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Game Changers and Transformative Social Innovation. The Case of the Economic Crisis and the New Economy



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Game Changers and
Transformative Social
The Case of the Economic
Crisis and the New Economy
TRANSIT Working Paper 1, 2014
By Flor Avelino , Julia Wittmayer, Alex Haxeltine, René Kemp, Tim
O’Riordan, Paul Weaver, Derk Loorbach and Jan Rotmans
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research,
technological development and demo nstration under grant agreement no 6 13169
TRANSIT is an international research project that develops a theory of Transformative Social
Innovation that is useful to both research and practice. It is co-funded by the European
Commission and runs for four years, from 2014 until 2017. The TRANSIT consortium consists of
12 partners across Europe and Latin America. For more information, please visit our website:
About the TRANSIT working papers series:
The TRANSIT working paper series aims to accelerate the public availability of research
undertaken by TRANSIT researchers. It presents (intermediate) research results that in whole or
part are suitable for submission to a scientific journal or book. It also considers those articles,
which are appropriate for submission to (scientific) conferences, workshops or symposia. Our
intention is to provide early access to TRANSIT research through the TRANSIT working paper
About this TRANSIT working paper:
This paper was part of TRANSIT Deliverable D2.1 Game-changers & Transformative Social
Innovation. Working paper, policy insights, lessons for facilitation tools and workshop report.
Earlier versions have been presented at the TRANSIT Synthesis Workshop on “The role of Game-
changers in Transformative Social Innovation” (1-2 September 2014, Rotterdam) as well as at the
“5th International Conference on Sustainability Transitions. Impact and Institutions”(27-29
August 2014, Utrecht).
Suggested citation:
Avelino, F. Wittmayer, J., Haxeltine, A., Kemp, R., O’Riordan, T., Weaver, P., Loorbach, D. and
Rotmans, J. (2014) Game-changers and Transformative Social Innovation. The Case of the Economic
Crisis and the New Economy, TRANSIT working paper 1, TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.2-1 Grant
agreement no: 613169.
Date: 2014
Authors: Flor Avelino , Julia Wittmayer, Alex Haxeltine, René Kemp, Tim O’Riordan, Paul
Weaver, Derk Loorbach and Jan Rotmans
Contact: Flor Avelino, DRIFT
Online link:
Game Changers and Transformative Social Innovation. The Case of the Economic
Crisis and the New Economy.
Authors: Flor Avelino1, Julia Wittmayer, Alex Haxeltine, René Kemp, Tim O’Riordan, Paul Weaver,
Derk Loorbach and Jan Rotmans
This paper discusses transformative social innovation, conceptualised as the process through
which social innovation contributes to societal transformation. A conceptual heuristic is
introduced that proposes five foundational concepts to help distinguish between different
pertinent ‘shades’ of change and innovation: 1) social innovation, (2) system innovation, (3)
game-changers, (4) narratives of change and (5) societal transformation. The paper elaborates on
the background and meaning of each of these concepts, with references to existing literature in
transition studies and social innovation research, and through empirical illustrations. The recent
economic crisis is taken as an empirical example of a ‘game-changing’ macro-development, and it
is explored how this economic crisis relates to other forms of change and innovation. A central
hypothesis is that societal transformation is the result of specific ‘co-evolutionary’ interactions
between game-changers (e.g. the economic crisis), narratives of change (e.g. ‘a new economy’),
system innovations (e.g. welfare system reform), and social innovations (e.g. new exchange
currencies or new design practices). The paper elaborates on this hypothesis and formulates
challenges for future research.
Transformative social innovation, system innovation, game-changers, narratives, economic crisis,
new economy
Research Highlights
Conceptualises transformative social innovation as the result of ‘co-evolutionary’
interactions between game-changers, narratives of change, system innovations, and social
Constructs game-changers as both real and constructed macro-developments that
function as drivers and barriers for transformative social innovation.
Takes the economic crisis as an empirical example of a ‘game-changing’ macro-
development, and explores how this relates to transformative social innovation.
Argues that the economic crisis has provided ‘socially innovative’ alternatives (e.g.
‘cooperatives’) with a boost of renewed interest and opportunities for reinvention.
This article is based on research carried out as part of the Transformative Social Innovation
Theory (“TRANSIT”) project which is funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework
Programme (FP7) under grant agreement 613169. The views expressed in this article are the sole
responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
1 Corresponding author:
1 Introduction
There is an increasing attention for ‘social innovation’ as a necessary driver for societal
transformation. Howaldt and Kopp (2012:48) argue that social innovations are gaining
importance over technical innovations when it comes to dealing with societal challenges, and that
social innovations “can contribute proactively with regard to anticipated developments, such as
demographic developments or the effects of climate change “to modify, or even transform,
existing ways of life should it become necessary to do so” (Giddens 2009: 163)”. The idea that
social innovation is an effective way to deal with societal challenges, is also manifested in policy
discourses across the European Union (EU), as illustrated by EU president Barroso’s statement
that “if encouraged and valued, social innovation can bring immediate solutions to the pressing
social issues citizens are confronted with” (Hubert 2012:vi). The Bureau of European Policy
Advisors (BEPA) defines social innovation as “innovations that are social both in their ends and in
their means” and argues that they provide an effective way to “empower people” and “drive
societal change”, particularly in the context of the recent economic recession: “at a time of major
budgetary constraints, social innovation is an effective way of responding to social challenges, by
mobilising people’s creativity to develop solutions and make better use of scarce resources”
(BEPA 2010: 7).
These high expectations regarding social innovation raise the following research question: how
and to what extent does social innovation contribute to societal transformation that responds to
societal challenges, and how are people empowered to contribute to such process? This research
question has been taken up in a recently started, EU-funded 4-year research project entitled
“TRANsformative Social Innovation Theory” (TRANSIT). The TRANSIT project explores
transformations towards societies that are more inclusive, resilient, sustainable, and, thereby,
hypothesised as more able to respond effectively to societal challenges. Specifically, TRANSIT
investigates the role(s) of social innovation within such societal transformations, combining
theoretical and empirical research (Haxeltine et al. 2013). Here ‘transformative’ is taken to mean
an irreversible, persistent adjustment in societal values, outlooks and behaviours of sufficient
‘width and depth’ to alter any preceding situation. The notion of ‘transformative social innovation’
can be understood in three distinct ways: (1) as a specific type of social innovation, i.e. one that
contributes to societal transformation, (2) as a social innovation with an intention to contribute
to societal transformation, and (3) as the process through which social innovation contributes to
societal transformation. In the TRANSIT projects and in this paper we focus on the third
understanding, i.e. transformative social innovation as a process. Understanding the process
through which social innovation contributes to societal transformation, requires one to
distinguish the former from the latter. This leads to another more open, fundamental research
question: how does social innovation interact with other forms of change and innovation, and how
do we distinguish those?
The TRANSIT projects utilises a conceptual heuristic that provides five foundational concepts to
help distinguish between different pertinent ‘shades’ of change and innovation: 1) social
innovation, (2) system innovation, (3) game-changers, (4) narratives of change and (5) societal
transformation. The aim of this paper is to elaborate and empirically illustrate these concepts as
a way to explore transformative social innovation. This paper particularly zooms in on the concept
of ‘game-changers’. These are broadly conceptualised as macro-phenomena (events and trends)
that are perceived to change (the rules, fields and players in the) the ‘game’ of societal interaction.
The dominant understandings, values, institutions and social relationships through which society
is organised and defined may fundamentally change in response to game-changing events and
trends. The purpose of this ‘game-changer’ notion is to explore how empirical macro-phenomena
are perceived as ‘game-changing’ how they are interpreted, (re)constructed, contested and dealt
with by people and initiatives working on transformative social innovation.
This paper elaborates on TRANSIT’s conceptual heuristic by using the recent economic crisis as
an example of a ‘game-changer’. The economic crisis has spurred debates about the
unsustainability of our current financial and economic systems. It has drawn new attention to
alternative economic narratives and arguably has generated an acceleration of social innovations.
Five years after the break out of the recession, attention for the economic crisis has waned, but
the concerns expressed by counter-movements such as the Occupy movement live on. They
combine with other concerns about inequality and feelings of losing out, anxieties over tax evasion
by the wealthy few and multinational companies, the systems of production being
environmentally unsustainable, and a range of other issues such as an aging population. Such
anxieties interlace with developments on the ground in the form of (transformative) social
In the section that follows (section 2), we present the background of TRANSIT’s conceptual
heuristic. Each of the concepts is then elaborated and empirically illustrated, starting with the
‘economic crisis’ as an example of a macro-phenomenon that is perceived as a game-changer
(section 3). This particular game-changer comes with various other ‘game-changers’, e.g.
unemployment, budget cuts, social isolation all developments that are or can be perceived as
‘changing the game’. We then move on to discuss the alternatives to mainstream solutions whose
emergence, development and diffusion have been or are being influenced by the economic crisis,
starting with a discussion of narratives of change and related ‘counter- movements’ around a
new economy (section 4), (calls for) system innovation in, inter alia, financial systems, taxing,
state reform, health care (section 5), and social innovations, such as new business models, new
services, new sharing practices, some of which may hold transformative potential (section 6). We
also critically discuss (section 7) how and to what extent the dynamics between all of these can
be conceptualised as contributing to and/or shaping a process of societal transformation.
Finally (section 8), we formulate lessons and challenges for future research on transformative
social innovation.
2 A Conceptual Heuristic for Exploring Transformative Social Innovation
The TRANSIT project draws on (1) the emerging field of social innovation research (Mulgan 2006;
Murray et al. 2010; Franz et al. 2012, Westley 2013, Moulaert et al. 2013), and (2) the field of
sustainability transitions research (Rotmans et al. 2001, Grin et al 2010, Markard et al. 2012). In
the very initial phase of the TRANSIT project, the first conceptualisations of transformative social
innovation were inspired by the Multi-Level Perspective, a central framework in transition
research. The Multi-Level Perspective (MLP) theorises the dynamics of societal transitions (Rip
& Kemp 1998, Geels 2005, 2010), distinguishing between three levels: 1) the landscape
(exogenous macro-trends), 2) regimes (dominant institutions and practices), and 3) niches
(places of innovative practices). A transition occurs when changes at all three levels reinforce each
other into an overall systemic transformation (Schot & Geels 2008, De Haan & Rotmans 2011),
one possible pattern being that niche-innovations build internal momentum, while landscape
developments (e.g. climate change) create destabilising pressure on regimes (e.g. fossil energy
sector), which creates ‘windows of opportunity’ for niche-innovations (e.g. solar energy).
In its initial phase, the TRANSIT project used the MLP perspective to conceptualise different levels
of transformative social innovation. Social innovations were conceptualised as new services,
practices or ideas at the micro-level of ‘niches’. System innovation was conceptualised as change
at the meso-level of ‘regimes’. Game-changers were conceptualised as exogenous developments
at the macro-level of the ‘landscape’. We conceptualised transformative social innovation as a
non-linear interaction between these levels of change and innovation, and introduced ‘narratives
of change’ as a particular communication between these different levels (Haxeltine et al. 2013)2.
We illustrated these conceptualisations by using three empirical examples of ‘game-changers’, as
depicted in figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Multi-level Perspective on Transformative Social Innovation
As the TRANSIT project evolved, it became increasingly necessary to ‘open up’ the initial
conceptual framework so as to include a wider diversity of empirical phenomena and
epistemological perspectives. This ‘opening up’ also meant a break with the MLP as a foundational
perspective, for several reasons. First, the distinctions between ‘levels’ in the MLP are contested
(Genus & Coles 2008, Smith et al. 2010, Rotmans & Loorbach 2010), one particular contestation
being the treatment of macro-developments as inherently exogenous contextual factors outside
the main research focus: this inherently ‘exogenous’ status of the societal landscape needs to be
questioned (Avelino 2011, Riddell & Westley 2013), and “transition thinking and policy design
need to take this context in the MLP jargon: “landscape” conditions more seriously” (Van den
Bergh, 2013:2). Moreover, the MLP has been associated with a particular meta-theoretical
‘evolutionary’ perspective (Garud & Gehman 2010). As the TRANSIT project also wants to explore
2 Some concepts have been adapted: ‘narratives of change’ is a reformulation for the original ‘transformative
discourses’, and ‘system innovation’ is a reformulation for ‘systemic change’. The reformulations are based on a
process of clarification and translation to more common sense and/or self-explanatory language.
other meta-theoretical perspectives on transformative social innovation, such as ‘relational’ and
‘durational’ perspectives, it has been argued that it cannot have an inherently ‘evolutionary’
perspective (such as e.g. MLP) as a conceptual starting point (Haxeltine et al. 2014).
As a result, the TRANSIT project now has as its starting point a conceptual heuristic that proposes
five foundational concepts to help distinguish between different pertinent ‘shades of change and
innovation’: 1) social innovation, (2) system innovation, (3) game-changers, (4) narratives of
change and (5) societal transformation (see table 1 for working definitions). This heuristic does
not preclude at which levels of aggregation specific types of innovation and change do or do not
manifest, nor does it preclude whether they are exogenous or endogenous.
The heuristic serves as a cognitive map to empirically and theoretically investigate the central
research question: how does social innovation interact with other forms of change and innovation,
and how are actors (dis)empowered therein? The conceptual heuristic is depicted in figure 2 below.
The figure implies our hypothesis that societal transformation is shaped and produced by
particular patterns of interaction between social innovation, system innovation, game-changers
and narratives of change. Individual actors, initiatives and networks, are empowered (or
disempowered) to contribute to this process through different forms of governance, social
learning, resourcing, and monitoring (Haxeltine et al. 2013).
Figure 2. Conceptual Heuristic to Explore the Dynamics of Transformative Social Innovation
In this paper, we focus on unpacking the ‘left’ side of the abovementioned figure 2, i.e. the five
foundational concepts distinguishing between different shades of change and innovation. Table 1
below provides short working definitions for each concept,. In the subsequent sections, we then
elaborate on each of the five concepts by providing references to existing literature and empirical
Table 1. Five Shades of Change and Innovation: Working Definitions (elaborated in sections 3-7)
5 Shades of Change & Innovation
Working Definition
Social innovation
New social practices, including new (combinations of)
ideas, models, rules, social relations and/or products
(see section 6)
System innovation
Change at the level of societal sub-systems, including
institutions, social structures and physical
(see section 5)
Macro-developments that are perceived to change the
(rules, fields and players in the) ‘game’ of societal
(see section 3)
Narratives of change
Discourses on change and innovation, i.e. sets of ideas,
concepts, metaphors, and/or story-lines about change
and innovation
(see section 4) .
Societal transformation
Fundamental and persistent change across society,
exceeding sub-systems and including simultaneous
changes in multiple dimensions.
(see section 7)
The conceptual heuristic serves to empirically explore how these different shades of change and
innovation interact. The working definitions help to guide explorative research on this
interaction, in which one can have various empirical starting points. In this paper, our empirical
starting point is the economic crisis as an example of a ‘game-changer’. In the following sections
we explore how this game-changer relates to other shades of change and innovation.
3 Game-changers - e.g. the ‘Economic Crisis’
We conceptualise game-changers as macro-developments that are perceived to change the (rules,
fields and players in the) ‘game’ of societal interaction. At issue is to explore how game-changing
macro-trends are interpreted - perceived, interpreted, (re)constructed, contested and dealt with -
rather than deciding what is or is not a game-changer ‘objectively’ speaking. As such, our notion
of a ‘game-changer differs explicitly from the concept of ‘landscape developments’ in the multi-
level perspective of transitions theory, which are considered in that theory as exogenous long term
3 These concepts, distinctions and working definitions are certainly not self-evident or clear-cut. Some scholars (e.g.
Westley 2013) conceptualise social innovation as being ‘systemic’ by definition. In our conceptualisation, social
innovation is not necessarily situated at the level of societal sub-systems (but it can be). A new social practice within
a local initiative can be considered a social innovation, regardless of whether or not it coincides with change on the
level of a societal system. Social innovation and system innovation might overlap, but not necessarily. The same
applies to the distinction between game-changers, narratives of change and societal transformation. According to the
working delineations presented above, a societal transformation can be perceived as a game-changer, but not every
game-changer necessarily refers/leads to societal transformation. A game-changer can also refer to a short-term
trend or hype (possibly having a long-lasting transformative impact, but not necessarily).
developments (Geels 2005, Geels & Schot 2010). Our notion of a game-changer does not predefine
the level of exogeneity or endogeneity, nor its temporal scale. Rather, these characteristics differ
across different interpretations of game-changers; some macro-developments may be perceived
to be more endogenous than others, or one specific macro-trend may be perceived by some to be
exogenous while being perceived as endogenous by others. This means that the notion of a ‘game-
changer’ can include a wide variety of phenomena that are fundamentally different in kind: a
demographic development (e.g. ageing population), an ecological phenomenon (e.g. climate
change), a socio-political challenge (e.g. the economic ‘crisis’), a socio-technological revolution
(e.g. the ICT-revolution), or a positively-construed movement or discourse (e.g. ‘environmental
movement’ or ‘the sharing economy’)4. The point of the heuristic framework is to acknowledge
and map out the multiplicity of game-changing macro-trends. Regardless of what kind of
empirically observed game-changer one starts with, the challenge is to explore it from different
The ‘economic crisis’ is a macro-development of international significance that is widely
perceived as game-changing and has deeply penetrated public opinion and political discourses
over recent years. This economic crisis has an empirical basis in ‘factual’ events and economic
statistics, but it is also a social construction. In a narrow sense, the term economic crisis refers to
the world-wide recession which started in 2007-8 which changed the economic circumstances
and outlook of investors and led governments to save banks and to stimulate the economy, inter
alia through ‘bail outs’, expansion of the money supply (‘quantitative easing’), and low interest
rates. It changed the circumstances of many whose employment or work conditions it affected. It
also made many more critical about capitalism and the stability of markets, especially financial
markets (Murphy, 2011; Stephen and Weaver, 2011; Hudson, 2014; Rifkin, 2014; Weaver, 2014).
In Europe, the economic crisis is accompanied by (perceptions of) a debt crisis, a banking crisis
and a euro crisis, which are all interrelated (Hudson, 2014). The financial crisis, debt crisis, bank
crisis, ‘neo-liberal crisis’, ‘global financial collapse’ are not just different names but also refer to
different, albeit closely related, empirical phenomena. Importantly, the perception and
representation of such phenomena in crisis terms can give scope for motivating and/or justifying
responses. This has implications for our exploration of game changers: when a crisis has passed
it may be that it can no longer serve as a reference point for responsive action, though a more
permanent effect of crises may be the view that the threat of recurrence warrants pre-emptive
A common thread through the perceptions of the economic crisis is the socio-economic
perspective, in which the emphasis lies on growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), household
incomes, poverty and employment5. The Economist (2013a:59-61) estimated there could be as
many as 500 million unemployed young people in the world. Eurostat (2013) reported that
unemployment in the Eurozone reached 12% in February 2013. Youth unemployment throughout
the EU rose to 24.4% in November 2012. In May 2012, there were 5.517 million unemployed
young people in the EU, leading to a worry that many millions of young adults could become a
4 The only conceptual preclusion is that it refers to a trend at the macro-level, meaning that it exceeds individual sub-
systems or practices. Even that is up for interpretation, as the concept of the macro-level inherently depends on one’s
sub-system focus. For instance, for someone who focuses on a city as a sub-system, a national political discourse may
be perceived as a macro-trend. The point of the heuristic framework is to challenge the interpreter to think about
trends that go beyond one’s specific sub-system focus.
5 See e.g. the Economic and Financial Affairs Directorate of the European Commission (2013, p. 5) which put a brave
face on its winter 2012/3 economic forecasts.
“forgotten generation”. A report by the Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent6 painted a
sombre picture of increased poverty, of a new impoverished middle class, of losing hope and of
despair across the whole of Europe. The Federation warns of a deepening social crisis of poverty,
xenophobia, discrimination, social exclusion, violence and abuse. In England, young people were
found to fall behind the rest of Europe in the basic skills of literary, numeracy and computer-based
problem solving7. Scholars have argued that this circumstance offers the prospect of a deepening
skills shortage, throttling growth, whilst creating in its wake an unemployable underclass, and
that this widening inequality breeds the antithesis of any successful transition to sustainability
(O’Riordan 2013).
Besides the predominant socio-economic perspective on the economic crisis, there are also socio-
ecological, socio-technical, socio-cultural and socio-political perspectives. Socio-ecological
perspectives link the economic crisis to a concern that it may not be possible to recover growth
sufficient for widening global prosperity without crossing planetary ecological boundaries, some
of which have already been crossed (Rockstrom et al. 2009). Relentless population growth and
other demographic changes combined with the overall growth in the overall claims of the human
population on natural resources and ecosystem services, create concern over the rate at which
ecological boundaries are being approached. Scholars argue that the ecological transition has
already ‘reached the tipping point phase’ (Rockstrom et al. 2009, Schellnhuber et al. 2009).
Holzman (2012) argues that every year we lose 3-5 trillion dollars in natural capital, an amount
greater than the yearly monetary costs of the global economic crisis.
From a socio-technical perspective, Perez (2013) argues that economic crises are recurring
phenomena that often overlap with technological revolutions, and that the recent economic crisis
was fuelled by the Internet Bubble created by financial innovations in and with ICT. Geels (2013)
contends that the economic crisis has a negative impact on socio-technical transitions, as austerity
policies reduce public spending on e.g. renewable energy technology. At the same time, the
economic crisis opens up opportunities for green growth and “a Green Industrial Revolution”
(ibid). Perez argues that “the golden age of each technological revolution has come precisely after
the major bubble bust and the subsequent recessions, which is where we are now”, and that “the
technological transformation that occurred during the past few decades has already provided the
means for unleashing a sustainable golden age” (2013:20-22).
When perceived from a socio-political perspective, it can be argued that the economic crisis has
created political anger over the accumulations of wealth in the hands of powerful political and
financial elites. Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) argue that inequality breeds a sense of
individualism, excessive and environmentally uncaring consumption, and antagonism to the
qualities of democracy. Increasing inequality could give rise to social tensions and a resistance
and even hostility towards sustainability unless the explanation of sustainability is geared to the
improvement of equality. It can also be postulated that the economic crisis has aggravated a
collapse in public confidence in the European Union in many of the traditional institutions that
have underpinned political, economic and social arrangements during the 20th Century (Murphy,
2011; Hudson, 2014; Weaver, 2014).
6 Entitled Think Differently: Humanitarian Impacts of the Economic Crisis in Europe (October 2013).
7 See report by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development entitled Survey of Adult Skills (October 2013)
From a socio-cultural perspective, the economic crisis relates to the way in which the dominant
economic model has impacted on senses of identity and feelings of attachment to place and
belonging to a collectivity (Yuval-Davis 2006). Changes in our feelings of belonging have been
traced through history: Industrialisation, migration or urbanization lead to what Marx refers to
as ‘alienation’ and are at the origin of the classic distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft
(Tönnis, 1940). The economic crisis has contributed to migration of Europe’s Youth and to the
search for new life meanings (other than e.g. having a full-time job, a house and a family), which
may result in the creation of new communities centred around new ideals and values (e.g. Occupy
movement, or sharing platforms such as e.g. Thus, the economic crisis can be
related to a changing and contested understanding of what constitutes a community or a place of
belonging8. Such socio-cultural perspective can also be extended to the perceived ‘loss of the
sacred’, relating to existential needs of human beings “driven not by material need but by an inner
compulsion to understand the world as a meaningful cosmos and to take up a position toward it”
(Weber 1963, 116-117). Following Emile Durkheim, the ‘sacred’ can be understood as that which
is set apart from society and transcends the everyday life, and is opposed to the profane (i.e. the
everyday mundane things and activities). These socio-cultural perspectives on the economic crisis
point out a feeling of loss, while at the same time also opening for potentially new ways. This
tension can be associated more fundamentally with a materialist worldview that has
characterised modernity (and so-called post-modernity) and that has historically arisen in close
association with the technological and social transformation of the different stages of the
industrial revolution. From this perspective, the economic crisis can be perceived as being related
to a deeper systemic crisis in the culture and worldview of western societies.
4 Narratives on Change e.g. ‘A New Social Economy’
We use ‘narratives of change’ as an accessible and short summary of ‘discourses on change and
innovation’. A ‘discourse’ can be defined as “a specific ensemble of ideas, concepts, and
categorizations that are produced, reproduced, and transformed in a particular set of practices
and through which meaning is given to physical and social realities” (Hajer 1995: 44). Discourses
include various ‘metaphors’ and ‘storylines’: “a generative sort of narrative that allows actors to
draw upon various discursive categories to give meaning to specific physical or social phenomena.
The key function of story-lines is that they suggest unity in the bewildering variety of separate
discursive component parts of a problem” (ibid: 56). We use ‘narratives of change’ to refer to any
kind of discourses about innovation or change9.
Our concept of ‘narratives of change’ relates to that of ‘generative paradigms’ as applied in the
Open Book of Social Innovations (Murray et al. 2010), in which sets of ideas and goals that drive
8 Communities that are defined through (everyday) face-to-face contact, are not replaced completely but integrated
with ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson 1991) constructed by people who perceive to be part of this community
more interest-based than geographically-based (McMillan and Chavis 1986).
9 Regarding the distinction between ‘discourse and ‘narrative’, Davies (2002) argues that in narratives “past events are
selected and configured into a plot, which portrays them in a meaningful sequence and schematic whole with
beginning, middle, and end” (11) but that “the boundary between narrative and other forms of discourse is simply
not sharply marked off” (10/11)
and motivate social innovation are characterised as ‘generative’. Narratives of change can be
considered to co-evolve with such new ‘paradigms’ on e.g. the economy. In our narratives of
change concept, we can distinguish between different types of narratives as proposed by Roe
(1994): policy narratives, non-narratives, counter-narratives and meta-narratives. This also
relates to the role of ‘social movements’ and ‘counter-movements’ (Polanyi 1944, Worth 2013). A
social (counter-) movement, such as the environmental movement or the anti-globalisation
movement, can be experienced as ‘counter-narratives of change’ that co-evolve with the
development of a new paradigm on how society deals with the environment or how society
approaches processes of globalisation. These social movements “struggle against pre-existing
cultural and institutional narratives and the structures of meaning and power they convey
(Davies 2002:25), partly through counter-narratives, which “modify existing beliefs and symbols
and their resonance comes from their appeal to values and expectations that people already hold”
(ibid). Important here is to employ these notions about counter-narratives to unpack any given
discourse under empirical study from different perspectives. This challenges us to expand beyond
the hegemonic mainstream narrative on e.g. ‘the economic crisis’, by including a discussion of
counter-narratives around the ‘new economy’.
The economic crisis is generally perceived to have profound impacts on society. The resulting
‘austerity’ measures and governmental budget cuts put pressure on public sector employment,
transfer payments and social welfare systems, contributing to rising un- and under- employment
among young and old and lower disposable incomes for many in society. There is also a growing
dissatisfaction with capitalism leading, among others, to a rise of responsibility pressures on
companies, a lack of trust in financial institutions, and a growing pressure on democratic political
institutions (Castells 2010; Murphy 2011; Hudson 2014; Rifkin 2014; Weaver 2014). These in
turn focus attention on the meaning and quality of life which can intensify individuals’ desires to
live in a more responsible and meaningful way as citizens, workers and consumers, which again
are accompanied by an increasing attention to social value creation (based on the attention to
these issues in magazines and business literature).
Intertwined with these developments are counter-narratives and movements that propose
alternative visions. From anti-globalisation or occupy movements, we can discern a loss of trust
in the dominant economic model of the growth society and its associated livelihood model where
most material needs are satisfied through impersonal market exchange. This formalised and
impersonal market exchange is questioned, resulting in concepts such as sharing, reciprocity,
generalized exchange, or restricted exchange (see Befu 1977, Peebles 2010 for an overview).
These are reflected in calls for a more localized or sharing economy, which are now heard
increasingly in many Western countries. While the mainstream discourse is still about how to
regain adequate rates of economic growth, and underlying longer-sighted discourse (i.e. counter-
narrative) is emerging about what might replace the growth-society model. This includes
(longstanding and more recent) ideas on de-growth (Schumacher 1973, Fournier 2008), green
growth (OECD 2013), or post growth (Jackson 2009). These (counter-)narratives also question
the market logic that constructs human beings as well as nature as resources and commodities in
the production of goods (Freudenburg et al. 1995).
Contemporary discourses on a ‘new economy’ include calls to replace, complement, or transform
the mainstream economic system with alternative paradigms. These include a wide variety of
notions, e.g. ‘social economy’, ‘informal economy’, ‘solidary economy’, ‘sharing economy’, the
‘cooperative movement’,the commons’, ‘green economy’, ‘blue economy’, ‘circular economy’, and
so on (e.g. Rifkin, 2014). Many of these narratives and associated ideas are not necessarily ‘new’
as such. Indeed many have existed for decades (or even centuries), but the ‘game-changing’
economic crisis has triggered new and revitalised interest in these narratives, thereby translating
relatively ‘old’ narratives into a modern narrative on ‘the new, social economy’ as a forward-
looking response to contemporary challenges (ibid).
Exactly 70 years ago, Polanyi published his influential book The Great Transformation, in which
he described ‘counter-movements’ as critical responses to the rise of liberal market economies in
the interwar period (1944). Polanyi argued that counter-movements tend to include both
‘progressive’ and ‘regressive’ forces, and he related the rise of fascism as part of a ‘double counter-
movement’ in reaction to the rise of liberal market economy (Worth 2013). Similarly,
contemporary counter-narratives do not only include ‘progressive’ sustainability-oriented ideas,
but also more ‘regressive’ ideas as e.g. manifested in populist and/or extremist political parties.
Moreover, ‘counter-narratives’ and ‘grassroots movements’ are also not always easily discernable
from mainstream discourses. While discourses on e.g. ‘solidarity economy’ can be constructed as
‘counter-narratives’, they have considerable overlaps with mainstream policy discourses on the
‘Big Society’ (UK) and ‘the participation society’ (The Netherlands). When comparing discourses
on the ‘circular economy’ and the ‘sharing economy’, one can find differences in the former being
partly associated with a corporate movement (see e.g. McKinsey and the Ellen McArthur
Foundation) and the latter being more associated with a grassroots social movement (e.g. Peerby),
but the narratives involved show considerable overlaps (e.g. reducing private property and
approaching waste as a resource). Different discourses are intermingled, changing over time,
forming ‘double movements’ (Polanyi 1944), or rather multi-layered narratives of change.
5 System Innovation e.g. Welfare Reform
We conceptualise system innovation as a process of structural change at the level of societal sub-
systems with functional and/or geographic delineations (e.g. energy, transport, city, region).
System innovations are “profound transformations in social systems”, which involve “changes in
established patterns of action as well as in structure, which includes dominant cultural
assumptions and discourses, legislation, physical infrastructure, the rules prevailing in economic
chains, knowledge infrastructure, and so on” (Grin et al. 2010). As such, system innovation is
distinguished from product innovation. In the Multi-Level Perspective (see section 1 and 2),
system innovation is conceptualised at the meso-level of ‘regimes’, i.e. the dominant structures
and practices that dominate a societal sub-system. As such, system innovation requires regime
change 10 . In our conceptual heuristic, system innovation does not necessarily refer to socio-
technical systems or regimes. Various perspectives on societal subsystems can be employed,
ranging from socio-technical (e.g. Geels and Schot 2007) to socio-ecological (e.g. Westley 2001),
geo-spatial (e.g. Coenen et al. 2012), socio-economic (e.g. Fine and Leopold 1993, Loorbach &
Lijnis-Hueffenreuter 2013) or socio-political (e.g. Voss et al 2009, Rotmans & Loorbach 2010).
10 If we take the electric car as an example of a product innovation, the equivalent example of a ‘system innovation’ is
the creation of an electricity-based transport system, including e.g. the replacement of gasoline station by charging
points, tax-incentives for electric cars, electric buses in public transportation, a new cultural status around electric
cars, etc. (Geels et al. 2012). System innovation would require change in the existing gasoline- and ICE-based car
The economic crisis fosters various system innovations and/or calls for these, from government
administrations as well as civil society. So far, such system innovations called for have often been
at the level of the financial sector, health care system reform, and reform of the social domains
more generally (welfare, care, education etc.). Many developed nations are now changing social
support policies, limiting access, decreasing budgets and arguing for more participation in the
economy. These dynamics are accelerated by related changes in the demographic build-up of
developed societies with a stabilizing and ageing population, in which the balance between
workers and pensioners is slowly tilting.
Nations in the European Union witness a progressive collapse in public confidence in many of the
traditional institutions that have underpinned political, economic and social arrangements during
the 20th Century. These include the institutions of the formal economy (including the tax system,
finance, money and banking), state government, representative democracy, social security and
welfare systems (including pensions, healthcare, etc.). As the formal economy comes under stress
there is also growth in the informal (grey) and illegal (black) economies and a blurring of the
distinctions between all of these, such that it is increasingly difficult to establish or to uphold clear
distinctions between them (Hudson 2014). Weaver (2014) has argued that the state role as a
direct actor in the economy is receding and needs to be re-asserted through indirect roles in
providing regulatory and policy frameworks that help facilitate and orchestrate actions by others.
Instead, states often tend to compete with each other to offer tax breaks and legal loopholes to
transnational corporations and individuals of high net wealth, effectively ensuring a 'race-to-the-
bottom' in terms of states’ capacities to ensure that the wealthiest corporations and citizens pay
their ‘fair’ share of taxes. A two-tier system of taxation is emerging with the richest corporations
and individuals paying least tax in relation to gains alongside an increasingly non-level playing
field for competition between global/local, richer/poorer and mobile/fixed players (Unger and
Rawlings 2008). This is increasing the polarisation of wealth in society, and is argued to
undermine the capacity of the state to act directly to reduce inequalities and provide security for
the most vulnerable citizens (Christensen 2011).
The breakdown in state capacity to tax capital adds to the need for governments to find new ways
to secure social and economic welfare of citizens. This is stimulating governments to find new
ways to engage with the private sector through new models for financing social welfare in which,
in principle, all parties (public sector, private sector, and civic society) hold interests as
stakeholders. Examples are decentralising care, pension fund reform, welfare privatisation, which
aim to deliver welfare and security benefits to citizens while also appealing to the private sector
in terms of ensuring favourable operating contexts for business and to the public sector by
relieving the state of the full financial and operational burdens of direct provision.
6 Social Innovations e.g. Complementary Currencies
We conceptualise social innovations as new social practices, comprising new ideas, models, rules,
social relations and/or services. By doing so, we follow Franz et al. (2012:4) who argue that the
“decisive characteristic of social innovation” lies in the “fact that people do things differently due
to this innovation, alone or together. What changes with social innovation is social practice, the
way how people decide, act and behave, alone or together” (Franz et al. 2012:5, cf. Howaldt &
Kopp 2012). These changing social practices include changing roles, relations, norms and values
(ibid, cf. Hochgerner 2012). Howaldt & Kopp (2012:47) define social innovation as “a new
combination and/or new configuration of social practices in certain areas of action or social
contexts prompted by certain actors or constellations of actors in an intentional, targeted manner
with the goal of better satisfying or answering needs and problems than is possible on the basis
of established practices”.
Social entrepreneurs, organisations and networks across the world are working on a wide range
of such social innovations, often through very context specific and bottom-up initiatives. At times
they directly address persistent problems in the current economic system, while seeking to
establish concrete alternative solutions. Transnational and local networks that have been working
on such social innovations for several decades are now experiencing a ‘new boost’ in response to
the economic crisis and to the emergence of narratives around a new economy. We here shortly
discuss two (out of many) examples of initiatives working on social innovation, and how these
relate to the economic crisis: (1) Time Banks and(2) Transition Towns initiatives.
Time Banks are systems of reciprocal service exchange and manifestations of a ‘complementary
currency’ (Seyfang 2000, 2002, Blanc 2011, Seyfang & Longhurst 2013). Services are traded by a
Time Bank network of members on a broader than one-to-one basis. Services range in
sophistication from simple services, such as dog walking and car washing, to more complex
services, such as teaching piano or languages, to sometimes sensitive personal services, such as
child-minding or providing care and help to elderly people or people with disabilities. Time Banks
are based on a philosophy of building strong communities, providing care-in-the-community and
incentivising and rewarding volunteers. Poverty, unemployment, and skill honing are some of the
ways through which the economic crisis comes in. For those with little money, the provision of a
service is a way to obtain a return service of their own choice. For those without a job it is a way,
inter alia, to contribute usefully to society, to be included in society, to maintain or establish a
sense of purpose and identity, to develop contact networks, and to maintain or build skills and
Another pertinent example of social innovation can be found amongst the many local initiatives
and networks joined in the Transition Towns movement (Seyfang & Haxeltine 2012). There are
now hundreds of communities across Europe and beyond, which empower citizens to build
community resilience and pioneer alternative economic and social solutions. This includes the
(re)discovery of (new combinations of) old and new skills and services to increase socio-economic
independence (e.g. permaculture design principles for urban farming and local food production).
Several Transition Towns initiatives have also initiated and experimented with time banks and
other complementary currencies (Seyfang & Longhurst 2013), illustrating how different social
innovations can spur and empower one another. Interestingly, the concept of Transition Towns
was initially formulated as a response to the ‘game-changers’ of Peak Oil and Climate Change,
focusing on a guiding metaphor of ‘energy descent’ (drastic reductions in levels of energy usage)
to prepare communities for a future where fossil-based energy would be absent or prohibitively
expensive. After the economic crisis of 2008, the movement was, to a significant extent, reframed
as a response to austerity and possible further financial and currency crises. It thus provides an
illustration of how such an initiative can adapt its narrative in the face of new game-changers.
When we probe a little more deeply it becomes clear that the initiative in fact emerged from a rich
historical tradition of radical alternatives associated with the very small town in the UK, Totnes,
where it first started (Longhurst 2013). Thus while Transition Towns can be correctly interpreted
as a social innovation network that facilitates and empowers responses to the game-changer of
the economic crisis, it can also be understood as the latest manifestation or ‘wave’ in a long
tradition of anti-capitalist initiatives that can be historically associated with particular persons,
places and portrayals (narratives and discourses).
7 Societal Transformation
We conceptualise societal transformation as fundamental, persistent and irreversible change
across society. It is distinguished from system innovation in that societal transformation exceeds
individual sub-systems. Examples are the industrial revolution, European integration, or the rise
of the market economy and the ideology of economic liberalism, as described by Polanyi11 in The
Great Transformation (1944) 12 . Such societal transformation requires simultaneous change in
multiple dimensions (not in only one dimension) of social systems, with these changes occurring
widely across society (not in only one place).
We hypothesise that societal transformation can be understood as an (emergent) outcome of co-
evolutionary interactions between changing paradigms and mental models, new political
institutions, new physical structures and innovative developments on the ground. In terms of
TRANSIT’s conceptual heuristic, we postulate that societal transformation results from a specific
interaction between game-changers, narratives of change, system innovation, and social
innovation, as distinct but intertwined dimensions of innovation and change (see figure 2)13. We
refer to this interactive, co-evolutionary process as ‘transformative social innovation’.
This concept of transformative social innovation overlaps with more systemic perspective on
social innovation such as e.g. Westley’s (2013) definition: “social innovation is any initiative
product process, programme, project or platform that challenges and over time contributes to
changing the defining routines, resources and authority flows of beliefs of the broader social
system in which it is introduced; successful social innovations have durability, scale and
transformative impact”. However, rather than defining transformative social innovation as a
particular type of successful social innovation initiative, we conceptualise it as the process through
which social innovations gain “durability, scale and transformative impact” by interlocking with
system innovation, narratives on change, game-changers and societal transformation.
11 Karl Polanyi has coined the term “the great transformation” to the rise of the market economy in society, together
with the ideology of (economic) liberalism and the use of the gold-standard to extent the market internationally,
resulting in inequality, relationships of exploitation and a lesser role for moral considerations, community
management and religion (Polanyi, 1944).
12 Other examples of societal transformation are: female emancipation, abolishment of slavery, rise of the welfare state,
secularisation, individualisation, democratisation
13 As such, the concept of ‘societal transformation’ is also distinguished from the concept of ‘transitions’. In transition
research, the notion of ‘transition’ is often used to refer to a specific type of change at the level of (socio-technical)
sub-systems, i.e. what we here refer to as ‘system innovation’. We use ‘societal transformation’ to refer to a more
fundamental change at a higher level of aggregation: i.e. ‘societies’ rather than functional sub-systems. In recent years,
some transition scholars have argued that ‘societal transitions’ also ‘transcend individuals systems and comprises
various system innovations at different scale-levels and over a long-term period of time’ (Rotmans and Loorbach
2010). In that case, a societal transition can be distinguished from a societal transformation in the sense that a
transition can be considered to be a specific form of transformation. A transition is defined as radical change that
follows a particular non-linear path, typically over a period of one to two generations. Such societal transition can be
considered a type of societal transformation. However, not all societal transformations necessarily follow such a
transition path. As such, societal transformation as a concept is broader than the concept of societal transitions.
So when we apply this concept of transformative social innovation to our empirical example of
the economic crisis and the processes of change and innovation around it what do we observe?
Which interactions do we observe between the game-changer of the economic crisis, the
narratives of change around the ‘new economy’, the (called for) system innovations in financial
and welfare system reform, and social innovations such as complementary currencies and
resiliency communities? What evidence is there, if any, that these interactions might be leading to
emergent ‘societal transformation’?
Over time, the path-dependent development of the neo-liberal, capitalism based financial-
economic system has not only led to increasing concentrations of power and wealth, but also to
increasing tensions and urgency around the mentioned persistencies. However, the counter-
narratives and ‘alternative’ social innovations have also matured over time, gaining (in some
instances but not all) increasing attention, support and legitimacy. Combined, these forces could
now be understood as facilitating processes of change that can (eventually) provide the right
ingredients for a transformative social innovation dynamic that could lead to ‘societal
transformation’ (presumably towards enhancing global well-being and achieving ecological
sustainability). A game-changer such as the economic crisis can offer scope for progressive
developments, including (renewed debates about) a ‘merging’ of the public, private and civil
spheres to support social innovation, opening the possibility for all of these sectors to work
together in creating/supporting social innovation based around new economic models. The
economic crisis contributes to the collective understanding of the persistency and
unsustainability of the dominant discourse and practices and seems to encourage a diffusion of
However, empirical observations also suggest a more nuanced interpretation: while indeed the
crisis has encouraged the search for alternatives, these seem still very diverse, fragmented and
small scale to provide a full scale solution. While the legitimacy of capitalism has been questioned,
this has not as yet proven to be a ‘fatal blow’. The same pressures (and power relations) that led
to the economic crisis not being foreseen (and/or allowed to happen) may likely affect the way in
which the game-changer is understood and acted upon by society. Actors have developed certain
(counter-)narratives in response to the economic crisis, but at the same time, the economic crisis
has been used to support pre-existing ideological positions and narratives. Nevertheless, the
search for new and adapted models of capitalism as well as for alternative, complementary and
blended approaches to how societies meet their needs, has been boosted and given added urgency
by the tensions and contradictions that the economic and financial crises have brought to the fore
(Hudson, 2014; Weaver, 2014; Rifkin, 2014). The economic crisis can be interpreted then as both
a symptom of the underlying persistence and unsustainability of the currently dominant system,
as well as a trigger for the acceleration of transformative social innovation.
8 Conclusion: Future Research on Transformative Social Innovation
In this paper, we have discussed the concept of transformative social innovation, as the process
through which social innovation contributes to societal transformation. We have introduced a
conceptual heuristic that proposes five foundational concepts to help distinguish between
different pertinent ‘shades’ of change and innovation. Our central hypothesis is that societal
transformation is the result of specific ‘co-evolutionary’ interactions between social innovations,
system innovations, narrative of change, and game-changers, as distinct but intertwined and
partly overlapping dimensions of innovation and change (see figure 2 and table 1). We have
elaborated on the background and meaning of each of these concepts, with references to existing
literature in transition studies and social innovation research, and with empirical illustrations.
After introducing this conceptual heuristic for studying transformative social innovation, we have
explored its application to various dimensions of change and innovation associated with the
economic crisis.
We have taken the recent economic crisis as an empirical example of a ‘game-changing’ macro-
development, and discussed how it is perceived to cause tensions under the prevailing logic of
existing arrangements (e.g. unemployment, public funding crises, inability to pay pensions, etc.)
that cannot be solved within that current logic. The economic crisis have spurred debates about
the unsustainability of our current economic systems, and has drawn new attention to various
‘narratives of change’ around a ‘new economy’ (e.g. the ‘sharing economic’, ‘circular economy’ or
‘Big Society’). Intertwined with those narratives of change, are (calls for) ‘system innovation’ in
the form of e.g. welfare system reforms and new financial investment schemes. Meanwhile,social
innovations’ on the ground provide alternative socio-economic practices, such as complementary
currencies and new design principles for local production (as manifested in initiatives and
networks such as e.g. Time Banks and Transition Towns). None of these examples are entirely
‘new’, nor are they explicit ‘responses’ to the economic crisis. However, the perceived economic
crisis has provided these alternative narratives, structures and practices with a ‘boost’ of renewed
interest and with opportunities for new combinations. Combined, these forces can be understood
as providing necessary (but not necessarily sufficient) ingredients for a transformative social
innovation dynamic that could lead to a ‘societal transformation’ of modern societies and their
socio-economic paradigms.
A major challenge for future research lies in further empirical and theoretical research to (1)
scrutinise these hypothetical insights on the dynamics of transformative social innovation, and
(2) further develop and deepen the conceptual heuristic. This is part of the mission of the
TRANSIT-project for the next three years. Theoretically, TRANSIT aims to draw on a variety of
research fields and (meta-) theoretical perspectives on social change and innovation, so as to
develop a ‘middle-range’ theory of transformative social innovation (Haxeltine et al. 2013, 2014).
This theory-development is grounded and tested in empirical analysis of 20
networks/movements that (aim to) work on transformative social innovation, including an
analysis of the manifestations of these networks/movement in a total of 200 initiatives across
Europe and Latin-America 14 . This will partly be about investigating how individual actors
themselves perceive and (re)construct different forms of change and innovation, and how actors
are (dis)empowered to contribute to transformative social innovation.
14 An overview of networks/movement under study so far, can be found at
This future research will also require a deepening of different ‘shades’ of such (dis)empowerment.
The perspectives introduced in this paper could imply that ‘social innovators’ can increase the
transformative potential of their social innovations, by smartly playing into the societal ‘game-
changers’ of their times, while simultaneously connecting to political (calls for) ‘system
innovation’, as well as linking up with multi-layered ‘narratives of change’ in both mainstream
and grassroots movements. By anticipating game-changers and the inevitable tensions in
perceived ‘crises’, actors can prepare for strategically proposing ‘systemic alternatives’ when key
windows of opportunity open up (Rotmans et al. 2001, Loorbach & Lijnis-Hueffenreuter 2013). A
related challenge and aim in the TRANSIT project is to further specify and translate these insights
into concrete and accessible recommendations and ‘tools’ that can be used by social
entrepreneurs, activist and policy makers who aim to facilitate transformative social innovation.
The (dis)empowerment of actors also raises questions about the politics and governance of
transformative social innovation. Game-changers such as the economic crisis tend to give rise to
(or at least coincide with) emerging social unrest, political debates, discussions about the
dismantling/redefining of the state, and debates about the (re)scaling of governance mechanisms.
Social innovation initiatives such as the examples discussed in this paper (e.g. complementary
currencies and resilient communities), often go hand in hand with narratives on ‘(re)localisation’
(Bailey et al. 2010), ‘self-governance’ and ‘self-organisation’ (Eriksson 2012, Meerkerk et al. 2012,
Boonstra & Boelens 2011). A pertinent question is how these narratives on new forms of
governance relate to the role(s) of governments and inter-governmental institutions such as the
EU, and how (the interaction between) different type of governance responses and approaches
influence the dynamics of transformative social innovation.
By investigating these different dimensions of transformative social innovation, and by
developing a conceptual heuristic to do so, TRANSIT aims to contribute to the emerging field of
social innovation research (Franz et al. 2012, Moulaert et al. 2013), in particular regarding its
increasing attention for issues of ‘systemic change’ and ‘scaling’ (NESTA 2013). These issues
confront us with a paradox inherent to the social sciences: on the one hand the need to distinguish
conceptual levels and scales, and on the other hand the risk of reducing these to abstract ideal-
types separated from experiences in practice. Another complicating factor concerns the
interdisciplinary context in which the debates on social innovation take place. As argued by
Westley (2013): “social innovation is not really a field yet, it is a set of new interests that are deeply
grounded in tradition” across a variety of fields and disciplines, including innovation process
theory, social movement theory, social entrepreneurship studies, institutional entrepreneurship,
research on sustainability transitions and system innovations, resilience and socio-ecological
resilience and transformation, and several others. Each of these fields has its own conceptions and
languages when it comes to distinguishing different scales and levels. As such, there is a need for
a conceptual language that offers flexible distinctions between different dimensions of innovation
and change and can be used for an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary dialogue between
academics and practitioners. With our conceptual heuristic and its further development in the
TRANSIT project, we hope to contribute to such dialogue on the transformative potential of social
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... Those new structures could coexist with the traditional ones or replace them with new governance arrangements , contributing to sustainable development and social change (Bock, 2016;Howaldt et al., 2018). Indeed, scholars of transformative innovation (Avelino et al., 2014.;Castro-Arce and Vanclay, 2020;Haxeltine et al., 2016) stress the transformative power of SI to create new agency that changes agendas and institutions. In this way, transformative SI influences "socio-political roles and routines, beliefs, knowledge, power flows, and resources" (de Fátima Ferreiro et al., 2021), and thus is a normative process, that can result in all shades of positive as well as negative transformations . ...
... In this way, our research demonstrates that phases of the development of SI should not be taken as fixed, as SI agency evolves through time and undertakes new parallel actions (Avelino et al., 2014.;Dalla Torre et al., 2020;Haxeltine et al., 2016;Wittmayer et al., 2017). ...
... Les chercheur·es du programme TRANSIT rapprochent explicitement l'innovation sociale à la perspective multi-niveaux des Sustainability Transitions Studies. Iels comprennent les innovations sociales comme émergeant dans les niches du régime dominant et se déployant dans le régime tout en le transformant potentiellement (voir Avelino et al., 2014). Iels ont réalisé une étude de vingt réseaux transnationaux d'innovations sociales et de 100 initiatives associées et développé un cadre explicatif à partir des résultats. ...
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Ce volume se comprend comme une contribution au défi qui se pose aux Sciences sociales et humaines d’appréhender les transformations sociétales profondes - conçues comme nécessaires pour faire face aux crises multiples contemporaines. Le chapitre 1 part de l’axiome que la transition des sociétés (post)industrielles vers la soutenabilité consiste en un changement sociétal d’ordre ontologique, et argumente que les SHS doivent se doter d’outils conceptuels « en-dehors » de l’épistème moderne afin de se mettre en capacité d’observer et d’analyser les signes éventuels de l’émergence d’autres ontologies. Pour ce faire, il propose d’enrichir les cadres conceptuels des Sustainability Transitions Studies avec des outils conceptuels a-normatifs dont se dote la Critical Development Geography contemporaine. Ainsi, le chapitre 2 analyse l’évolution des approches et concepts de la Critical Development Geography dans son double effort d’analyser les changements sociétaux et l’altérité dans les Suds. Il retrace sa sortie successive du cadre normatif moderne, notamment à partir des années 1990, et montre le potentiel de certaines notions comme celles de l’hybridité, des conflits ontologiques et des territorialités divergentes pour appréhender des ontologies en dehors de l’épistème moderne. Le chapitre 3 explore ensuite les cadres conceptuels desquels se dotent les Sustainability Transitions Studies, jeune champ de recherche international et interdisciplinaire qui s’attache à l’étude et la conceptualisation de transitions sociétales vers la soutenabilité. Il met en lumière certaines faiblesses conceptuelles qui empêchent de cerner les transformations sociétales profondes et les conditions de leur émergence. Le chapitre 4 propose un assemblage conceptuel au croisement entre ces deux champs de recherche, permettant de saisir le caractère ontologique et spatial de dynamiques de transformations à partir d’innovations sociales par le bas. Ces propositions conceptuelles s’appuient sur une exploration-démonstration à partir d'une étude de cas d’innovations sociales en moyenne montagne en France et en Italie.
... "windows of opportunity" for organizational reforms as well as wider policy change (Boin et al., 2007). Accordingly, as disruptions to normal routines and practices, crises demand novel and rapid responses which, in turn, can foster innovation (Bessant et al., 2012;Avelino et al., 2014;Gkeredakis et al., 2021;Oborn et al., 2021). Orlikowski and Scott (2021), for example, argue that crises create opportunities to engage in "liminal innovation," by leveraging the tensions arising from disruptions to improve established organizational practices and processes. ...
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The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has, from the outset, been characterized by a strong focus on real-time data intelligence and the use of data-driven technologies. Against this backdrop, this article investigates the impacts of the pandemic on Scottish local government’s data practices and, in turn, whether the crisis acted as a driver for digital transformation. Mobilizing the literatures on digital government transformation, and on the impacts of crises on public administrations, the article provides insights into the dynamics of digital transformation during a heightened period of acute demands on the public sector. The research evidences an intensification of public sector data use and sharing in Scottish local authorities, with focus on health-related data and the integration of existing datasets to gather local intelligence. The research reveals significant changes related to the technical and social systems of local government organizations. These include the repurposing and adoption of information systems, the acceleration of inter and intraorganizational data sharing processes, as well as changes in ways of working and in attitudes toward data sharing and collaborations. Drawing on these findings, the article highlights the importance of identifying and articulating specific data needs in relation to concrete policy questions in order to render digital transformation relevant and effective. The article also points to the need of addressing the persistent systemic challenges underlying public sector data engagement through, on one hand, sustained investment in data capabilities and infrastructures and, on the other, support for cross-organizational collaborative spaces and networks.
... So-called rooted learning-based solutions take local histories, dynamics and capacities as a starting point for co-creating solutions (Kronlid, 2014). While there is a growing body of research on 'niche innovations' (Avelino et al., 2014;Haxeltine et al., 2013), which we refer to in this article as sustainability initiatives, little research has been done on the actual learning that takes place in these sustainability initiatives. In this study, we attempt to understand the character of the learning processes that underpin place-based sustainability initiatives. ...
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This article explores learning processes that underpin ecovillages as place based ‘sustainability initiatives’. Through the theoretical lens of place- based transformative learning (PBTL), developed in earlier work ( Pisters et al., 2019 , 2020 ), empirical data from life-story interviews and photovoice sessions from three ecovillages is analysed and discussed. The results support, illustrate and deepen the meaning of the four dimensions of the theoretical framework: connection to place, compassionate connection, creativity and transgression. They show how the co-existence of ‘community’ and ‘disruption’ is essential in PBTL where community brings connection, cohesion and stability to a change process whereas disruption paves the way for disrupting old structures and experiment with new ones. This article shows how a change in inner consciousness is related to alternative practices and structures that re-define relationships with ourselves, other humans and the material, more-than-human world.
... With a view to finding pathways toward regenerative civilizations such intentional communities are pioneers of the future as well as learning laboratories. In transformation as well as transition research, it is widely acknowledged that social change at scale requires top-down approaches, such as advanced and future-oriented policy decisions, and the connection and mutual learning of bottom-up approaches which model the societal, or even global change (Avelino et al., 2014;Rotmans & Loorbach, 2010). It is important to note that in addition to administrative transformation efforts and innovative communities, a new phenomenon has emerged in the last ten years: global alliances and networks of networks which subscribe to transformative change at scale and organize around issues and themes across the globe Waddell et al., 2015). ...
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This chapter elaborates how the cultural perspective of Chinese philosophy supports an interconnected worldview. The author elaborates how three fundamental Chinese traditional beliefs not only manifest in social life in China, but could make a decisive contribution to the emerging narratives around regenerative civilization. In Chinese harmonic philosophy, the assumption is that in their core all people are good and kind and that part of the social obligation is to grow by taking care and trusting each other, while protecting the essential human virtues in a harmonic atmosphere. In this philosophical tradition, personal development is not isolated from others, and it begins in the self and emerges gradually into the family-oriented self, then into the extended family-oriented self, and finally into taking responsibility for one’s organization, the community, and even the state, respectively, the globality of all people. All these layers are inseparably linked. The author suggests that China’s contribution to mastering the global challenges in the Anthropocene goes far beyond technological and political capacities to meet ecological, social, and ecological targets. The treasures of Chinese philosophy offer opportunities to reframe our views of reality in a way that may be much more in service of well-being on a healthy planet.
... With a view to finding pathways toward regenerative civilizations such intentional communities are pioneers of the future as well as learning laboratories. In transformation as well as transition research, it is widely acknowledged that social change at scale requires top-down approaches, such as advanced and future-oriented policy decisions, and the connection and mutual learning of bottom-up approaches which model the societal, or even global change (Avelino et al., 2014;Rotmans & Loorbach, 2010). It is important to note that in addition to administrative transformation efforts and innovative communities, a new phenomenon has emerged in the last ten years: global alliances and networks of networks which subscribe to transformative change at scale and organize around issues and themes across the globe Waddell et al., 2015). ...
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This chapter suggests that humankind needs to reconsider its relationship with the planet’s amazing miracle: Life . Shifts in mindsets need to reflect this emerging new view of reality. COVID-19 as a global pandemic has alerted many people not only to the need to realign humankind’s relationship with nature, but also highlighted the global interconnectedness and the vulnerability of people. The increasing concern for the future of humanity and our life-support system needs reflections about the underlying view of reality that informs approaches to transformations. If humanity wants to rise up to collective stewardship towards stabilizing the trajectories of our planet, transformation actors need to become humble partners of life’s potential to renew and replenish. The chapter introduces the concept of systems aliveness as a guiding compass for transformative change. It emphasizes that understanding what gives life to systems needs to be at the centre of emerging transformation literacy. Drawing from multiple, interdisciplinary sources of the systems aliveness approach offers an avenue to reorientate transformation efforts around six generic principles. Using these principles as a lens to designing transformation initiatives and translating them into a stewardship architecture provides creative pathways for the long journey to regenerative civilizations.
... With a view to finding pathways toward regenerative civilizations such intentional communities are pioneers of the future as well as learning laboratories. In transformation as well as transition research, it is widely acknowledged that social change at scale requires top-down approaches, such as advanced and future-oriented policy decisions, and the connection and mutual learning of bottom-up approaches which model the societal, or even global change (Avelino et al., 2014;Rotmans & Loorbach, 2010). It is important to note that in addition to administrative transformation efforts and innovative communities, a new phenomenon has emerged in the last ten years: global alliances and networks of networks which subscribe to transformative change at scale and organize around issues and themes across the globe Waddell et al., 2015). ...
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This chapter examines from systems and livelihood perspectives, with Nemoral and Boreal forest zones of the Global North and Sweden as examples, how forestry may meet current and future sustainability challenges both as a traditional resource base and with respect to other ecosystem services. Previous and current forest policy/governance is briefly described against the background that Swedish forestry is based both on huge holdings by few industrial owners as well as on a multitude of small individual, often family owned, forest estates. Successful delivery against environmental objectives will require careful balancing of interests and the active participation of local forest owners. Cumulative effects of old and new societal demands on forestry and their impact on local livelihoods poses in this respect a systemic risk as economic and social sustainability often gets limited consideration. There is a need for a more synoptic and systemic analysis of how forestry is affected by multiple, partly contradictory, demands from an increasing array of stakeholders, in order to enable a move towards a biobased economy. Stakeholder-based group modelling is a potentially powerful analytic and conflict reducing approach that could help improve forestry’s contribution to the acute need to handle the climate change and current sustainability challenges.
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Cette thèse propose de nouvelles avenues théoriques et des recommandations pour la pratique en santé publique et communautaire qui reconnaissent les particularités contextuelles des pays à faible ressource, comme le Burkina Faso et le Mali. Spécifiquement, elle suggère que la mise à l’échelle et la pérennisation devraient être considérées comme un impératif dans les processus d’innovation pour lutter contre les inégalités sociales grandissantes dans les pays d’Afrique. Elles pourraient également favoriser des changements durables dans les systèmes, les politiques, les conditions de vie des personnes et la société en général. Pour cela, certains principes forts sont à valoriser dans les processus d’innovation, tels que la participation de toutes les parties prenantes ; le caractère dynamique et récursif des processus et des pratiques ; la mise en œuvre des pratiques inclusives axées sur l’équité, la qualité et l’équilibre des pouvoirs.
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L’innovation sociale suscite un intérêt grandissant de la part des administrations municipales. Or, l’adoption de processus d’innovation sociale par une organisation municipale comporte son lot d’ajustements auxarrangements institutionnels. Cet article s’intéresse au développement et à la promotion de processus d’innovation sociale par des acteurs non gouvernementaux à l’échelle municipale. L’objectif est d’identifier les barrières institutionnelles et bureaucratiques à l’innovation sociale, et d’offrir un cadre conceptuel aux praticiens faisant face à cet enjeu afin de favoriser le franchissement de ces barrières. Social innovation is attracting growing interest from municipal governments. However, the adoption of social innovation processes by a municipal organization involves adjustments to the institutional arrangements. This article focuses on the development and promotion of social innovation processes by municipal non-governmental actors. The objective is to identify the institutional and bureaucratic barriers to social innovation, and to offer a conceptual framework to practitioners facing this problem to help overcome these barriers.
Large-scale infrastructure plays instrumental roles in defining trajectories of land use, influencing the distribution of risk, and enabling or eroding ecological and social wellbeing. While considerable attention has been paid to the outcomes and implications of such infrastructure investments, less analytical attention has been given to the decision processes of infrastructure investment intended to enhance sustainability transformations. Decision-making over infrastructure is characterized by uncertainty — in which the system models and probability functions are unknown, and the desired outcomes are highly controversial. Approaches are needed to address issues of political contention and power asymmetries, disparate values, justice and equity in large-scale infrastructure decision-making. All these elements augment uncertainty and challenge decision processes, while underscoring the role of knowledge co-production. We draw from empirical cases in Mexico and Vietnam to highlight promising directions and an emergent research agenda on addressing these challenges in infrastructural decision processes.
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The contributors provide an overview of theoretical perspectives, methodologies and instructive experiences from all continents, as well as implications for collective action and policy. They argue strongly for social innovation as a key to human development. The Handbook defines social innovation as innovation in social relations within both micro and macro spheres, with the purpose of satisfying unmet or new human needs across different layers of society. It connects social innovation to empowerment dynamics, thus giving a political character to social movements and bottom-up governance initiatives. Together these should lay the foundations for a fairer, more democratic society for all.
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The challenges of sustainable development (and climate change and peak oil, in particular) demand system-wide transformations in sociotechnical systems of provision. An academic literature around coevolutionary innovation for sustainability has recently emerged as an attempt to understand the dynamics and directions of such sociotechnical transformations, which are termed 'sustainability transitions'. This literature has previously focused on market-based technological innovations. Here we apply it to a new context of civil-society-based social innovation and examine the role of community-based initiatives in a transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy in the UK. We present new empirical research from a study of the UK's Transition Towns movement (a 'grassroots innovation') and assess its attempts to grow and infl uence wider societal sociotechnical systems. By applying strategic niche management theory to this civil society context, we deliver theoretically informed practical recommendations for this movement to diff use beyond its niche: to foster deeper engagement with resourceful regime actors; to manage expectations more realistically by delivering tangible opportunities for action and participation; and to embrace a community-based, action-oriented model of social change (in preference to a cognitive theory of behaviour change). Furthermore, our study indicates areas where theory can be refi ned to better explain the growth and broader impacts of grassroots innovations —namely, through a fuller appreciation of the importance of internal niche processes, by understanding the important role of identity and group formation, and by resolving how social practices change in grassroots innovations.
My aim in this chapter is to outline an analytical framework for the study of belonging and the politics of belonging. It is important to differentiate between the two. Belonging is about emotional attachment, about feeling ‘at home’ and, as Michael Ignatieff (2001) points out, about feeling ‘safe’. In the aftermath of 7/7, the 2005 bombings in London, such a definition takes on a new, if problematic, poignancy. Belonging tends to be naturalised, and becomes articulated and politicised only when it is threatened in some way. The politics of belonging comprises specific political projects aimed at constructing belonging in particular ways, to particular collectivities that are, at the same time, themselves being constructed by these projects in very particular ways. An analytical differentiation between belonging and the politics of belonging is, therefore, crucial for any critical political discourse on nationalism, racism or other contemporary politics of belonging (see Yuval-Davis 2011). In this chapter, there is only space to outline some of the central features of such an analytical framework.
In recent years, social innovation has experienced a steep career. Numerous national governments and large organisations like the OECD, the European Commission and UNESCO have adopted the term. Social innovation basically means that people adopt new social practices in order to meet social needs in a different or more effective way. Prominent examples of the past are the Red Cross and the social welfare state or, at present, the internet 2.0 transforming our communication and cooperation schemes, requiring new management concepts, even empowering social revolutions. The traditional concept of innovation as successful new technological products needs fundamental rethinking in a society marked by knowledge and services, leading to a new and enriched paradigm of innovation. There is multiple evidence that social innovation will become of growing importance not only concerning social integration, equal opportunities and dealing with the greenhouse effects but also with regard to preserving and expanding the innovative capacity of companies and societies. While political authorities stress the social facets of social innovation, this book also encompasses its societal and systemic dimensions, collecting the scientific expertise of renowned experts and scholars from all over the world. Based on the contributions of the first world-wide science convention on social innovation from September 2011 in Vienna, the book provides an overview of scientific approaches to this still relatively new field. Forewords by Agnès HUBERT (Member of the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) of the European Commission) and Antonella Noya (Senior Policy Analyst at OECD, manager of the OECD LEED Forum on Social Innovations).
The introduction to the book provides information about the coordinates and intentions of the Challenge Social Innovation Conference that took place in September 2011 in Vienna. This conference was the principal background and framework of the book presented here. The introduction highlights the focal points of the authors invited to contribute to this book.
In light of the increasing importance of social innovation, this paper explores the question of what (new) roles social sciences can play in analyzing and shaping social innovation. The paper starts with an overview of the current situation and the perspectives of socio-scientific innovation research that have greatly contributed to the development and spread of an enlightened socio-scientific understanding of innovation. Against the backdrop of clear paradoxes and confusion in prevailing politics of innovation, the contours of a new innovation paradigm are becoming visible and causing social innovation to grow in importance. Consistently, the social sciences will be challenged to redefine their functions with regard to innovation. In the past, innovation research in the context of social sciences has contributed heavily to explain the social dimensions, the complexity and paradoxa of innovation processes. Henceforth, much will depend on realigning the range of competencies of social science and social scientists by contributing actively to the development and integration of innovations as well as by developing social innovation.
'Frank Geels's book gives us a new perspective on how society moves from one technological regime to another. Understanding these transitions is essential if we are to get to grips with what we need to do to switch our societies to more sustainable states and how technologies figure in that switch.' - Ken Green, Institute of Innovation Research, The University of Manchester, UK This important book addresses how long term and large scale shifts from one socio-technical system to another come about, using insights from evolutionary economics, sociology of technology and innovation studies. These major changes involve not just technological changes, but also changes in markets, regulation, culture, industrial networks and infrastructure.
This paper introduces the concept of an alternative milieu in order to provide a more thorough account of the nature and development of 'alternative' places. It argues that such places have been generally neglected within geography, and that where they have been the object of research it is usually through a narrow conceptual lens. It is argued that the concept of an alternative milieu provides three analytical benefits. Firstly, it highlights the diversity of alterity within a given locality, a factor that is obscured by simplistic place images or narrower analytical frames. Secondly, it emphasises the significance of geographically fixed institutions in the formation of alternative places. Thirdly, it provides an anchor concept around which the processes that lead to the formation of alternative places can be orientated. The utility of the concept is illustrated through a case study of the emergence of an alternative milieu around the market town of Totnes in the United Kingdom.