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The Critical Turning
Points database;
concept, methodology and
dataset of an international
Transformative Social
Innovation comparison
TRANSIT Working Paper #10, July 12th 2017
Pel, B., Bauler, T., Avelino, F., Backhaus, J., Ruijsink, S., Rach, S., Jørgensen, M.
S., Kunze, I., Voss, G., Dumitru, A., Lema Blanco, I., Afonso, R., Cipolla, C.,
Longhurst, N., Dorland, J. Elle, M., Balázs, B., Horváth, J., Matolay, R.,
Wittmayer, J., Valderrama Pineda, A., Serpa, B., Rösing Agostini, M., Lajarthe,
F., Garrido, S., Picabea, F., Moreira, J., Trentini, F., Bidinost, A., Weaver, P.,
Heimann, R., Skropke, C., Hoffmeister, K.L., Tawakol, D., Olivotto, V., Tsatsou,
A., Zahed, Y., Moet, R., Zuijderwijk, L., Renema, J. and Kemp, R.
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.
About this TRANSIT working paper:
This working paper presents the TRANSIT open-access online database on Critical Turning
Points in Transformative Social Innovation. It describes the dataset contained in the dataset, and
provides the theoretical-methodological context to the CTP data. It is collectively authored by all
researchers involved in the development of CTP analyses.
Suggested citation:
Pel, B., Bauler, T., Avelino, F., Backhaus, J., Ruijsink, S., Rach, S., Jørgensen, M. S., Kunze, I., Voss, G.,
Dumitru, A., Lema Blanco, I., Afonso, R., Cipolla, C., Longhurst, N., Dorland, J. Elle, M., Balázs, B.,
Horváth, J., Matolay, R., Wittmayer, J., Valderrama Pineda, A., Serpa, B., Rösing Agostini, M.,
Lajarthe, F., Garrido, S., Picabea, F., Moreira, J., Trentini, F., Bidinost, A., Weaver, P., Heimann, R.,
Skropke, C., Hoffmeister, K.L., Tawakol, D., Olivotto, V., Tsatsou, A., Zahed, Y., Moet, R.,
Zuijderwijk, L., Renema, J. and Kemp, R. (2017) The Critical Turning Points database; concept,
methodology and dataset of an international Transformative Social Innovation comparison,
(TRANSIT Working Paper # 10), TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.3.2-1 Grant agreement no: 613169.
Date: 12/07/2017
Authors: Pel, B. et al.
Online link:
Critical Turning Points database; concept, methodology and dataset of an
international Transformative Social Innovation comparison
Authors: Pel, B., Bauler, T., Avelino, F., Backhaus, J., Ruijsink, S., Rach, S., Jørgensen, M. S., Kunze,
I., Voss, G., Dumitru, A., Lema Blanco, I., Afonso, R., Cipolla, C., Longhurst, N., Dorland, J. Elle, M.,
Balázs, B., Horváth, J., Matolay, R., Wittmayer, J., Valderrama Pineda, A., Serpa, B., Rösing
Agostini, M., Lajarthe, F., Garrido, S., Picabea, F., Moreira, J., Trentini, F., Bidinost, A., Weaver, P.,
Heimann, R., Skropke, C., Hoffmeister, K.L., Tawakol, D., Olivotto, V., Tsatsou, A., Zahed, Y., Moet,
R., Zuijderwijk, L., Renema, J. and Kemp, R.
This working paper presents the TRANSIT open-access online database on Critical Turning
Points (CTP) in Transformative Social Innovation. It specifies the contents of the database,
comprising qualitative accounts of more than 450 ‘critical’ episodes in the evolution of social
innovation initiatives in 27 different countries. Providing the theoretical-methodological context
to these data, the paper also describes the theoretical background of the CTP concept and the
methodology though which the CTP accounts have been reconstructed through interviews with
members of SI initiatives. The paper concludes with reflections on the open access CTP database
as a knowledge infrastructure, discussing its significance in terms of mapping, dissemination
and framing of social innovation.
Critical Turning Points, database, meta-analysis, methodology, open access
Research Highlights
The co-production and process dynamics of Transformative Social Innovation can be
better understood through Critical Turning Points
The Critical Turning Points online database gathers data from 27 countries
Six key analytical dimensions of Critical Turning Points are distinguished
Development of the CTP database helps to understand social innovation knowledge
1 Introduction: a database for systematic Transformative Social Innovation
Practitioners, scientific observers and other parties with interests in social innovation (SI) have
reasons to believe that it can contribute to social transformation, and to consider the attendant
practical challenges of such Transformative Social Innovation (TSI) (see text box below for
definitions). The TRANSIT project therefore confronts the following questions: How, to what
extent and under which conditions does social innovation contribute to transformative change?
How are people empowered (or disempowered) to contribute to such processes? How to
conceptualise and study transformative social innovation?
This working paper addresses the latter question. It is focused on the issue of how to study TSI
and presents the online and open access Critical Turning Points database as a concrete response
to it. The database contains over 450 detailed accounts of important episodes in the
development processes of SI initiatives of various kinds, and in diverse contexts: data have been
gathered on SI initiatives in 27 different countries. Before going into its details, it is important to
consider how such database construction is important for the development of systematic
Transformative Social Innovation insights. As indicated by Bouchard & Trudelle (2013) and
McGowan & Westley (2015), there is not only a need to clarify the notoriously ambiguous
concept of social innovation, but most importantly there is also a need to move beyond
anecdotal and fragmented evidence on single cases. Having recently consolidated our latest
insights on TSI theory building (Haxeltine et al. 2017a) and having made use of the CTP database
in the meta-analysis of case studies that informed this theory development (Cf. Pel et al. 2017a),
the specific advantages of database construction have become clear.
As a consortium, and as a group of passionate researchers of processes of innovation and social
change, we have experienced how ‘anecdotal’ evidence is important but not sufficient. Even
when the evidence is more than anecdotal and is providing rich descriptions of particular cases,
it is still of limited value when dealing with a phenomenon as diverse as TSI. Throughout our
theory development process (2014-2017), individual researchers have clearly developed their
own insights into TSI through the particular case studies they have conducted or were
particularly acquainted with. Accordingly, our theorization process can be seen as a sustained
confrontation of imaginaries, projections and conceptualisations of TSI as they emerged from
specific cases. TSI was thus simultaneously modelled along, for example, the institutional
‘shadow systems’ of Timebanks yet also along the Basic Income and Participatory Budgeting
impulses towards Welfare State restructuring from within. Similarly it was simultaneously
thought of as deeply ethically motivated and as pragmatic, as struggle for basic rights and as
‘post-material’ politics, as encompassing counter-hegemonic system shifts and as modest
Social innovation: changing social relations, involving new ways of doing, knowing, framing
& organizing.
Transformative change: challenging, altering and/or replacing dominant institutions in
the social context.
Transformative social innovation: social innovation that contributes to transformative
Haxeltine et al. 2017
pockets of local institutional changes. More generally, initiatives towards TSI display great
differences in transformative ambitions and ways to realize those. The CTP database as a shared
knowledge base has crucially helped us to break through the confines of these valid but partial
fragments of evidence. In particular it has helped us move beyond the misleading exemplars of
TSI agency (projecting motivations and strategies onto the much more diverse world of TSI
activity), and beyond misplaced universalism about TSI contexts (neglecting how opportunities
for SI activities and transformative impacts differ greatly across countries, regions and historical
This development of systematic insight beyond the singular example is arguably of use for both
observers and practitioners of social innovation. The CTP database is therefore constructed as
an online and open access repository of data, disclosing research findings directly rather than
through scientific articles and working papers only. As will be detailed in further sections, the
reconstruction of critical episodes and the development of timelines of SI initiatives has been a
further measure to increase practical relevance. This commitment to open science and open
access disclosure does come with certain obligations, however. Whilst the database itself
provides only some of the background of the data presented in it, this working paper provides a
more complete account. Describing contents, methodology and concept of the CTP database, this
paper provides the crucial context of the data. This clarifies how the CTP files are not to be
confused for ‘factsheets’ on SI initiatives, but reality constructions developed through certain
procedures. Our contextualisation also raises attention to the fact that the CTP accounts are
based on interviews with individuals agreeing to participate, and products of analysis efforts by
individual researchers.
Having established the general rationale behind the CTP database and the aim of this paper to
provide contextualization, the paper proceeds as follows. First we describe the CTP concept as a
methodological response to our theoretical assumptions and to our commitments to practically
instructive theory (section 2). Next, we specify the dataset contained in the database, and the
methodological procedures through which the CTP accounts have been developed (section 3).
After outlining the scope for database deployment in terms of theory development and reflective
practice (section 4), we conclude with a brief reflection on the online open access database as a
knowledge infrastructure (section 5).
2 Critical Turning Points: investigating co-production and process dynamics
The CTP database started from the general ambition to ‘move beyond anecdotal evidence’
through larger-N data gathering and meta-analysis, and to develop an online platform for this as
a way to disclose empirical research to interested researchers and the wider public. This general
idea evolved further along several considerations on the kind of theory to be developed (Cf.
Haxeltine et al. 2017b) that came up in the course of the project. A first consideration has been
that the originally envisioned survey-based research testing of propositions did not fit with our
research philosophy (Cf. Pel et al. 2015). The quantitative verification and testing of theoretical
hypotheses would yield only suggestions of hard evidence, we considered. Our relational
understanding of SI resisted the decomposition of TSI processes into supposed factors and
causes, our proto-theoretical propositions were not amenable to falsification or verification, and
the large majority of researchers were attached to and well-trained in qualitative research. A
second consideration that brought us from a survey-based to a ‘quali-quantitative’ approach to
our meta-analysis pertained to the relations with the SI initiatives under study. We anticipated
that the Achilles’ heel of surveys, i.e. the response rate, would be a serious challenge for the
already apparent signs of SI initiatives overburdened with requests from researchers. As the
filling in of standardized forms would make for a too distanced and uninspiring mode of data
gathering, qualitative interviews were to be preferred as a rather dialogue-based mode of
inquiry. Moreover, we considered that the systematized but compressed insights from survey
research would easily become so ‘dry’, abstract and general that they wouldn’t bring much
practically relevant insights on the challenges of SI and the dynamics of TSI processes. In order
to meet our commitments to developing instructive knowledge on empowerment and
disempowerment (Cf. Avelino et al. 2017), the database would have to convey a degree of lived-
through experience.
Through the above considerations on research philosophy and the kind of theory development
to be supported, the database has become structured through the CTP concept. The concept,
defined as “moments or events in processes at which initiatives undergo or decide for changes of
course”, is arguably both easy to relate to and theoretically fruitful. Critical Turning Points are
moments in time, phases or episodes in which the challenges that SI initiatives experience
become particularly evident: their struggles to sustain themselves and gain access to resources,
their attempts to strike a balance between the sometimes divergent strivings and motivations of
members, their efforts to establish linkages with allies, their confrontations with dominant
institutions, and their adaptations to changes in their immediate action field and the broader
social-material context. As such, qualitative accounts of CTPs provide insights on two key
aspects of Transformative Social Innovation (Cf. Haxeltine et al. 2017a,b):
1) TSI as dynamic process. TSI is, by definition, a research topic of change and
transformation. In line with process-theoretical approaches in innovation theory and
transitions theory (Garud & Gehman 2012), we have tried to take this basic given very
seriously in our theorization. As moments of change, CTP accounts were gathered to gain
empirical insight into the ways in which supposedly stable entities, actors and factors evolve
over time. SI initiatives emerge, change course, merge, and sometimes collapse.
Transformative impacts are achieved in certain ‘periods of contention’ or rather as results of
slow, continuous change, and they may be either short-lived or enduring. Moreover, by
gathering series of CTP accounts (Cf. next section), TSI theory can be developed in the form of
typical phases and sequences of events.
2) TSI as co-produced phenomenon. We have defined social relation in terms of changing
social relations, and TSI as processes in which social innovations challenge, alter and/or
replace dominant institutions. TSI is therefore a collective achievement. CTP accounts typically
provide insights into this, as such important events or phases tend not fall from the blue sky.
As moments of change, CTP accounts elicit how SI initiatives themselves involve co-production
between individuals, how SI initiatives co-produce in local or international networks of SI
initiatives, how TSI is co-produced by SI initiatives and their interactions with dominant
institutions and other entities, and how all these interactions are further shaped by changes in
a broader social-material context. Showing the co-production of TSI, CTP accounts bring out
why SI initiatives are important trailblazers of innovation but not the exclusive origins of it
(Cipolla et al. 2017, Pel et al. 2017b).
The next section specifies how CTP accounts have been developed, and how this has led to a
diverse dataset with CTP timelines on approximately 80 local SI initiatives in 27 different
(mostly European and Latin American) countries. These SI initiatives belong to 20 transnational
SI networks.
3 CTP database: data gathering, interpretation and dataset
This section circumscribes the contents of the CTP database. After describing the CTP timelines
as the structuring principle of the database (3.1), we specify the contents and underlying
interpretive procedures of individual CTP accounts (3.2). The last subsection provides an
overview of the dataset (3.3).
3.1 CTP timelines
As a database meant to provide qualitative accounts of co-produced TSI processes, the CTP
database is compiled of timelines of approximately (pending difficulties to access and
permissions to publish) 80 SI initiatives. Each of these timelines contain 6 qualitative accounts
of Critical Turning Points, as well several ‘related events’. These ‘related events’ (Cf. section 3.2)
are events that somehow evoked certain CTPs, or events that were evoked by them. The
screenshot below displays a segment of these timelines, where the ‘related events’ (in black)
indicate a series of developments at the science-policy interface in which an apparent political
breakthrough in the Dutch basic income debate was - in certain aspects - a CTP (in orange). The
‘read more’ sign in the CTP box leads to the extensive qualitative accounts on it, of on average
around 2000 words.
Figure 1: Fragment of a CTP timeline
3.2 CTP accounts: dimensions and interpretation
The timelines are the most immediate displays of the kinds of turns of events that TSI ‘journeys’
may take, and of the ways in which co-produced TSI processes may unfold. The ‘related events’
enhance this immediate overview yet the six CTP accounts contained in the timelines provide
the more in-depth accounts of particularly important events and phases. All CTPs have been
structured around the following 6 topics, which together elicit key aspects of TSI co-production
processes (Cf. Pel et al. 2017a:14):
1) Contents. What did this CTP consist of, and when (at what date or in which specific period) did
it happen? In what way did it constitute a CTP?
2) Co-production. What particular events/people/developments/circumstances/conditions/
spatial environment made the CTP happen?
3) Related events. What earlier events (coming from within or from outside) were crucial to the
CTP to happen and when (at what date or in which period) did they occur? Which important
later events were evoked by the CTP and when (at what date or in which period) did they occur?
4) Contestation. To what extent did the CTP involve contestation? What was the contestation
about, and who were involved in it? How (if at all) was the contestation overcome?
5) Anticipation. Was the CTP, as identified now, also understood as CTP at the time when it
occurred? Or is it an understanding that developed later? Had it (and the events/people/etc.
that evoked it) been foreseen or anticipated?
6) Learning. What are the change ambitions of your initiative, and how did the CTP make a
positive or negative contribution towards achieving those? If you were to draw a lesson about
this CTP, what would this be? How does the CTP relate to the current challenges of your
The qualitative CTP accounts have been constructed on the basis of interviews (following the
questions displayed above) with representatives or individuals otherwise involved with SI
initiatives. As the organizational structures and cultures of SI initiatives generally make it
impossible to fully speak on behalf of the collective, all CTP accounts are provided with meta-
data that specify the interviewees’ relation to the SI initiative whilst in some cases, personal
data have been rendered anonymous for reasons of sensitivity. In order to convey some of
interviewees’ lived-through experience and their telling expressions about CTP episodes, the
files contain direct quotes (recognizable as such through italics and meta-data). The CTP files
mainly contain researchers’ interpretations and paraphrasing of interviews however. This
reflects the circumstance that researchers have generally had large parts in the construction of
CTP accounts: Interviewees’ accounts needed to be fitted in with the six database
categories/CTP topics, what appeared as detail needed to be filtered out to keep the files
concise, and the broader relevance to TSI topics needed to be elicited. In some cases the
researchers even decided to recombine interviews and accounts of more than one interviewee,
in order to construct sufficiently distinct, understandable and interesting CTP accounts. The
sensitivity of online open access publication is another reason for presenting CTP accounts not
as direct and pure accounts of interviewees, but as interpretations (for which interviewers bear
responsibility). Whilst trying to convey the essence of respondents’ interesting insights, the CTP
accounts are presented as researchers’ reality constructions rather than as real-life recordings.
Regarding the validity of the CTP data, it needs to be said that the broad scope of the CTP data
gathering has not allowed for exhaustive research of the timelines. The six CTPs per initiative
have been constructed through on average about 4 different respondents per initiatives. This
has allowed for a degree of data triangulation, i.e. different viewpoints on certain timeline
events. More generally, TRANSIT researchers have tried to ensure the quality of CTP accounts by
aiming for diversity in interviewees (position in the initiative, acquaintance with particular
topics, early and later members). This has avoided dramatically unbalanced or biased accounts,
but it needs to be considered that the CTP database provides situated accounts of TSI, based on
perceptions of SI actors that foreground some aspects whilst backgrounding others. The CTP
database can therefore not be used through a survey logic; an interpretive approach to the
evidence is required.
3.3 Dataset: SI initiatives, networks and countries
The data-set has been built up following the case selection of the earlier phase of embedded in-
depth case studies. Each of these 20 studies comprised analyses of one transnational SI network
and two of its ‘local manifestations’ in different European and Latin-American countries (Cf.
Jørgensen et al. 2016). The original sample of 2x20=40 of these local initiatives was afterwards
expanded for the CTP database to 80, i.e. four local initiatives for each SI network. The database
thus features timelines and descriptions of local SI initiatives somehow associated with the
following 20 transnational networks:
SI Network
Global Ecovillage
Network (GEN)
Network of eco-villages and other intentional communities
Transition Towns
Grassroots communities working on ‘local resilience’
Network of communities and municipalities reinventing how public money is spent
and prioritized
Connecting and empowering urban sharing initiatives
Living Knowledge
Network of science shops and community-based research entities
DESIS network
Network for design for social innovation and sustainability
Living Labs
co-creative, human-centric and user-driven research, development and innovation
Seed Exchange
Protects biodiversity by defending seed freedom for integrity, self-organization and
Impact Hubs
Global network of social entrepreneurs
Different types of credit cooperatives
Slow Food
Linking food to a commitment to sustainable local and global development
Associations that co-working for sustainable inclusive habitat
International network of sustainable energy NGOs
Digital fabrication workshops open to local communities
User driven digital fabrication workshops
Via Campesina
Aiming for family farming to promote social justice and dignity
Connects people committed to basic income and fosters informed discussion
Networks facilitating reciprocal service exchange
Network for the promotion of social solidarity economy
Network for financial support to social entrepreneurs
Table 1: Transnational SI networks
Local SI initiatives .
The above SI networks and the associated network organisations have been studied earlier for
their contributions to TSI processes and their empowerment of local initiatives or ‘local
manifestations’ (Cf. Jørgensen et al. 2016; Haxeltine et al. 2017a Chapter 5). The CTP research
has focused instead on the analytical level of the ‘local initiatives’, as locally embedded groups of
actors that are relatively more directly involved with the concrete action of promoting new
social relations. The ‘local initiatives’ are organized collectives of individuals seeking to promote
certain social innovations. They can be ‘local’ in the sense of Ecovillages or Transition Towns,
situated in particular places, but they can also be national affiliations or sub-networks of the
above transnational networks: they are ‘local’ relative to the transnational networks that they
are somehow part of. More generally, it is important to realize that transnational SI networks
and SI initiatives exist in widely differing organizational forms and network structures. Local SI
initiatives and SI networks tend to be collectives with less than clear-cut membership. Whilst
cooperatives and Timebanks are quite well-demarcated associations for example, there are also
initiatives that are formed around shared ideas and values (e.g. basic income, Slow Food). The
CTP accounts have therefore crucially involved researchers’ interpretations and case
constructions to develop comparable and insightful CTP accounts on certain SI initiatives. This
identification and demarcation of the ‘local SI initiatives’ has been discussed extensively
throughout the research process, following research guidelines outlined in Jørgensen et al.
(2016). The importance of this element of reality construction is further reflected upon in the
concluding section.
The various kinds of local SI initiatives have been studied in the following different countries (Cf.
appendix 1 for the names of the initiatives and their countries):
N local initiatives
N local initiatives
United Kingdom
The Netherlands
Table 2: SI initiatives per country
4 CTP database deployment: Theory development and reflexive practice
This section describes how the database can be deployed. This can be for purposes of secondary
empirical research or theory development, similar to the research activities of the TRANSIT
project, or for purposes of exploration and reflection on one’s own SI practice. We therefore
describe first the database search functions (4.1), followed by a summary of our own theory-
oriented deployment (4.2), and a sketch of practice-oriented deployments (4.3).
4.1 Search functions
The CTP database is equipped with a search functionality deliberately kept simple. The list of SI
networks and associated SI initiatives leads directly to these particular cases, to begin with.
Furthermore, the web interface displays the investigated SI initiatives on a world map to allow
for searches by country. This is more a communicative device to highlight the international
scope of the research than a key functionality, however. The database does not follow a mapping
logic and does not contain data that would allow for a systematic comparison of national
contexts. The main search function follows a thematic logic of searching by key word (‘tags’),
next to which there is the possibility for full-text searches, i.e. for any combination of words.
The screenshot (figure 2) of the database webpage displays the 74 keywords through which the
files of CTPs and SI initiatives have been coded. All files are marked by between 8 and 10 of
these key words. Structured along five themes, the key words have been selected to cover the
main topics of TSI theory (see next subsection for their application to the set of theoretical
propositions developed by TRANSIT). The screenshot shows the possibility to search for single
or combinations of key words (in orange): this directs the user to CTP files that - according to
the researcher who attached these key words to the file provide interesting insights on these
prominent aspects of TSI. The search-by-keyword approach thus underlines how the CTP data
are closely connected to the broader project of TSI research. The key word structure can be
appreciated as a condensed display of the topics addressed in the TRANSIT research, and
discloses data along the categorizations and distinctions developed in the course of the project.
Next to the key word search, the database provides a full-text search. This allows for specific
searches after phenomena not captured in the key word structure, or searches after specific
phenomena appearing in search results. The two search functions complement each other. The
screenshot below (figure 3) displays how search results are displayed on screen: The logos of SI
initiatives are visual aids towards immediate associations between CTPs and initiatives, and the
In terms of numbers, the dataset can be circumscribed as follows:
Approx. 80 timelines of local SI initiatives
Timelines comprising 6 CTPs and ‘related events’
450+ accounts of CTPs
CTP accounts comprising on average about 2000 words
Summary descriptions of approx. 80 local SI initiatives
Local SI initiatives associated with
20 transnational SI networks
Local SI initiatives studied in
27 different countries
search results list also distinguishes between files of SI initiatives and CTP files. The database
does not provide filtering functions.
Figure 2: Search by key word (database screenshot)
Figure 3: Search results (database screenshot)
4.2 Analysis strategies and theory development
The CTP database is structured to support searches for specific aspects of TSI processes. As
indicated through the five key word themes, the user can search for kinds of actor/organizations
that SI initiatives interact with, for kinds of interactions, for kinds of social innovations, for kinds
of tools and resources through which SI initiatives can be empowered, and for kinds of dynamics
that may occur in the ‘innovation journeys’ of SI initiatives. Database users with interests in
particular aspects of TSI are therefore likely to easily find one or several relevant key words
through which to start the database search.
In terms of its search functions, the deployment of the CTP database is thus straightforward.
However, especially when using the database for scientific purposes, it is desirable to develop a
more elaborate analytical strategy. As documented in Pel et al. (2017a), the meta-analysis
through CTP data involved several considerations to bridge the inevitable gaps between data
and key words on the one hand, and on the other hand the needs for particular kinds of evidence
as ways to develop propositions on aspects of TSI theory (Cf. Haxeltine et al. 2017a). The
following considerations, often made iteratively, helped to make optimal use of the database:
Choice of analytical strategy. Our database searches were to inform further development of a
diverse set of theoretical propositions on TSI. Before starting any database searches, we needed
to clarify first to what extent the proposition could be tested in the positivist sense: What
evidence could confirm or falsify the proposition? Beyond such proposition testing, we have
considered further how CTP data could substantiate a proposition, enhance its process insights
through distinctions of phases and sequences of events, substantiate it through empirical
examples, or unpack it through typologies. Clarifying what kind of insight we sought to develop,
this choice of analytical strategy helped avoid ‘getting lost in the data’.
Formulation of empirical questions. The theoretical propositions that were formulated
differed in level of empirical concreteness, but were often quite abstract. It has proven useful to
specify the concrete empirical phenomena that the theoretical statements referred to, and to
formulate corresponding empirical questions (in line with the chosen analytical strategy). For
example, when looking for processes of ‘institutionalization’, what are the kinds of concrete
empirical evidence sought for?
Identification of relevant database searches. Narrowing down and clarifying the empirical
evidence sought for, the formulation of empirical questions is crucial. The immediately related
consideration is to what extent the questions are answerable through the CTP data and its six
topics. Only after these considerations it becomes clear what key words are the most useful to
work with, and which full-text searches could complement this search. It is useful to keep track
of the searches performed and the numbers of search results the answering of a specific
empirical question will generally involve a process of trying several searches.
Ordering and presentation of evidence. One CTP file amounting generally to some 2000
words, it is important to order the vast amounts of qualitative evidence in an insightful way. The
distinction of a series of empirical questions provides already some structure for the
presentation of evidence. Depending on the aims for overview and empirical detail,
combinations can be sought between 1) overview tables containing certain subsets of SI
initiatives; 2) quantitative analyses supported by Excel sheets listing the files in the database; 3)
typologies substantiated through exemplar CTPs and their unique hyperlinks; and 4) qualitative-
interpretive accounts with citations of text fragments. (In the latter case of drawing extensively
on CTP materials, it is a matter of good scientific practice to contact the researcher(s) involved!)
4.3 Reflective practice
Next to the deployment for research purposes, the search functions and database contents are
also meant to support various kinds of practice-oriented explorations. Beyond consultations of
the database, this can also take the form of procedures for learning, evaluation and reflection
through the CTP concept itself.
As outlined above, the database allows for systematic analysis of particular aspects of TSI. Such
scientific approach is not necessarily instructive for practice, however. By contrast, the database
can also be used to compare one’s own SI experiences with those of others. What could be the
similarities with SI initiatives as diverse as Timebanks, Ecovillages and Via Campesina? What are
the typical setbacks encountered by other SI initiatives? What other kinds of SI initiatives exist and
what developments in their contexts have helped or hindered them in achieving transformative
impacts? Such questions can be explored by consulting the accounts of particular initiatives and
their timelines, or by browsing the results of searches by relevant key words. Similarly, the
database provides an opportunity for interested individuals to explore the diverse world of TSI.
What is TSI about? What groups of people and activities does it refer to? What SI initiatives have
been studied in my country? What are the kinds of turns of events that can happen in these
innovation processes? What kinds of contestations and politics are involved?
The comparison between various timelines and processes of co-produced TSI arguably
stimulates reflection on one’s practice. Importantly, this reflection comes not only from the
answers to the CTP questions as gathered in the database. As already became apparent during
the CTP interviews we conducted, it can be particularly instructive to work with the CTP
questions (Cf. subsection 3.2), and to reconstruct one’s own experiences with SI or the timeline
of an otherwise familiar innovation initiative. Which were the important turns of events for my
initiative/ organization and in what respect? Were they internal developments, or were they
evoked by outside events? Was the supposed CTP the real CTP, or rather a surface manifestation of
an episode that had started earlier already? Considering the set of CTPs identified, what does this
tell about the actual ambitions and priorities of my/our initiative? Especially in the cases in which
the CTP interviews were conducted with more than one individual, the CTP questioning proved
conducive to dialogue, joint reflection and learning. The CTP questioning will therefore be
further developed in the form of TRANSIT tools on monitoring and self-evaluation. More
generally, there seems to be a wide scope for such alternative applications of the CTP concept
the basic idea being that the identification of a certain event as a ‘critical turning point’ invites
broader dialogue about that assessment.
5 Concluding reflection: On mapping, dissemination and framing
As indicated in the introduction section, the CTP database has helped the TRANSIT consortium
to develop systematic insight beyond the singular example. In particular it has helped us move
beyond the misleading exemplars of TSI agency (projecting motivations and strategies onto the
much more diverse world of TSI activity), and beyond misplaced universalism about TSI contexts
(neglecting how opportunities for SI activities and transformative impacts differ greatly across
countries, regions and historical episodes). Even after a limited browsing of the 450+ accounts
of CTPs one will not easily confuse the challenges of, for example, Timebanks with those of the
Ecovillages, or confuse either of them for an account of TSI in general. The CTP database
reminds of the wide range of transformation processes (Cf. Stirling 2011) lying underneath what
TRANSIT researchers have attempted to grasp as a general phenomenon of TSI.
Set up as an online open access database, other researchers, policy makers, the wider public and
people involved in the SI initiatives under study can share in this opportunity for comparative
analysis and reflection. This construction increases the societal returns on the research
investments of funding bodies, researchers and those volunteering to participate in the research.
Moreover, the open access database serves (at least potentially) as a knowledge infrastructure
for transdisciplinary science and other forms of dialogue on matters of Transformative Social
In light of the above it is therefore not surprising that there are many other similar projects
currently ongoing. In this regard one can think of the various mappings of SI activities
undertaken by research consortia (Pelka & Terstriep 2016), by policy research agencies and
notably by networks of SI initiatives. Related efforts into the construction of knowledge
infrastructures can be seen in the systems for monitoring, match-making and knowledge
consolidation of various social innovation platforms and ‘Hubs’, and more generally there is the
proliferation of websites and online communities through which SI initiatives establish the
existence of alternative, transformative ways of doing and knowing (Pel & Backhaus under
review). Also taking into account the developments towards opening up of the system of
scientific knowledge production, the described CTP knowledge infrastructure will arguably be
followed by many similar undertakings.
Some concluding reflections on the challenges of developing such knowledge infrastructures
seem therefore in place. First, the experiences with this database construction project reaffirm
the lessons of Star & Griesemer (1999). Ideally, the CTP database would constitute a system
serving both the research interests of TRANSIT researchers as well as the knowledge interests of
SI practitioners in terms of monitoring, evaluation and mapping. However, as usual, the
development of such polyvalent boundary object construction involved many trade-offs and
resource constraints. Even the relatively simple CTP database required a thorough clarification
of the precise functionalities to be achieved. With regard to the development of future more
emphatically transdisciplinary SI knowledge infrastructures, it will be crucial to clarify the
different knowledge interests involved what is to be made visible for whom and why? Second,
there is the basic lesson that the development of these systems takes considerable time. The CTP
database could in principle have been launched online earlier than in the fourth and final project
year, yet that would have required taking very early decisions on its scope and architecture
most likely leading to a dataset out of sync with the theory development that it was to support.
Beyond this issue of timing and project planning, there are the obvious challenges of
maintenance (let alone updating) over time. Similar initiatives will be well-advised to
realistically consider the possibilities available within and beyond the prevailing project format.
Third and finally, we wish to underline that the CTP database project is in several aspects itself a
project with socially innovative dimensions. We define social innovation as the promotion of
new social relations, involving new ways of doing, organizing, framing and knowing. The CTP
database is a good example of seizing recent changes in the social-material context (the ICT
revolution), allowing new knowings and framings to circulate and travel fast. Considering how
TRANSIT researchers have actively constructed CTP accounts out of interviews, the database
does not simply map SI realities. Instead, it rather co-produces them by giving exposure to SI
initiatives and by disseminating SI in certain ways. The online open access construction changes
relations between researchers, interviewed individuals and database users in particular ways.
One response to that was trying to ensure informed consent to publish from the individuals
volunteering to contribute. This paper is another way to account for the reality construction
process underlying the database contents, also identifying how the CTP database has been co-
produced by many researchers and interviewees. Especially when building as intended - on
the database contents for further explorations of TSI phenomena, we therefore encourage
database users to make reference to this working paper, as ways to account for their
constructions of TSI realities.
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.
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appropriate units of analysis for dispersed transformation processes”, Methodological
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transformative knowings through competing claims to expertise, submitted to Science &
Technology Studies
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Appendix 1: Overview SI networks, SI initiatives and countries
SI Network
Local SI initiative
RIPESS/ Ecocitrus
RIPESS/ Groupe Terre
Seed exchange
Red de Semillas
Arche Noah
Magház - Seed House
BIEN-SUISSE (BIEN-Switzerland)
BICN - Basic Income Canada Network*
BIEN/Netzwerk Grundeinkommen*
BIEN/Vereniging Basisinkomen
Volunteer Labour Bank/Network
Fair Shares
United Kingdom
Hour Exchange Portland
Impact Hub
Impact Hub Amsterdam (IH AMS)
Impact Hub London King's Cross (IH KC)
Impact Hub Vienna
Impact Hub Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Participatory Budgeting Amsterdam
Participatory Budgeting Fortaleza
Participatory Budgeting Belo Horizonte
Participatory Budgeting Porto Alegre
Ecovillage Sieben Linden
Ecovillage Schloss Tempelhof
Ecovillage Findhorn
Ecovillage Bergen
Via Campesina
Via Campesina/APENOC
Via Campesina/RMRU
Via Campesina/ANAMURI
Via Campesina/MNCI
Living Labs
Living Labs - Laurea
Living Labs -iMinds Living Labs
Living Labs - Living Lab Eindhoven
Living Labs - Sfax Smart Living Lab
INFORSE - Samsoe Energy Academy
INFORSE -Ecoserveis
DESIS - ID+ DESIS Lab, Aveiro
DESIS - DESIS Lab Belo Horizonte
DESIS - DESIS Lab Florianópolis
Living Knowledge - Science Shop DTU
Living Knowledge - Science Shop Ireland
Living Knowledge - Wissenschaftsladen
Living Knowledge - (ESSRG)
Ashoka Hungary
Ashoka Germany
Ashoka Poland
Ashoka France*
FEBEA/Merkur Cooperative Bank
FEBEA/Banca Popolare Etica
Slow Food
Slow Food/Slow Food Mexico
Slow Food/Slow Food Araba-Vitoria
Slow Food/Slow Food USA
Slow Food/Slow Food Italy
Shareable- ShareBloomington
Omstilling Ry (Transition Ry)
Transition Bro Gwaun
Transition Norwich
Transition Town Tooting
* Files under construction at the time of writing.
... This article is based on three distinct sources of data from the TRANSIT project: two batches of case studies (Jørgensen et al. 2015(Jørgensen et al. , 2016) and a meta-analysis (Pel, Bauler, et al. 2017). Researchers studied twenty international networks; in this article, we focus on three (Cipolla et al. 2015;Dorland and Jørgensen 2016;Hielscher et al. 2015). ...
... Researchers identified six events for each embedded case in Table 1, involving eighteen semi-structured interviews. We do not elaborate further on the case study methodology used in the TRANSIT project, which are detailed elsewhere; we refer to the CTP database through the working paper by Pel, Bauler, et al. (2017) except quotes where the database is linked directly. ...
... Other FabLabs also faced restrictions imposed by universities. For example, FL3 encountered challenges in accessing buildings outside normal hours and had to rely on technicians to handle the equipment because of concerns in relation to the coverage of the university insurance (Pel, Bauler, et al. 2017), which limits community interactions. Our findings reveal two dimensions of relational spaces, which we describe in detail below. ...
Some see universities as a possible source of solutions to enable a sustainable transition and overcome societal challenges. Findings from three multisite case studies of Desis Labs, FabLabs, and Science Shops shed light on how universities can help empower communities and solve societal challenges locally. Adopting a sociotechnical and flat relational perspective inspired by science and technology studies (STS), we focus on the material and spatial aspects of how these spaces are configured, thereby ensuring practical relevance for policy makers and practitioners. Applying an analytical generalization methodology, we condense the qualitative data into a typology of three ideal space-types (i.e. affording, mediating, and impact-oriented) that represent specific configurations of actors, researchers, students, communities, spaces, infrastructure, equipment, facilitators, etc. The ideal space-types empower communities in different ways, require different resources to create and operate, and translate differently into specific local contexts.
... Becoming aware of past leverage points can support future strategising, for instance by initiating new collaborations, campaigns, or actions. This ingredient is based on the Critical Turning Points method (Pel et al. 2017). ...
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... Data collection and analysis took place in the context of the EU-funded 'TRANsformative Social Innovation Theory' (TRANSIT project 2017) project which aimed, amongst others, to understand how people are (dis)empowered to contribute to processes of transformative change, by integrating diverse interdisciplinary perspectives on social change and by empirically analyzing 20 translocal networks . Following methodological guidelines (Jørgensen et al., 2014(Jørgensen et al., , 2016Pel et al., 2017;Wittmayer, Avelino, Dorland, Pel, & Jørgensen, 2015) that included sensitizing concepts, data collection was done in the period from 2014-2016and for DESIS included some follow up work. For each embedded case, we performed 12-20 interviews, did participant observation of 22+ hours and reviewed primary and secondary literature as well as social media outlets and websites (Cipolla, Joly, & Afonso, 2015;Dumitru, Lema-Blanco, García-Mira, Haxeltine, & Frances, 2015;Dumitru, Lema-Blanco, Kunze, & García-Mira, 2016;Kunze & Avelino, 2015;Wittmayer, Avelino, & Afonso, 2015). ...
... In the theory, decisive moments are reflected in the notion of (external) shocks, leading to the destabilisation of fields. These shocks resonate with recent conceptualisations in social innovation research about "critical turning points" (Pel et al., 2017). We suggest that the dynamics around these decisive moments, not only in terms of destabilising but also re-establishing the stability of fields, should be further explored. ...
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... We have studied BI advocacy along the generic methodological guidelines developed for our case studies and for the subsequent study of 'critical turning points' in the history of TSI initiatives (Pel et al., 2017a). This involved empirical investigation of the kinds of socially innovative ways of doing, organizing, framing and knowing promoted, of the structure of the social innovation networks promoting them, and of relevant societal context developments. ...
Current social innovation initiatives towards societal transformations bring forward new ways of doing and organizing, but new ways of knowing as well. Their efforts towards realizing those are important sites for the investigation of contemporary tensions of expertise. The promotion of new, transformative ways of knowing typically involves a large bandwidth of claims to expertise. The attendant contestation is unfolded through the exemplar case of the Basic Income, in which the historically evolved forms of academic political advocacy are increasingly accompanied by a new wave of activism. Crowd-funding initiatives, internet activists, citizen labs, petitions and referenda seek to realize the BI through different claims to expertise than previous attempts. Observing both the tensions between diverse claims to expertise and the overall co-production process through which the Basic Income is realized, this contribution concludes with reflections on the politics of expertise involved in transformative social innovation.
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This article responds to increasing public and academic discourses on social innovation, which often rest on the assumption that social innovation can drive societal change and empower actors to deal with societal challenges and a retreating welfare state. In order to scrutinise this assumption, this article proposes a set of concepts to study the dynamics of transformative social innovation and underlying processes of multi-actor (dis)empowerment. First, the concept of transformative social innovation is unpacked by proposing four foundational concepts to help distinguish between different pertinent ‘shades’ of change and innovation: 1) social innovation, (2) system innovation, (3) game-changers, and (4) narratives of change. These concepts, invoking insights from transitions studies and social innovations literature, are used to construct a conceptual account of how transformative social innovation emerges as a co-evolutionary interaction between diverse shades of change and innovation. Second, the paper critically discusses the dialectic nature of multi-actor (dis)empowerment that underlies such processes of change and innovation. The paper then demonstrates how the conceptualisations are applied to three empirical case-studies of transformative social innovation: Impact Hub, Time Banks and Credit Unions. In the conclusion we synthesise how the concepts and the empirical examples help to understand contemporary shifts in societal power relations and the changing role of the welfare state.
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In an effort to better understand the various forms of social innovation, mapping has become a common and widely applied method for gaining insights into social innovation practices. The transdisciplinary nature of social innovation research has led to a plurality of distinct approaches and methods. Given the increasing interest in social innovation, and the apparent endeavour among policymakers to utilise social innovation to address current societal challenges, it is argued that mapping efforts need to be streamlined in order to make better use of their results. The article describes 17 running or shortly ended research projects on social innovation and their methodological approaches on “mapping” social innovations. It provides a systematic overview on project objectives, SI definitions and mapping approaches for each of the scrutinised projects and end with a synoptical analysis on methods, objectives and missing research.
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This chapter explores the roots and developments of social innovation through comparative historical case studies. Specifically, this chapter introduces a theoretical and methodological framework for this historical discussion. It then goes on to discuss trends observed from a preliminary analysis of several historical cases of social innovation and offers a more detailed discussion of one specific case — the emergence of the intelligence test. This research contributes findings around three key trends and dynamics: how new ideas shift the intellectual landscape and create the space for novel combinations; the complimentary and overlapping efforts of ‘poets’, ‘debaters’ and ‘designers’ (different roles for agents); and the importance of agents functioning at both the niche and landscape level.
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This paper examines key issues raised by consideration of diversity in the study of environmental innovation and societal transitions. In different ways and degrees, these implicate many contrasting perspectives, including innovation studies, evolutionary economics and transitions research. The paper therefore attends equally to the implications of plurality among disciplines as observing subjects and varieties of sociotechnical configurations as observed objects. Inspired by recent literatures in these fields, the argument focuses in turn on: contending social normativities concerning alternative directions for innovation; divergent disciplinary understandings of societal transitions; and disparate conceptualisations of sociotechnical diversity itself. In each area, the paper identifies some persistent forms of ‘misplaced concreteness’. Recommendations are made as to how the implications of diversity might be addressed in more rigorous and reflective ways. In conclusion, it is shown how rigour and reflexivity themselves depend on plural analytical communities paying greater regard to diversity and striking their own balance between pluralism and concreteness. This highlights a series of specific, but hitherto unresolved, research questions.
Objets fronti_re = s'adaptent pour prendre en compte plusieurs points de vue et maintenir une identité entre eux Cet espace de travail se construit grâce à des objets-frontières tels que des systèmes de classification, qui relient entre eux les concepts communs et les rôles sociaux divergents de chaque groupe professionnel. Les objet-frontière contribuent à la stabilité du système de référence en offrant un contexte partagé pour la communication et la coopération. Les objets peuvent être considérés comme frontière (Star et Griesemer, 1989) en tant qu’ils contribuent à la stabilité du système de référence en offrant un contexte partagé pour la communication et la coopération.
Synthesis across social innovation case studies
  • M S Jørgensen
  • F Avelino
  • J Dorland
  • S Rach
  • J Wittmayer
Jørgensen, M.S., Avelino, F., Dorland, J., Rach, S. and Wittmayer, J. (2016), "Synthesis across social innovation case studies", TRANSIT deliverable 4.4, Part 1, TRANSIT