Transformative Innovation Policy for Transitions on Environmental Sustainability

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Henrik Larsen


DKK 700,000




Internationalisation Fellowships


The frame of reference for innovation has changed over the past decade and with it, the requirements for conceptual approaches that underpin innovation policy. It is increasingly recognised that addressing persistent, systemic challenges such as poverty, inequality and climate change require more than optimising innovation systems to meet economic objectives but also inducing directionality and processes of transformative change toward a broader range of societal and environmental objectives. To this end, there is a critical need to develop policy approaches that go beyond the limitations of incremental and radical innovation towards broad-based system innovation: here understood as fundamental change in socio-technical systems towards more sustainable modes of production and consumption.


Decision-making and priority setting based on system innovation require revision of the knowledge base at the interface between environmental and innovation policy. It entails a move away from addressing individual issues, based on linear cause-effect relationships, towards acknowledging multi-causality and systemic causes. A narrow focus on scientific breakthroughs and technology-mediated change without considering necessary behavioural changes in established habits and lifestyles is too restrictive to deal with the nature and complexity of systemic challenges. The objective of this project is to reframe our understanding of innovation towards a socio-technical process addressing key systemic challenges in the context of sustainability transitions and transformation.


The project is a partnership between University College London and the European Environment Agency (EEA), the leading European environmental policy organisation. Since 2015 the EEA has invested in deepening its understanding of socio-technical systems change. This work has highlighted the need to go beyond theoretical discussions to explore the practical implications of system innovation for policy and practice. Year 1 of the project will focus on action research to elicit and organise the knowledge base of the EEA. In particular, there is a need to extend beyond a focus on monitoring and assessing existing environmental problems towards creating a more solutions-oriented knowledge base. Year 2 will focus on research needs of the EEA and appropriate methods will be developed accordingly.

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