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Alongside current policy discourses on the transformative potentials of social innovation, social innovation initiatives also construct their own accounts of how society can be transformed and by whom. Building on state-of-the-art futures studies and narrative research and their linkages, this article unfolds these narratives of change (NoC) by social innovation initiatives. A tripartite framework is used to analyse and discuss the content, construction and role of the NoC of four initiatives: Ashoka, the Global Ecovillage Network, RIPESS and Shareable. The analysis shows that all NoC suggest alternative economic arrangements that challenge the current neoliberal, capitalist system, including the dominant policy narrative of (social) innovation for economic growth. It further highlights the pivotal role of NoC in the construction of individual and social identities and the efforts dedicated to the development and communication of collectively shared worldviews. Differences in NoC are identified regarding the more deliberative or rather hierarchical ways of narrative construction. Concluding reflections highlight how NoC reveal the failings of current systems and suggest alternatives, that their construction mirrors and thereby tests the model of change advocated by social innovation initiatives and that NoC may lure actors into enrolment by offering opportunities to engage in meaning-making.
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Narratives of change: How social innovation initiatives construct
societal transformation
J.M. Wittmayer
, J. Backhaus
, F. Avelino
, B. Pel
, T. Strasser
, I. Kunze
L. Zuijderwijk
DRIFT, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
ICIS, Maastricht University, Netherlands
Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
BOKU University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Austria
ESSB, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands
Narratives of change
Social innovation
Societal transformation
Alternative futures
Alongside current policy discourses on the transformative potentials of social innovation, social
innovation initiatives also construct their own accounts of how society can be transformed and by
whom. Building on state-of-the-art futures studies and narrative research and their linkages, this
article unfolds these narratives of change (NoC) by social innovation initiatives. A tripartite
framework is used to analyse and discuss the content, construction and role of the NoC of four
initiatives: Ashoka, the Global Ecovillage Network, RIPESS and Shareable. The analysis shows
that all NoC suggest alternative economic arrangements that challenge the current neoliberal,
capitalist system, including the dominant policy narrative of (social) innovation for economic
growth. It further highlights the pivotal role of NoC in the construction of individual and social
identities and the efforts dedicated to the development and communication of collectively shared
worldviews. Differences in NoC are identified regarding the more deliberative or rather hier-
archical ways of narrative construction. Concluding reflections highlight how NoC reveal the
failings of current systems and suggest alternatives, that their construction mirrors and thereby
tests the model of change advocated by social innovation initiatives and that NoC may lure actors
into enrolment by offering opportunities to engage in meaning-making.
1. Introduction
Many contemporary discourses understand social change as driven by processes of innovation. For example, the European Union
has adopted an Innovation Union strategy to realise smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe 2020, aiming “to create an
innovation-friendly environment that makes it easier for great ideas to be turned into products and services” (EC, 2018). Far from focusing on
technological innovation only, the EU uses the concept of social innovation to appreciate the social dimensions of innovation and to
address pressing societal challenges, such as climate change, poverty, lacking equity and social justice (BEPA, 2010;Edwards-
Schachter & Wallace, 2017). Social innovation is thus considered a tool to shape society (Edwards-Schachter & Wallace, 2017;
Received 18 December 2018; Received in revised form 5 June 2019; Accepted 8 June 2019
Corresponding author at: DRIFT, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Building T16-42, Burgemeester Oudlaan 50, 3062PA, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
E-mail address: (J.M. Wittmayer).
An early working version of this article has been published online (Wittmayer, Backhaus et al., 2015). The analysis presented here follows from
further elaborations of the theoretical framing and embedding, allowing for a sharpened analysis and discussion.
Futures 112 (2019) 102433
Available online 10 June 2019
0016-3287/ © 2019 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
Fougère, Segercrantz, & Seeck, 2017;Grimm, Fox, Baines, & Albertson, 2013;Schubert, 2018). The Bureau of European Policy
Advisors (BEPA), for example, argued that: “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, p. 7).
Over the past years, many actors have embraced the notion of social innovation for its broadening of the previously more
technology-oriented innovation paradigm (SI-DRIVE Policy Declaration, 2017;The Lisbon Declaration, 2018;Vienna Declaration,
2011). At the same time, some consider this broader understanding of innovation still too intimately connected with what Strand,
Saltelli, Giampietro, Rommetveit, and Funtowicz (2018, p. 1850) described as “the master narrative of innovation for growth and its
related socio-technical imaginaries”. Critical voices point to the ambiguous relation between social innovation and neo-liberalism
(Moulaert, 2013;Swyngedouw, 2005). In these analyses, social innovation is put in the service of the neoliberal growth paradigm
since mainstream discourse interprets it in terms of market mechanisms and actors and depoliticises problem framings – often to
justify neoliberal public policies (Fougère et al., 2017;Jessop et al., 2013;Schubert, 2018). In this understanding, social innovation is
just another means for fuelling smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the overall EU policy goal for 2020.
At the same time, social innovation is also invoked by political and social movements in a politico-ideological fashion oriented
towards human development (Moulaert, 2013). In this context social innovation is accredited with the role to develop “alternative
socio-political discourses” (Moulaert, 2013, p. 18). Groups of people involved in social innovation initiatives, self-proclaimed or
considered as such by others, generally have their own ideas about how our societies can be transformed and what their role in this
process is. They can be considered to follow a strategy for social change that focuses on prefiguration (Monticelli, 2018). This is to say
that the practices they engage in are foreshadowing, or prefiguring already within existing societal structures, the sought-after society
(Leach, 2013). Ecovillages, for example, grow their own food, produce their own energy and often have shared ownership of land and
houses to express their ideals of social and ecological sustainability. However, social innovation initiatives do not only propose new
ways of doing and organising, but typically also engage in the construction of reality through new ways of framing and knowing (cf.
Avelino et al., 2017;Haxeltine, Pel, Dumitru et al., 2017). They might not consider themselves as ‘futurists’ at all but still challenge,
alter or replace dominant framings of the future and can therefore be considered “futures movements” (Slaughter, 1993).
Seeking to gain political and scientific acknowledgement for alternative practices typically requires construction of and en-
gagement with expertise and credibility (Pel & Backhaus, 2018). In line with insights from interpretive policy analysis (Fischer &
Forester, 1993) and discursive institutionalism, social innovation initiatives also attempt to bring about change by speaking of it
(Schmidt, 2011). The impact and reach of the narratives of social innovation initiatives is not to be underestimated, as modern
information and communication technologies enable collaborative construction and broad sharing across networked individuals and
initiatives at a global scale. Their stories, ideas and metaphors frame current problems, promise alternative futures and propose ways
to get there. By focusing on the content, construction and performativity of what we refer to as narratives of change, this study
unravels how the abstract notion of social innovation, which has become firmly established in scientific and political discourse, is
made meaningful by and for social innovation initiatives themselves. In this vein, it also aims to pluralize the debate and provide
alternative views on social change (cf. Bina, Mateusc, Pereira, & Caffa, 2017).
Due to the power of stories to evoke imagination, provide a guide for action and structure uncertainty (Milojević & Inayatullah,
2015), the field of futures studies has seen a surging interest regarding the potential of narrative approaches for futures thinking
(Burnam-Fink, 2015;Frittaion, Duinker, & Grant, 2010;Inayatullah, 2008;Miller, O’Leary, Graffy, Stechel, & Dirks, 2015;Raven &
Elahi, 2015). For Jarva (2014a, 2014b), narratives hold the potential to bridge the gap between images about futures that result from
(participatory) work of futurists and concrete action. Correspondingly, narrative research has started shifting its focus from the past
and present to future narratives (Sools, 2012;Sools, Tromp, & Mooren, 2015;Squire, 2012). Building on insights from both scholarly
traditions and their linkages, this article substantiates our understanding of ‘narratives of change’ to refer to sets of ideas, concepts,
metaphors, discourses or story-lines about societal transformation (Avelino et al., 2017;Wittmayer, Backhaus et al., 2015). In doing
so, we acknowledge that the term has been used by other scholars (e.g. Berendse, Duijnhoven, & Veenswijk, 2006;Bryant & Wolfram
Cox, 2004;Doolin, 2003), but has remained under conceptualised (for an exception in the context of discourses of change in or-
ganisations, see Veenswijk & Chisalita, 2011). Our understanding of narratives of change includes the development of a three-fold
approach to studying ideas about social change as constructed and shared by social innovation initiatives. Firstly, we develop an
analytical framework to study narratives of change that distinguishes a rationale (problem description and envisioned future), re-
levant actors, and the ordering of activities and developments in a meaningful plot. Treating these narratives as data allows for the
systematic comparison of different narratives of change and thus of the alternative futures and models of change that initiatives are
proposing. Secondly, since social innovation initiatives are not singular actors and are, consequently, not sharing a singular narrative,
we take a constructivist perspective to explore how narratives are negotiated and reproduced by members on an ongoing basis.
Thirdly, since they are considered a key strategy of activism (Milojević & Inayatullah, 2015), we take a performative perspective to
explore the role of narratives of change in social change processes. The research question guiding this study is: How do social
innovation initiatives seek to advance societal transformation through their narratives of change?
This article challenges the earlier-introduced, pervasive reductionist understanding of social change as innovation for economic
growth by showing the empirical diversity of contemporary narratives of change, their construction and their role in social change
processes. The article concentrates on four social innovation initiatives: (1) Ashoka - a global network of social entrepreneurs; (2)
Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) - a network of ecological intentional communities, (3) Réseau Intercontinental de Promotion de
l'Économie Sociale et Solidaire (RIPESS) - a network of networks and political movement for the promotion of social and solidarity
economy across the globe and (4) Shareable – a network for the sharing economy (see Table 2).
The following section first discusses the existing and missing linkages between futures studies and narrative research and arrives
at the formulation of an analytical framework bearing questions for empirical research (Section 2). Next to outlining data collection
J.M. Wittmayer, et al. Futures 112 (2019) 102433
and analysis, the methodology section outlines the selection criteria for the cases in more depth (Section 3). Section 4provides the
empirical findings for the different dimensions of the analytical framework and comparatively discusses them across the four cases,
followed by a conclusion (Section 5).
2. Towards an analytical framework for narratives of change
This section introduces and explicates the three elements of our analytical framework, narrative content (2.1), narrative con-
struction (2.2) and the role of narratives (2.3), in view of existing literature. We summarize and operationalize the framework (2.4)
which prepares the ground for a discussion of our methodological approach to studying narratives of change in Section 3.
2.1. Narrative content: structuring pasts, presents and futures
Narrative is one of the key modes of knowing for human beings, who have been recognized as homo narrans (Fisher, 1985) and
who, in and through stories, learn about, make sense of and act in and on the world. It is through narrative structures, that human
beings think, perceive, imagine and make moral choices (Sarbin, 1986).
Narratives are a linguistic instrument that logically structures events and actions in relation to internal and external occurrences
in time (Dowling, 2011;Hyvärinen, 2008). More often than not, the focus in narrative research has been on the (biographical) past or
the (experiential) present (Hammack, 2008;Hyvärinen, 2010;Salmon & Kohler Riessman, 2013). Only recently, the topic of alter-
native and desirable futures has received more attention in narrative research (Sools, 2012;Sools et al., 2015;Squire, 2012). Amongst
other, this opens up the possibility for the plot to show which strategies and events are believed to lead up to a desired future. In
futures studies, Inayatullah (2008) distinguishes between five archetypical future images, including ‘evolution and progress’ focusing
on the potential of technologies; ‘collapse’ indicating a dystopia; ‘gaia’ introducing an all-inclusive world garden; ‘globalism’ making
the world smaller and smaller, and ‘back to the future’ calling for a return to simpler ways of life. He also introduces ‘model of social
change’ as a key concept that focuses on how the future can be influenced and by whom (Inayatullah, 2008). This aligns with key
ingredients of narratives such as the active protagonist and a morale or evaluative standpoint which imbues meaning and ideology
(Hammack, 2008;Nünning et al., 2010). Only those events and activities are described that are meaningful to the narrators in that
they either bring about or hinder a specific future.
Building on the still nascent yet shared interest in the role of narratives in processes of transformative change, which is emerging
at the intersection of futures studies and narrative enquiry, this study proposes ‘narratives of change’ as an integrative concept. Well-
established notions of narrative research are directed towards the future and combined with futures concepts of alternative futures and
models of change. Narratives of change include a rationale (problem description and desired future), relevant actors (those working
towards, those opposing or counteracting and those ignorant of the desired future) and a plot (the contextualised activities and
developments leading to the desired future). In other words, using narrative structure as a basis allows to empirically compare the
content of narratives of change pointing to relevant reasons, actors and approaches for change.
2.2. Narrative construction: distributed creation of narratives
As Barthes (1975) infamously elaborates in his Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative, narratives are ubiquitous. The
creation, preservation and spreading of narratives can take countless forms. They emerge from interaction, may be ‘small’ (mundane)
or ‘big’ (e.g. autobiographical) (Georgakopoulou, 2007), and travel through time and space. First and foremost, narratives are
meaning-making devices, constructing and negotiating reality (Bruner, 1991), i.e. a particular view on life, the world or an event.
While large commercial organisations carefully construct their corporate identity, including a brand’s history ‘top down’, narratives
and their construction can also connect dispersed individuals or initiatives to particular topics or transformative ambitions ‘bottom-
up’, in regional, national or transnational networks. For example, the Global Ecovillage Network is made up of about 10.000 in-
tentional communities and related initiatives sharing ideas about sustainability (Kunze & Avelino, 2015). We can thus distinguish
relatively hierarchically developed narratives (since corporate brand development still involves deliberation in accordance with
corporate governance structures) from relatively deliberatively developed narratives (since deliberation can be prone to being
captured by particularly outspoken or charismatic individuals).
For social innovation initiatives, the collective negotiation of the past, construction of the present and design of the future can be
considered one of their core activities (Davies, 2002). Studying the social construction of narratives implies studying their devel-
opment, their reception and their mediation through slogans, stories, symbols and material elements and recognising their con-
struction as engagement in internal and external discursive politics. Firstly, a variety of activities that members of social innovation
initiatives engage in contribute to the distributed construction of narratives of change. Secondly, such construction can be done in a
more or less hierarchical or deliberative way and thus provide more or less voice to different individuals and initiatives. Thirdly, a
plethora of narratives exists at different times and different levels of analysis (i.e. societal discourses, personal stories, organisational
myths), which interact and mutually influence one another (Rappaport, 1995). This can give rise to seemingly similar or even the
same concepts, notions and narratives circulating in different actor groups that are, however, subjectively differently conceived and
based in phenomenologically radically different experiences (Taylor Aiken, 2019). Finally, the form and content of narratives are also
shaped by the materials that carry them, such as information and communication technologies (incl. the Internet, social media, print,
video) (Elliott & Squire, 2017). Considering their distributed construction, different and diverse narratives will always coexist within
initiatives and networks, yet some degree of convergence is possible and likely in seeking to challenge common rivals or collectively
J.M. Wittmayer, et al. Futures 112 (2019) 102433
support strategic allies. Studying narratives of change thus requires a focus on diverse and diverging elements as well as the widely
shared ‘master narrative’ (De Fina & Georgakopoulou, 2015) that can be considered a common denominator across different social
units, from individuals to local initiatives and transnational networks.
Building on these discussions, we empirically analyse the construction of narratives of change by unpacking the following
dimensions: the actual construction activities that actors engage in, including the degree of deliberation or hierarchy involved, the
interrelation with broader societal narratives as well as information and communication infrastructures that actors rely on.
2.3. The role of narratives: the potential of alternative framings and knowings
Following Garud and Gehman (2012), we acknowledge the performativity of narratives as they re-interpret the past and guide
current actions in anticipation of a different future. By devising narratives of change, social movement actors (to which we count
social innovation initiatives) are thus deeply and explicitly involved in the production and maintenance of meaning, or the politics of
signification (Hall, 1982). Linking futures studies and narrative research, we highlight three roles that are accorded to narratives in
processes of social change: changing frames, forming identity and guiding action.
Firstly, the search for and the construction of alternative narratives includes questioning and reframing the status quo and
challenges and confronts dominant norms, values and beliefs. It is therefore inherently a transformative activity (Milojević &
Inayatullah, 2015). Jarva (2014a, p. 17) considers narratives as “comments, often on the deviations from the social convention”. Nar-
ratives of change that propose alternative futures often have an antagonistic relationship with dominant societal narratives, such as
those that push for growth and the primacy of the market. Hence, narratives of change can be viewed as counter-narratives which are
used by social movements to “struggle against pre-existing cultural and institutional narratives and the structures of meaning and power they
convey” (Davies, 2002, p. 25). An example is the ‘rhizomatic’ growth narrative developed by Transition Town initiatives, challenging
prevailing innovation imaginaries of one-directional growth, rationalization and central control with a counter-narrative premised on
self-organization and loose network structures (Scott-Cato & Hillier, 2010). In these and other cases, narratives are used strategically
to change the discursive environment and challenge the interpretive authority of others (Miskimmon, O’Loughlin, & Roselle, 2013).
The contest among and between established narratives and not-(yet)-established narratives, reveals how every story is vulnerable “to
the emergence of the untold” (Hopkinson, 2015, p. 191).
Secondly, personal but also group identity formation crucially relies on developing coherent storylines. Personal identity can be
expressed and built through narratives (Squire, Andrews, & Tamboukou, 2013). The interweaving of personal life stories and broader
narratives that resonate with values and expectations that people already hold can contribute to identity formation and empower-
ment (Davies, 2002;Rappaport, 1995;Riessman, 2008). Thus, narrative work is also identity-related work (Somers & Gibson, 1994)
and struggles with building a coherent narrative imply struggles with defining personal or collective identity. Similar to oftentimes
less explicit sociotechnical imaginaries (Jasanoff & Kim, 2009), narratives of change create a shared sense of belonging and a
community identity that structure actions and meaning based on a common outlook on social reality and a desired future
(Pfotenhauer & Jasanoff, 2017). Thereby, narratives enrol stakeholders for their cause and in related initiatives (Garud, Gehman, &
Giuliani, 2014).
Finally, recognising the power of stories, futures studies have long since employed narratives for scenario development (Frittaion
et al., 2010;Miller et al., 2015) to evoke imagination and, ideally, provide a guide for action (Jarva, 2014b). Amongst other, the
backcasting approach has become a well-established tool to discover alternatives and guide decisions for goal-directed change
(Dreborg, 1996). As one notable linking pin between futures studies and narrative enquiry, scenarios may be improved through an
increased focus on literary elements (e.g. Burnam-Fink, 2015;Raven & Elahi, 2015). Like future visions, scenarios and backcasting,
narratives of change invite us to think ‘from what is to what if’ (Sools, 2012). Narrative and practice mutually inform and shape each
other (Faizullaev & Cornut, 2017). On the one hand, discourse is a product of tacit, experience-based knowledge and assumptions
(Bueger & Gadinger, 2015) and narratives emerge from and are sustained by practices. On the other hand, the performativity of
narratives leads to ideas being put into practice; for example, in a prefigurative way that enacts the future in the present (Leach, 2013;
Swain, 2017). The alignment of day-to-day activities with narrative content increases the legitimacy of ideas and advances desired
futures and models of social change. Informing others about ideas and experiences through stories has also always been a powerful
avenue to persuasion and, possibly even, engagement in practice – or ‘practitioner recruitment’ (Shove, Pantzar, & Watson, 2012).
In sum, we analyse the role of narratives of change in social change processes in two ways. Firstly, we identify roles that social
innovation initiatives themselves ascribe to their narratives and narrative practices and secondly, we highlight the role of initiatives’
narratives of change in general processes of social change and societal transformation.
2.4. An analytical framework for narratives of change
Built at the intersection of futures studies and narrative research, our analytical framework identifies the content, the construction
and the role of narratives as key foci for empirical investigation (see Table 1).
3. Methodology
Data collection and analysis took place in the context of the EU-funded “TRANsformative Social Innovation Theory” (TRANSIT)
project which aimed to understand how and to what extent social innovation contributes to transformative change by studying 20
transnational networks of social innovation as embedded case studies (Wittmayer et al., 2017;Avelino et al., 2017;Haxeltine, Pel,
J.M. Wittmayer, et al. Futures 112 (2019) 102433
Dumitru et al., 2017). Each social innovation network was studied as embedded case at the level of the transnational network and at
the level of two local initiatives. Following methodological guidelines that included sensitizing concepts (Wittmayer, Avelino,
Dorland, Pel & Jørgensen, 2015;Jørgensen et al., 2014), data collection was primarily done in the period from 2014-2016.
For our study of narratives of change, we selected four cases, Ashoka, GEN, RIPESS and Shareable (see Table 2). This choice
implied covering a spectrum of narratives that either highlight the role of individuals in societal change processes or that stress the
importance of communities or collectives. While Ashoka emphasises the changemaker potential in every individual and provides a
network for these changemakers, Shareable supports exchange between networked individuals and communities, GEN connects a
great number of eco-communities and RIPESS seeks to unite the efforts of many groups engaged in social and solidarity economy
initiatives. Using a diverse set of cases for our empirical exploration, we aimed to cover a variety that strengthens the robustness of
findings (Eisenhardt, 1989) and helps to build a comparative understanding of narratives of change across different contexts.
For each of these four cases, we conducted interviews, analysed secondary online and offline documents and, where appropriate
in terms of time, effort and opportunity, engaged in participant observation (see Table 3). The use of these different research methods
allows triangulating data and provides for more robust results (Mertens & Hesse-Biber, 2012). This article is based on a retrospective
analysis of the primary data, the empirical case-study reports (Kunze & Avelino, 2015;Pel, Lema-Blanco & Dumitru, 2017;De Majo,
Elle, Hagelskjær Lauridsen, & Zuijderwijk, 2015;Matolay, Weaver, Strasser, Vasseur, & Pataki, 2015) and a database describing
important moments in the history of local initiatives (Pel, Bauler et al., 2017), using the analytical framework introduced in Section
2.3. Doing so, allowed us to analyse ideas, concepts, metaphors, discourses and story-lines about societal transformation articulated
in various forms (oral, written, or in (moving) images), by a variety of speakers and authors, at various instances within diverse local
initiatives in different countries.
We focus on the ‘master narrative’ recurring across a variety of contexts for the content analysis (De Fina & Georgakopoulou,
2008). We (re-)constructed more or less coherent, collectively more or less agreed, temporarily more or less stabilized – but in all
cases actively circulated – narratives of change, while acknowledging that these are snapshots of more fluid realities (Pel, Dorland,
Wittmayer & Jorgensen, 2017;Haxeltine, Pel, Wittmayer et al., 2017). These master narratives often coincide with the network-level
narrative (see Table 4). We focus on shared aspects rather than on the deviations or differences between different versions, since we
are interested in showcasing and comparing alternative narratives about societal transformation that are agreeable for many people.
In doing so, we ourselves are becoming co-narrators and co-producers of a specific version of the narrative. This study acknowledges
Table 1
Framework for analysing content, construction and roles of narratives of change.
Content of narrative Why does the world have to change?
- What are the current problems?
- What is the desired future?
Who are the relevant actors? (Actors) - Who are the actors working towards the desired future?
- Who are the actors opposing or counteracting the desired future?
How is the desired future achieved? (Plot) - What developments and activities lead to the desired future?
- When and where do these take place?
Construction of narrative How are narratives of change constructed? - What activities doactors engage in to construct a shared narrative ofchange?
- How do narratives of change relate to dominant societal narratives?
- In what ways is narrative construction mediated by information and
communication technologies and infrastructures?
Role of narrative What role do narratives of change play in
social change processes?
- What roles do social innovation initiatives ascribe to their narratives/
narrative practices?
- What roles do narratives of change of social innovation initiatives play in
processes of societal transformation?
Table 2
Introduction to the four social innovation initiatives under study.
Social innovation initiative Description
Ashoka Since 1980, Ashoka is identifying and selecting high-profile social entrepreneurs to become
Ashoka fellows. It provides them with access to funding and the Ashoka network to develop
their system-changing ideas. In 2018, there were some 3500 Ashoka fellows in 92 countries.
Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) Founded in 1995, GEN is a global grassroots network (with continental and national
dependencies) of more than 10.000 ecovillages and other intentional communities. GEN
promotes social, economic and spiritual aspects of sustainable living and encourages local
community empowerment for regenerating social and natural environments.
Réseau Intercontinental de Promotion de l'Économie Sociale
Solidaire (RIPESS)
Founded in 1997, RIPESS promotes the ‘social solidarity economy’. RIPESS consists of 5
continental networks, which in turn have various national-level, regional-level and sector-level
networks as members. Every four years, RIPESS organizes global forums to exchange, learn,
collaborate and share information.
Shareable Shareable was established in 2009 as a non-profit network that seeks to bring about the ‘sharing
transformation’ by circulating regular newsletters, issuing guidebooks and sparking and
supporting sharing networks. One of its main programs, the Sharing Cities Network, included
over 50 cities in 2015.
J.M. Wittmayer, et al. Futures 112 (2019) 102433
the fluidity and distributed nature of these narratives not only with respect to content but also by analysing their construction as well
as their performativity. However, the (re-)construction of master narratives precludes paying due attention to discursive politics
within or between social innovation initiatives or between narratives of change and dominant societal narratives.
4. Analysis: comparing narratives of change
Based on the proposed tripartite analytical framework for the study of narratives of change, the following section compares the
narratives of change of the four social innovation initiatives in terms of narrative content (4.1), narrative construction (4.2) and the
role of narratives (4.3).
4.1. Narrative content: alternative economic arrangements
The narratives of change of Ashoka, GEN, RIPESS and Shareable show a broad diversity of problem framings, future visions, actors
involved as well as possible strategies (see Table 4).
Three significant commonalities underlie these four narratives of change, they all 1) question the current economic system; 2)
show an appreciation of communal and relational values; and 3) are based on a holistic view of the human being.
The four narratives of change propose and practice alternative economic arrangements that question the current neoliberal
market economy and its way of redistributing goods to different degrees. Ashoka focuses on combining positive societal impact with
financial gains, challenging the widespread mismatch between business value and social value in the current economy. While social
entrepreneurship questions the primacy of the for-profit market logic, it does, however, reinforce it at the same time. Shareable aims
to re-personalize economic relations by showing people how to connect directly through peer-to-peer networks, which allows making
use of the abundance of skills and good(s) present in society, thereby questioning the current way of organising market transactions
through single and powerful public or market parties acting as transaction hubs in the current economic system. RIPESS proposes a
social and solidarity economy as a political movement that countervails structural imbalances of the current economy and GEN’s
narrative of change includes freeing land from speculation through collective ownership and decision-making as well as more small-
scale alternative markets such as the gift economy. Such narratives of social innovation initiatives thus carry different economic
imaginaries and challenge the dominant neoliberal logic (Longhurst et al., 2016). However, the durability and resilience of the
established economic regime is recognised as the key challenge for dispersed and fragmented initiatives trying to make alternative
arrangements better known and more widely practiced.
All four initiatives question current social relations between different groups as being among others too competitive, marketized,
or fragmented and aim at their renewal. The four narratives express a high appreciation of communal and relational values,
including trust, collaboration and (mutual) empowerment. Shareable introduces sharing as the main mode of exchange based on a
trusting relation and sees it as a precursor of commoning. While Shareable mainly uses online infrastructures and virtual connections,
GEN focuses on human-scale settlements and aims to build sustainable, supportive, equal and free community cultures. RIPESS seeks
to build community on a much larger, international scale in the form of a global political movement that perpetuates equality,
sustainability and solidarity. Ashoka fosters (more exclusive) community relations among selected social entrepreneurs, while also
nurturing relational values among actors who can support social entrepreneurs. With the exception of Ashoka, the initiatives aim for
more justice and democracy through either political struggle of united ‘underdogs’ (RIPESS) or by inspiring or building communities
based on egalitarian values, (Shareable, GEN). These narratives are thus countering current trends such as increasing in-
dividualisation and alienation that are perceived as expressions of a deeper cultural crisis of Western societies (cf. Loorbach et al.,
2016;Szejnwald Brown & Vergragt, 2016).
Another commonality concerns the framing of human beings as characters with more complex needs, hopes, dreams and desires
than those of the ‘homo economicus’. Instead of ‘rational actors’ striving for personal utility and profit maximization, the four
narratives recognize and appreciate human beings as creative, driven, ethical and inspirational (Ashoka), spiritual, empathetic and
community-oriented (GEN), reciprocal and solidary (RIPESS) or generous and able to communally self-provide (Shareable). In all
cases, individual and collective agency is highlighted as an essential feature of human existence and active engagement is invited and
encouraged. The most central commonality of the four narratives in this respect is the act of embedding more holistic actors in a
coherent storyline, whether this be a tale of struggle and persistence (Ashoka, RIPESS), of reflection, personal growth through
Table 3
Overview of empirical basis.
Network Local Cases Interviews Participant observation
ASHOKA Ashoka Germany
Ashoka Hungary
19 23h
Global Ecovillage Network Schloss Tempelhof, Germany
Tamera, Portugal
28 272h
RIPESS Vosec, Belgium
Cries, Romania
14 none
Shareable Sharing City Nijmegen, Netherlands
Sharing Gijon, Spain
18 62h
J.M. Wittmayer, et al. Futures 112 (2019) 102433
community, and healing (GEN) or of sharing and communing (Shareable) towards a desired, alternative future.
4.2. Narrative construction: different degrees of deliberation and hierarchy
Narratives of change of social innovation initiatives evolve on an ongoing basis and are the product of the interaction of different
people, stories and mediating infrastructures. All (members of) social innovation initiatives engage in various activities that add
up to the distributed construction of their narratives of change. Each of the social innovation initiatives under study engages in
general dissemination and communication activities including websites, newsletters, brochures or the use of social media, but also
the organisation of conferences, symposia or workshops through which narratives are shared and reproduced. Four more activities
can be distinguished that are more innate to some initiatives than to others. Firstly, some narratives of change are partly constructed
through the authoritative voice of scientific debate and publications – either about the initiatives as such or the concepts that they
seek to advance, such as the social and solidarity economy (RIPESS; e.g. Hiez & Lavillunière, 2013;Kawano, 2013) or social en-
trepreneurship (Ashoka; e.g. Leadbeater, 1997;Mair & Martí, 2006). Secondly, (the crafting of) images that illustrate and reaffirm
central messages enrich and contribute to the construction of narratives of change. Ashoka, for example, uses the image of a swarm of
fishes swimming in one direction with one fish of a different colour swimming in the opposite direction to strengthen its message that
the individual social entrepreneur can change the world. Thirdly, sharing concepts and best practices in the form of guides or
Table 4
Overview of narratives of change of four social innovation initiatives.
Rationale: why does the world have to change?
Ashoka Change is accelerating exponentially as we move beyond industrial society. Survival depends on the capacity to adapt and innovate. In the desired
future, ‘everyone’ will be a creative and powerful changemaker, addressing the problems s/he considers relevant to create a world, which will be
fundamentally different and a far safer, happier, more equal, and more successful place” (Drayton, 2006, p. 13). Ashoka formulates eight topic areas to
be addressed by social entrepreneurs, including the environment, human rights, civic participation, and education.
GEN Current developments, such as climate change, demographic change, technological change and inequalities, are grounded in a fundamental
alienation and disconnectedness from nature, others and ourselves. The desired future includes the reconciliation of different cultures, an
integration of individual needs and community, reclaiming of real estate and land and, to some degree, self-sufficiency and ecological
RIPESS Economic globalization and the associated structural imbalances such as exploitation, gender inequality, social exclusion, North-South inequality
and poverty are highly problematic. Various dispersed local alternative economies constantly struggle against the dominant global model of a
hegemonic neoliberal order. A global vision on the social solidarity economy is based on an economic model in which the bottom line is broadened
to include values of equality, sustainability and solidarity.
Shareable A ‘value crisis’ is immanent related to lack of trust in formerly dominant institutions such as the state. Moreover, the loss of traditional practices of
commoning and sharing comes along with resource depletion. This leaves people prone to market and consumption-based identities which were
shaken by the economic crises since 2008. In the desired future, the city is organized through the commons and all institutions are democratized.
People start to self-organize in distributed, peer-to-peer networks without public authorities or big businesses interfering as centralized
Actors: Who are the relevant actors?
Ashoka Social entrepreneurs are: “the most powerful citizen problem solvers” (Interview Ashoka Country Representative Germany 2014; Matolay et al.,
2015). Single individuals with a good idea, the right strategy and the appropriate competences and resources are able to generate systemic change.
Shifting from the ‘one-in-ten-million social entrepreneur’ to an ‘everyone a changemaker’ vision, meant adopting a wider notion of protagonists to
focus on youth, employees and citizens in general. Beyond this individual focus, the role of teams and collective impact through collaborations
across organisations and sectors has also gained more importance.
GEN Individuals within a community-setting are practicing new ways of living that are in line with the desired future. Social change has to start from
within each individual: “Changing the world one heart at a time” (GEN Interview #2 in Kunze & Avelino, 2015, p. 24).
RIPESS Social solidarity economic actors (incl. networks, social enterprises, cooperatives, ethical banks, micro-credit networks, alternative currency
schemes, consumer-producer networks, etc.) work towards and promote different kinds of alternative economies as part of a broader political
movement. Actors with whom to make alliances (e.g. universities, local non-profit associations), are distinguished from those for strategic
relationships (e.g. governments, political parties) and those that are spaces to influence (e.g. world trade organizations, European Union).
Shareable The most important actors come from the grassroots, i.e. local communities or individuals starting to self-organize. They do so in interaction with
market and public actors who are, on the one hand, considered necessary for bringing about change and on the other hand, impeding it.
Plot: How is the desired future achieved?
Ashoka For system change to occur, individuals’ assumptions about themselves, the world, and their capacities to effect social change need to be aligned
with taking responsibility for societal problems. Equipped with the right resources, networks and support, these individuals can develop systems
changing potential. Institutional changes in education, funding and legislation, as well as cultural beliefs, values and norms are required for
generating an enabling environment. To this end, (cross-sectoral) collaboration with diverse actors (e.g. experts, firms, foundations, schools and
universities) are needed.
GEN Individuals live in networked communities and engage in sustainable ways of living. Activities aimed at learning and educating play a central role
in striving for systemic change and take place within the ecovillage (e.g. own schools, kindergartens, personality trainings), in interaction with
others. Places of change are real physical spaces and the natural environment as ‘stage’ for human activities.
RIPESS The social solidarity economy (SSE) will be brought about by building practice on the ground, building and strengthening SSE networks, research
and advocacy, policy work on different levels, access to markets and raising visibility through education and communication. A clear, well-
articulated and recognizable political voice for the great variety of transformation-oriented local networks and organizations seeks to overcome
fragmentation. Apart from this political-discursive strategy, SSE actors are engaged in various concrete projects on the local or regional level.
Shareable Every individual transformation is part of a long-term systemic transformation. Being involved in sharing initiatives leads to individual
empowerment and, ultimately, cultural and economic change. The ‘digital commons’ offer digital tools and enable the construction of commons
‘on the ground’.
J.M. Wittmayer, et al. Futures 112 (2019) 102433
handbooks is also a frequently used distillation and dissemination activity. Shareable, for example, communicates best practices and
solidifies its narrative through the publication of books, such as ‘Policies for Sharing Cities’ (2013) or ‘Sharing cities - Activating the
urban commons’ (2017). Finally, initiatives engage in shared storytelling. GEN actively provides for such moments, whether in
formalized general assembly meetings, small-group discussions, one-on-one conversations or through singing, meditation and dan-
We can also distinguish more deliberative vs. more hierarchical approaches to constructing narratives of change. GEN typically
makes use of community-led participatory methods and deliberation for shaping network narratives. In line with the network’s notion
that change needs to be lived and experienced, conferences, summits, festivals, tours and courses are offered with time dedicated to
the practice of storytelling. The Findhorn ecovillage recently organized and hosted the “New Story Summit” and launched a resource
hub around exchanging narratives (see All of these activities tellingly express the importance GEN accords
to a creative and creating community. On the other end of the spectrum, Ashoka’s overall narrative is lead-authored by a single
individual, Bill Drayton, the CEO and founder of Ashoka. He developed key elements, which were subsequently adopted by country
offices worldwide. Changes to this narrative are still centrally developed and distributed. Inspiring stories on Ashoka Fellows that are
regularly shared on the Ashoka website merely function as exemplars. In contrast, RIPESS lacks a centrally coordinated story. It does,
however, try to work collaboratively towards a shared perspective on alternative economies (RIPESS, 2015) that is based on the
narratives existent within different parts of the global network of networks. Thereby, RIPESS pays tribute to its principles of direct
democracy and inclusivity. Shareable exemplifies and solidifies its central narrative in the form of manuals that describe and define
what sharing is, what forms it can take and how it may best be supported. In addition, the network also showcases each community’s
sharing story on its online platform. In short, the openness of a network’s narrative of change to members’ inputs appears to relate to
the model of change it proposes: fostering engaged community living (GEN), inspiring and supporting individuals (Ashoka), relating
and uniting diverse and dispersed experiments (RIPESS) or guiding individuals, communities, authorities and business through the
sharing transformation (Shareable).
Whether more deliberatively or hierarchically developed, the narrative construction activities initiatives engage in are mediated
through information and communication technologies (ICT) and infrastructures. The extent of reliance on and use of ICT again
appears to mirror the model of change favoured by a network. Of the four cases discussed here, Ashoka and Shareable are particularly
skilled in the use of ICT, including state-of-the-art websites and active accounts on various social media platforms. Considering that
ICT play a central role in the innovation they are after, e.g. digital peer-to-peer trading platforms, their proficient use hardly comes as
a surprise. GEN also exploits the breadth of possibilities modern ICT offers, not least to help spreading its narrative and related
imagery. However, GEN seems to value face-to-face communication and local community interaction over technology-enabled ex-
change. RIPESS, in turn, encourages physical gatherings through global conferences or working visits, which are archived and made
visible by means of a basic website.
Yet, narratives of change are not only created and shaped by members’ narrative and other activities or material artefacts but also
by their interaction with broader societal discourses. We have detailed how narratives of change relate to the hegemonic discourses
of the neoliberal market economy and individualisation in terms of content (Section 4.1) and are addressing their role as counter-
narratives in the following (Section 4.3). In terms of their construction, narratives of change might be adapted by picking up on new
strategic alignments or oppositions as broader societal discourses are changing. Social innovation initiatives choose which broader
discourses they consider important for their own positioning and strategically decide to either try to latch on to widely debated and
hence well-known issues – or not. GEN, for example, due to its understanding of contemporary social and environmental challenges
as symptomatic of an underlying, fundamental crisis in human-nature and human-human interactions tends to stay clear of reference
to current day politics. Instead, their narrative focuses on communities “built around common positive values” (McLaughlin &
Davidson, 1985, p. 22) and evokes imagery of ecovillages as ‘safe havens’ after system collapse.
4.3. The role of narratives: fuelling alternative framings, identities and practices
The perceived need for and importance of narrative is apparent from the considerable effort and resources all networks and many
local and regional initiatives invest in crafting, maintaining, adjusting and sharing their narratives. This section analyses the role that
the initiatives themselves ascribe to their narrative as well as the roles that research has attributed to narratives of change in broader
processes of social change and societal transformation.
On some occasions, social innovation initiatives’ attempts to challenge, alter or replace dominant institutions (Avelino et al.,
2017;Haxeltine, Pel, Dumitru et al., 2017) manifest themselves in struggles over interpretive supremacy. Engagement in this struggle
is one role of narratives of change that is well recognised among social innovation initiatives – that of changing frames. Con-
sequentially, value-laden terminology may be embraced or rejected, and contestation may erupt around central notions that in-
itiatives would like to claim and fill with alternative meaning. On the one hand, dominant narratives of economic growth, globa-
lisation and the neoliberal world order are countered with alternatives such as social solidarity economy (RIPESS), social
entrepreneurship (Ashoka), gift economy (GEN) or sharing economy (Shareable) (Section 4.1;Longhurst et al., 2016). Strong ima-
gery, such as Ashoka’s fish or GEN’s butterfly, as well as argumentative bridges from well-known and widely-supported ideas to
alternative utopias (Pel & Backhaus, 2018) are used to counter the incumbent focus on rational and competitive social and economic
relations (Section 4.2). On the other hand, social innovation initiatives seek to strategically occupy alternative labels and narratives.
Shareable, for example, fights fiercely by means of guidebooks and countless examples of sharing initiatives to ensure that ‘sharing
economy’ is understood as ‘real sharing’ and not as Airbnb or Uber-like business models. The American Dream forms another better-
known notion and narrative that Shareable seeks to re-interpret and re-align with its agenda, away from individual material
J.M. Wittmayer, et al. Futures 112 (2019) 102433
possession towards more sustainable ways of producing, organising and living (De Majo et al., 2015).
The frame-changing capacity of narratives is thus an important characteristic that social innovation initiatives value and exploit.
For example, following years of selecting and working with individual changemakers, Ashoka realised the importance of a narrative
that invites and invigorates people to join the challenge of changing the world and its institutions by reminding people of their
individual and collective agency. Picking up on well-known quotes and metaphors, Ashoka proclaims that “Social entrepreneurs are not
content just to give a fish or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.” (Ashoka in Matolay
et al., 2015). A representative of Ashoka Germany explains:
“We’ve come to understand that what we did all along through electing Fellows and creating these networks and platforms, […]
was help people shift how they saw the world […] We have become more conscious that that is our function, that probably the
single most powerful thing we can do […] is change how people see their role in society where everyone has a potential role. […]
We’ve become more explicit about this function. We think now about framework change as what Ashoka is about whereas we used
to think of Ashoka as about finding, electing, and supporting changemakers and making them successful.” (Interview Ashoka
Country Representative Germany 2014).
This quote also illustrates the recognition of the identity-forming and meaning-making aspects of narratives. As a network of
networks that supports various social and solidarity economy practices, also RIPESS seeks to capitalise on the capacity of narratives to
imbue activities with shared meaning and identity. Defining social solidarity economy and its role in today’s world is a key task of the
network. The goal to align and unite fragmented initiatives into a larger movement plays a central concern in these efforts.
Developing an overarching narrative does not come without risk, however. If the general narrative and associated framing resonates
with people and their personal stories and framings, ties between existing members are strengthened and new members are enrolled.
In case of dissonance, members may leave, narrative work might continue and in terms of time, efforts and resources, costly in-
terpretive struggles may ensue. RIPESS faces the dual challenge of closely competing narratives, such as those of the commons
movement or credit unions; and of promoting a solidarity-based economy narrative that is controversial due to its radical Marxist
connotations in contexts such as Romania.
Similarly, GEN considers the crafting of a story about alternative community living to be at the core of GEN’s mission and its
practices. Contrary to RIPESS’ focus on a narrative of collective global solidarity, however, GEN seeks to strike a balance between
emphasising the importance of the individual as well as the collective. GEN’s logo and central metaphor, the butterfly that develops
after ‘imaginal cells’ triggered metamorphosis, can be interpreted on individual and collective level. While GEN seeks to change “the
world one heart at a time”, it also celebrates weekly meditation sessions at dawn that are meant to connect ecovillages across the
globe in a “ring of power” and celebrates traditional rituals of indigenous cultures at global network conferences for their unifying
effects (Kunze & Avelino, 2015). Social innovation initiatives are, hence, invested in developing and strengthening narrative ele-
ments, including symbolism and metaphors, that support individual and collective identity formation and thus unite various local
initiatives across languages, cultures, contexts and practices by promoting a shared framing of issues and ways to address them.
A final role of narratives of change lies in their intricate relationship with practice – both narrative and practice mutually inform
and shape each other. For example, narratives of sustainability are the strongest motivation for individuals to intrinsically stabilize
respective living practices in ecovillages, while these in turn inform the crafting of the GEN narrative about alternative community
living (Schäfer et al., 2018). Narratives can function as practical guidelines providing general principles and concrete examples for
the kind of activities and practices that help creating, shaping and thus prefiguring a desired, alternative future in the current world.
Shareable with its guidebooks and the stories of member initiatives featured on their online platform provides a strong example in
case. In ecovillages, prefigurative practices include making use of sustainable building materials and renewable energy, but also of
alternative governance mechanisms such as sociocracy, which aims for more transparent, inclusive and accountable decision taking.
While practices are inspired by narratives, narratives are built from practice and are changed due to experiences in practice. For
example, the ecovillage Sieben Linden was founded following inspirational narratives with the intention to establish a completely
self-sufficient village. The local group eventually noticed, however, that community processes are much more important for their
resilience while autarky was too ambitious, which led to a change in practices – and narratives.
5. Conclusion
Building on insights from futures studies and narrative research and their linkages, we developed an analytical framework to
study narratives of change that distinguishes between three main dimensions: their content, construction and role (Table 1). Based on
this framework, the narratives of change of four social innovation initiatives (Ashoka, GEN, RIPESS and Shareable) were studied. On
the one hand, the analytical framework proposed pushes the boundaries of narrative research by focusing on futures (rather than the
past or present), on collectives (rather than on individuals) and on societal change. On the other hand, the research presented
complements futures studies by focusing on narratives about alternative futures of social innovation initiatives, thereby highlighting
their preoccupation with prefiguration – in word and deed. In the following, the main insights are gathered to answer our research
question on how the narratives of change of social innovation initiatives seek to advance societal transformation. Finally, we suggest
some possible avenues for future research.
Concerning narrative content, social innovation initiatives provide ideas about alternative futures through their narratives of
change by opening up the straitjacket of the belief in a future that only holds ‘more of the same’. In a constant struggle over
interpretive supremacy with dominant narratives but also with each other, narratives of change seek to reveal the failings of current
institutional systems and suggest alternatives. All four narratives studied put forth alternative economic arrangements, communal
J.M. Wittmayer, et al. Futures 112 (2019) 102433
and relational values and a more holistic view of the human being. These narratives challenge the current neoliberal, capitalist
system, including the dominant policy narrative of (social) innovation for economic growth. However, considering the durability and
path dependency of the current economic order, developing and promoting a viable counter-narrative of an alternative economy
would require collaboration between social innovation initiatives – across important differences. An attempt at joining forces has
been made by a number of initiatives, including GEN, through establishing the Ecolise network to catalyse sustainability transfor-
mations (see
In terms of narrative construction, social innovation networks seem to develop shared identities or even ‘brands’ similar to
commercial companies. There are differing tendencies, however: while some networks follow a more deliberative approach, others
work with more hierarchical governance structures – in general and in terms of narrative construction. Initiatives whose narratives
emphasize the strengths and merits of the individual, such as Ashoka, tend to have more hierarchically developed narratives.
Initiatives whose narratives focus more on community aspects, such as GEN, tend to develop their narratives in a more deliberative
and distributed way. Accordingly, the way narratives are constructed reflects the changes that these initiatives want to see in the
world. It is thus a prefigurative practice and a testbed for alternative ways of organizing communal life.
In this regard, narrative construction closely relates to the role of narratives as guiding action, marking the close intertwinement
of narrative and practice. Additionally, the new frames that social innovation initiatives put forth in their narratives of change have
the power to enrol actors and contribute to personal and collective identity formation. In this regard, questions remain on the limits of
inclusivity. The RIPESS narrative, for example, is broad and seeks to embrace many alternative arrangements and initiatives related
to the social solidarity economy. As such, it is an example of a narrative that invites linkages and collaborations between initiatives to
become a powerful alternative to the current economic order. However, in terms of member enrolment, it competes with initiatives
with a clearer framing and identity proposition (such as ethical banks). This example showcases the tensions arising in terms of
achieving broad enrolment and active engagement as well as providing meaningful identity propositions.
From these findings important future avenues emerge for both research and social innovation initiatives. Beyond this study, which
took an ‘inside’ perspective to shed light on how social innovation initiatives construct their narratives of change, there are important
questions concerning the discursive politics involved in the interactions with “external” actors and their narratives of change (or
conservation). This includes the strategic adaptation of narratives of change (e.g. with language that is en vogue in policy making,
such as co-creation or lab, to secure funding) but also how these alternative narratives of change are taken up, appropriated,
commoditized or translated by other actors in policy or academia. Clearly, research on the process of narrative construction that also
addresses cross-fertilisation of and by ‘external’ influences bears the potential for interesting insights. A future challenge for social
innovation practice is to identify how social innovation initiatives can potentially collaborate strategically to move society beyond
the current dominant economic order. Their appeal to imagination and their potential to enlist people in prefigurative practices has
become apparent as important roles of narratives of change.
Declarations of interest
CRediT authorship contribution statement
J.M. Wittmayer: Conceptualization, Methodology, Writing - original draft. J. Backhaus: Conceptualization, Methodology,
Writing - original draft. F. Avelino: Conceptualization, Investigation, Writing - review & editing. B. Pel: Conceptualization,
Investigation, Writing - review & editing. T. Strasser: Investigation, Writing - review & editing. I. Kunze: Investigation, Writing -
review & editing. L. Zuijderwijk: Investigation.
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Program under
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... Similarly, Stoknes (2014) invites one to think of positive rather than frightening environmental stories. Wittmayer et al. (2019) have elaborated on the "narratives of change" to understand the horizontal and vertical dynamics of narrative formation, especially regarding the emergence of alternative narratives and coming to critical junctures in societal transformation. Similarly, van der Leeuw (2020) argues that narratives lie at the heart of societies' "imagined futures" and as such can effectuate societal change. ...
... Climate change per se is at the heart of the conflict and the solution lies in the hands of ambitious, responsible and brave countries and individuals. This narrative, though not domesticated, provides the transformative (Hinkel et al., 2020) perspective or the so-called "narrative of change" (Wittmayer et al., 2019), indicating that change is possible and certain agents by their positive or provocative examples can initiate it. ...
... Finally, there is a challenge to offer a transformative perspective. In Latvian media, a hero narrative of countries and individuals taking brave steps towards climate neutrality is represented at a relatively low level, yet such a narrative offers a transformative (Hinkel et al., 2020) perspective or the so-called "narrative of change" (Wittmayer et al., 2019). More reporting on positive domestic political, societal and business achievements in climate change mitigation and adaptation would provide a space both for domestication and for encouraging action. ...
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Political elites over the world face considerable challenges in getting societies into climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. The process is even more complicated by complex media ecologies, into which official strategic narratives are modified and contested. This study explores the media narratives on climate change and their alignment with the official political narrative in a country located on the European Union's eastern border – Latvia, analysing the representation of climate change by the four most popular digital Latvian news platforms in Latvian and Russian languages. Observing that recognition and international cooperation narratives dominate, this study concludes that media only partially project the official political narrative, which focuses on opportunities from climate change. By considering multiple perspectives of scientists, politicians, society and businesses, the media provide an arena of contestation. At the same time, the media narratives lack a domesticated alternative on climate change that is fundamental for an action-encouraging discursive environment. As a result, the image of climate change as a geographically distant, internationally addressed, negotiated and contested phenomenon persists, yet the role of Latvian actors remains unspecified. Illuminating the climate change strategic narrative projection in Latvia, this study complements the research on climate change media coverage in Central and Eastern Europe and provides insights into the communication challenges the region faces.
... Narratives are widely understood to both impact and reflect societal change and for this reason they are also referred to in the context of transition research as narratives of change (Baú, 2016;Doolin, 2003;Gearty, 2015;Krauß, 2020;Marschütz et al., 2020;Wittmayer et al., 2019). We define a narrative of change (NoC) as a product of storytelling and, accordingly, as an individual (by a person or group) interpretation and realization of a discourse about sustainable transition, the main task of which is to initiate societal change. ...
... In current studies on narratives in the context of sustainability transition, the analysis of NoC focuses on the story itself and what is said, i.e., on what is represented by the story, and not on the presentation techniques. When current research turns to analyzing the construction of narratives, questions about how they are used by actors or how these narratives relate to dominant narratives arise (Guske et al., 2019;Wittmayer et al., 2019). We have identified the question of "how" the story is presented and how it shapes communities (which are ordinarily the focus of narrative analysis in literary studies), i.e., the question regarding presentation techniques, as a research gap. ...
... Recently, there has been a growing interest in narratives and narrative analysis in a range of contexts, spanning organizational change and community studies (Berendse et al., 2006;Doolin, 2003;Gearty, 2015;Krauß & Bremer, 2020;Krauß, 2020), social and political communication (Miskimmon et al., 2013), and also future studies and transitions research (e.g., Guske et al., 2019;Krauß & Bremer, 2020;Milojević & Inayatullah, 2015;Wittmayer et al., 2019). Scientific interest in narratives generally goes in two directions. ...
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Narratives of change are increasingly becoming the focus in the context of sustainability transition, and one reason for this is the growing awareness of the impact of language on our environment. Drawing on an analysis of narratives of change of the Swedish strategic innovation program Viable Cities, in our article we illustrate how intermediary organizations seeking to facilitate sustainable futures use narratives to develop their strategies for inclusivity, and we discuss the value of narrative analysis to understand such mediation. In so doing, we draw on a narrative approach from literary studies and show the added value of analysis of textual presentation techniques for sustainability transitions research. As interpretations of discourse, narratives shape social communities and not only tell us about change, but also witness, and are intended to drive, specific changes. Our analysis of the presentation techniques of the narrative of Viable Cities reveals the ways in which the narrative seeks to achieve the goal of inclusion, to help drive change towards the goals of sustainability. This is done through the plurality of the storylines and the narration; while the plurality of perspectives is maintained through the essayistic character of the texts, as well as through stretching the time of the narrative.
... Narratives thus not only frame a problem in a certain way, but also who is responsible to address the problem and how. They give structure to future imaginaries (Pigott 2018) by, for example, considering three key elements: a rationale, relevant actors, and a plot (Wittmayer et al. 2019). We understand narratives here as storylines that start with a perceived problem which is addressed through a set of activities and developments leading to a desired future. ...
... For example, narratives can be a powerful tool to engage other people if the narrative, and thus how problems and solutions are framed, resonate with other peoples' experiences and understandings (c.f. Wittmayer et al. 2019). To ensure that workshop outcomes provide a resource for future action, they were documented in detailed workshop reports and form part of a printed project booklet with policy recommendations (Schaal et al. 2022a). ...
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In light of the global challenges of the Anthropocene, including biodiversity loss, there are increasing calls for positive, inspirational futures to motivate action and help steer away from current, largely unsustainable trajectories. The three horizons framework is an approach in future studies that engages with normative futures and helps develop pathways towards them. However, this approach has not been applied to explore opportunities for biodiversity conservation with farming communities. We developed a template to apply the three horizons framework in combination with storytelling to explore positive futures for agricultural landscapes with rich biodiversity. We then applied this method over two workshops with a rural community in a farming landscape of south-eastern Australia facing typical contemporary challenges of an ageing population, climate change, biodiversity loss and global market uncertainty. In the workshops, six pathways for change were developed. We unpack these narratives of change to contrast problem framings, future aspirations and mechanisms of change and discuss implications for conservation. We discuss our approach to integrating diverse perspectives and values, creating actionable knowledge and highlight the role of governance and policy to support individual and collective agency. We conclude that the three horizons approach has the potential to create actionable knowledge through locally meaningful narratives of change, and thus influence priorities and empower local action. For lasting on-ground change, leadership and effective cross-scale governance is required.
... According to Kioupi and Voulvoulis (2019), ESD is the practice of involving the whole system, as it includes inclusion and pedagogical development. In contrast to that Wittmayer et al. (2019), ESD stresses that every individual should get equal opportunities to get an education for their social transformation. UNESCO aims that by the end of 2030 all individuals e.g. from both formal and non-formal settings will be able to access free primary education regardless of their color, caste, and creed in a safe environment (Mawonde & Togo, 2021). ...
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Sustainable development and moral values have become an essential need of our society. We cannot expect our society to exist in the long run without having sufficient knowledge about and moral values. This research study aimed to determine the extent to which Pakistan's social studies textbooks from grade 1 to 5 contained elements regarding sustainable development and moral values. A qualitative research design was preferred and adopted for this research. The data was gathered through content analysis of primary grade textbooks of social studies written by Nicholas Horsburgh and published by Oxford 2004. A checklist was developed depicting elements and themes of sustainable development and moral values. The checklists were approved by experts of the Education Department at Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore. The themes and elements were marked accordingly and aided the researchers to explore the finding regarding the contents of primary Oxford social studies textbooks. Major findings revealed that the textbooks of social studies have a sufficient amount of SD goals i.e. Peace and Justice, Highlighting Importance of Diversity, Integrity, Good Health and Well Being, and much more. As far as the moral values are concerned a few chapters contained a surplus number of moral values in them. In the light of the findings of this study it is recommended that the content of social studies textbooks needs to be updated. Similar topics should not be repeated in the textbooks. Awareness about gender equality and environmental issues must be stressed in social studies textbooks.
... This variety of initiatives can be considered seeds of transformative change and positive futures (Mcphearson et al. 2021). They have the potential to create impact by transferring ideas, creating narratives or showing new practices that might influence economic paradigms or policy agenda-setting Wittmayer et al. 2019). Furthermore, initiatives themselves often aim to transcend their local context and contribute to a systemwide transformation (Bours et al. 2021;Loorbach et al. 2020). ...
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Transformative change is necessary to reach a circular bioeconomy. In this context, a variety of societal and business initiatives have emerged, which in their everyday practices aim to increase their circular impact. These emerging circular initiatives, so-called small wins, continuously spread, deepen and broaden and as such contribute to transformative change. A small win spreads by becoming larger and more numerous, deepens by becoming more radical and circular, and broadens by connecting with other themes and domains. This paper explores how mechanisms drive these processes and, more in particular, how circular initiatives stay or become more transformative while developing. By building on existing literature about mechanisms that contribute to the development of initiatives—we extend the small wins framework by focusing on the interplay between mechanisms and spreading, deepening and broadening. We applied this framework to two illustrative cases in the Netherlands: a circular laying hen farm, Kipster, and the community farming initiative, Herenboeren. We empirically explored how the interplay of mechanisms constitutes continuous transformative change. The results indicate that deepening the small win is mainly driven by learning by doing; spreading takes place through professionalization and broadening by partnering. Both case studies indicate that the energizing and logic of attraction mechanisms are key in continuous transformative change.
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The declining informal collaboration corresponds to less civic engagement, political equity, solidarity, trust, and tolerance as well as associational life. In 2020, a case study of two NPOs revealed that one was adopting a strong entrepreneurial orientation, while the other integrated the traditional community orientation with more professionalization, confirming to partial marketization tendencies. The NGO-ization of society, visible in the increasing number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) at the national and transnational level, tend to somewhat contradict Putnam’s thesis. On the other hand, the number of NGOs is not per se revealing of the quality of citizen participation in those organizations. The terms NGOS and nonprofit can be applied to the same organizational forms – some authors tend to consider the former as a type of nonprofit. Interestingly enough, in the diversity of approaches, and even definitions of this object, there is a common use of the excluding element to classify it: nongovernmental and nonprofit.
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Aus einer umfangreichen Literaturanalyse und mit Bezug auf die in Kapitel 2 präsentierten Per-spektiven wurden vier für Österreich relevante Transformationspfade abgeleitet: 1. Leitplanken für eine klimafreundliche Marktwirtschaft (Bepreisung von Emissionen und Ressourcenverbrauch, Abschaffung klimaschädlicher Subventionen, Technologieoffen-heit) 2. Klimaschutz durch koordinierte Technologieentwicklung (staatlich koordinierte techno-logische Innovationspolitik zur Effizienzsteigerung) 3. Klimaschutz als staatliche Vorsorge (staatlich koordinierte Maßnahmen zur Ermögli-chung klimafreundlichen Lebens, z. B. durch Raumordnung, Investition in öffentlichen Verkehr; rechtliche Regelungen zur Einschränkung klimaschädlicher Praktiken) 4. Klimafreundliche Lebensqualität durch soziale Innovation (gesellschaftliche Neuorien-tierung, regionale Wirtschaftskreisläufe und Suffizienz)
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Kapitel 2 systematisiert entlang von vier Perspektiven in den Sozialwissenschaften weit verbreitete Theorien zur Analyse und Gestaltung von Strukturen klimafreundlichen Lebens. Das Kapitel möchte Leser_innen des Berichts bewusst machen, mit wie grundlegend unterschiedlichen Zugängen Forscher_innen Strukturen klimafreundlichen Lebens analysieren. Dies ist wichtig, um zu verstehen, dass es nie nur eine, sondern immer mehrere Perspektiven auf Strukturen klimafreundlichen Lebens gibt. Dieses Bewusstsein hilft, die Komplexität der Sozialwissenschaften und damit die Komplexität der Aufgabe – Strukturen für ein klimafreundliches Leben zu gestalten – zu erfassen. Unterschiedliche Zugänge zu sehen, bedeutet auch, ein besseres Verständnis von konfligierenden Problemdiagnosen, Zielhorizonten und Gestaltungsoptionen zu entwickeln und – idealerweise – damit umgehen zu können.
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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 paper introduces the Heideggerian terms Zuhanden and Vorhanden to studies of community low carbon transitions. It sets apart Zuhandenheit community as involvement: the doing, enacting and belonging aspects of community movements and activism. Vorhandenheit community contrastingly is observed: community as an object at arm's length, to be studied, tasked or used. The article builds on authors, particularly Malpas, who have utilised these concepts in spatial theory by adopting their associated spatialisation of involvement and containment. After introducing this theoretical understanding, the article addresses the case of a Transition initiative in receipt of government funding, where both Vorhanden and Zuhanden subjectivities can be found. Through focusing on this specific Transition project, we can more clearly grasp both the tensions emerging from state-funded community and the limits to, and possibilities for, appreciating community action phenomenologically.
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The challenge of facilitating a shift towards sustainable housing, food and mobility has been taken up by diverse community-based initiatives ranging from "top-down" approaches in low-carbon municipalities to "bottom-up" approaches in intentional communities. This paper compares intervention measures in four case study areas belonging to these two types, focusing on their potential of re-configuring daily housing, food, and mobility practices. Taking up critics on dominant intervention framings of diffusing low-carbon technical innovations and changing individual behavior, we draw on social practice theory for the empirical analysis of four case studies. Framing interventions in relation to re-configuring daily practices, the paper reveals differences and weaknesses of current low-carbon measures of community-based initiatives in Germany and Austria. Low-carbon municipalities mainly focus on introducing technologies and offering additional infrastructure and information to promote low-carbon practices. They avoid interfering into residents' daily lives and do not restrict carbon-intensive practices. In contrast, intentional communities base their interventions on the collective creation of shared visions, decisions, and rules and thus provide social and material structures, which foster everyday low-carbon practices and discourage carbon-intensive ones. The paper discusses the relevance of organizational and governance structures for implementing different types of low-carbon measures and points to opportunities for broadening current policy strategies.
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This paper argues that there is currently a need for new theory on transformative social innovation that is able to provide empowering insights to practice, especially in terms of how social innovation interacts with transformative change processes. It identifies three ‘pitfalls’ that such theory-building needs to confront, and presents middle-range theory development, together with a focus on social relations and the processes of social innovation, as three elements of a theory-building strategy that responds to these pitfalls. In describing the implementation of this strategy in successive iterations between empirical case study research and integrative analysis, critical reflections are drawn on each of the three elements of the theory-building strategy. Taken together, these reflections underline the importance of maintaining a reflexive approach in developing new knowledge and theory on new social innovation.
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Considering that it is important for the social innovation research field to confront its methodological challenges, this contribution addresses the challenge of choosing appropriate units of analysis. Invoking insights from actor-network theory, it is demonstrated that this challenge is pervasive: the agency in social innovation processes is distributed and therefore fundamentally difficult to detect and ascribe. This elusiveness becomes particularly pressing in attempts towards systematic comparison of cases. Critically evaluating the three main unit of analysis choices that guided an international comparison of 20 transnational SI networks and their local manifestations, methodological lessons are drawn on the agents that SI can be ascribed to, on the transnational agency through which it spreads and on the relevant transformation contexts involved.
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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.
The goal of this article is twofold. First, to illustrate how in the last decade a growing number of critical and Marxist thinkers committed to discussing and developing theories of change have started to broaden their focus by including social movements and grassroots initiatives that are “interstitial”, i.e. initiatives that are developing within capitalism and are striving to prefigure a post-capitalist society in the here and now without engaging in contentious, violent and revolutionary actions and activities. To achieve this, I mainly focus on the work of four authors: Erik Olin Wright, John Holloway, Ana C. Dinerstein, and Luke Martell. The second goal of this article is to understand why these interstitial movements are getting so much attention from critical scholars and to argue that the time is ripe for establishing a theory of (and for) prefigurative social movements. The article closes with some brief reflections on the future of radical thinking that includes an invitation, directed mostly at the young generation of critical and Marxist scholars, to begin a dialogue with theories of change developed within other disciplines, to engage with activists, and to experiment with participatory methods and techniques.