) outlined a research agenda with broad questions relevant for transformative innovation: Which factors encourage different
actors in sustainable behaviour? Which interventions can be effective to encourage sustainable behaviour of different actors and which factors enhance its effects? Which factors affect public support for policy and changes in systems? For policy design and interventions to be effective, a better understanding of how decisions and the individual level are aggregated at the collective and societal level is needed. Innovation theory as we know it was oriented to support economic growth and helped to make innovative activity more effective but seems unsuitable for the reorientation needed by sustainability. How can we re-orient the preferences and “local reinforcements” that guide decision making within innovation ecosystems? Is this possible within our current institutional system?
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