So, focusing my next batch of academic reading around the Technological Innovation Systems concept. If you have other things on this, besides these seven, you think I should read, lemme know.
Markard J. and Truffer, B. 2008. Technological innovation systems and the multi-level perspective: Towards an integrated framework. Research Policy 37 596–615
Lots of useful stuff here, especially on the respective strengths and weaknesses of the two lenses.
Both strands have emerged largely independent of each other although they aim at explaining similar empirical phenomena and are based on common conceptual grounds. Both highlight the importance of networks and learning processes together with the crucial role of institutions for successful innovation processes. Both acknowledge phenomena such as path dependency, lock-in, interdependence, non-linearity and coupled dynamics. More generally, both concepts are rooted in evolutionary economic theorizing. While one may argue that system theory in sociology or natural sciences is quite different from evolutionary theory (cf. Malerba, 2002, p. 249), this does not apply for the innovation systems framework. (Markard & Truffer, B. 2008; 596)
A system in general is an entity comprising elements that interact with one another. It is a model of reality designed for analytical purpose. This implies a clear distinction between the system and its environment. Systems are characterized by their structure including system borders, the number and type of system elements, their interrelations and the relations between the system and its environment. Innovation systems, more specifically, can be conceptualized as a set of organizations and institutions and the relationships among them (Edquist, 2005).1 Organizations (also actors or agents) typically encompass private firms or firm sub-units, governmental and non-governmental agencies, universities, research facilities, venture capitalists, associations, etc. Institutions, on the other hand, can be regarded as the rules of the game (ibid.) comprising laws and regulations, sociocultural as well as technical norms, use patterns, shared expectations, etc. (Markard & Truffer, B. 2008; 597)
Against the background of these challenges it is not surprising that many articles, although explicitly based on the multi-level concept, have not proven to deal very [page break] carefully with the regime concept in empirical terms. They say little about how regime(s) were delineated empirically (e.g. Geels, 2002, 2006a,b; Raven, 2004) or what constitutes the regime before and after a transition (e.g. Geels, 2005a). Moreover, there is no reflection or even justification why the regime notion has been applied in a certain way, e.g. at the level of industrial sectors in a selected country (Raven, 2004, 2007; Verbong and Geels, 2007). (Markard & Truffer, B. 2008; 606-7)
Moreover, the multi-level approach is largely confined to the niche level in its analysis of emerging novelties. This is problematic for three reasons. First, there is quite a gap in terms of process complexity and aggregation between niche and regime and little explanation for dynamics beyond the niche level such as complementary effects of developments in different niches or the emergence of niche transcending institutions. The analytical distinction between technological and market niche together with the rather diffuse concept of ‘niche-accumulation’ represent first propositions to bridge this gap (Geels and Schot, 2007). Second, the concepts and tools to investigate innovation dynamics at the niche level are less elaborated than those developed for the study of innovation systems. A recent attempt to cope with the latter challenge is the suggested distinction of learning, network creation and formation of expectations as three key processes for the analysis of niche level dynamics (Geels and Raven, 2006; Geels and Schot, 2006). Little has been said, however, why these particular processes should receive particular attention. Finally, actors and strategy making have received little attention in the conceptualization of niches (Markard & Truffer, B. 2008; 609)
This conceptualization will pose analytical difficulties especially in the case of radical innovations, for which established production systems often create formidable barriers. Therefore, radical innovations are often promoted by actor networks that show little overlap with prevailing actor structures in a sector or technological field. If conceptually we try to define innovation systems in a way that they encompass also opposing actors, outsiders and critics of a certain technology, the innovation system concept will probably degenerate into a merely descriptive bracket for very different processes and structures. As a consequence, it would loose almost every explanatory power. (Markard & Truffer, B. 2008; 610)
I found this picture to be super-helpful in understanding what the authors were on about –
While innovation system concepts, for example, promise to more explicitly deal with innovation activities and strategies of actor groups, an explicit concept that permits to deal with innovation processes at the level of business units and at the system level still remains to be worked out (cf. Markard and Truffer, in press). Of particular interest would be mechanisms that lead to the emergence and the prospering of TIS. Here an explicit analysis of dynamics and social construction processes is necessary. Further issues to be clarified are implications for policy and strategy formulation, performance comparisons of innovation systems, the identification of alternative trajectories for specific radical innovations, etc. (Markard & Truffer, B. 2008; 612)
I probably need to go back and re-read that one about Norway’s oil and gas industry again…
Thankyou for your reviews of this literature, Dr Hudson. I wonder whether there have been MLP studies of transitions (and associated innovations) that we can say for sure were at least 90% the result of conscious policies. Would such cases challenge or test the theory?
Please, just call me Marc!
The question you raise is a very good one, very live. Previous sociotechnical transitions that the MLP has been used for were “unintentional” in that nobody sat down in 1810 and said “right, we’re going to develop technology, test it out in little areas where sailing ships are no good, and slowly improve, build business models, expertise and then by 1890 we will have done away with sail ships bwahahaahahaha”.
Sustainability Transitions (obviously) are intentional – states in theory creating markets (or encouraging them at least) for products that consumers as individuals would either not demand or not demand at the speed required.
So these purposive transitions are still underway. It frankly doesn’t look like they are going to happen at the speed required, in part because the new technologies are usually sitting alongside existing tech, rather than displacing it (the picture is complicated, and things will change). So, the question is – (how) can we accelerate transitions? What needs to be done, by who, how? One thing is to accelerate the end of some highly-polluting incumbent industries, or if not the industries themselves, then the technologies they currently use! (So, we’re going to need steel, it’s essential. But can we make ‘green steel’).
There’s a lot of academic (and non-academic) work on this. One paper that has had lots of citations, and that I like a lot, is called “How long will it take” by the insanely prolific Ben Sovacool (full disclosure, he’s about to have the signal honour of being one of my bosses). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629615300827
It’s “only” about energy transitions (we need lots of other transitions – around food, mobility, etc)
Another place to look might be the Accelerating Social Transitions project – https://www.tyndall.ac.uk/research/accelerating-social-transitions
Let me know if this is helpful at all?!
Thank you Marc. If there are historical sustainability transitions that have started as policy responses to environmental problems, I suppose the dotted lines in the global MLP model (indicating a flow from the landscape down to niche) represent that causality. Will check out those links. Regards, NL.
let me know what you find! MLP has a problem with politics and power. I really like the Sorrell 2018 paper about this (it’s quite heavy going, not because the writing is deliberately or accidentally turgid, but because the issues it uncovers are not simple. It is definitely worth the effort).
The whole question of sustainability transitions, their scope, scale, speed, control etc is fraught. There’s also work on “cockpit-ism” that might be of interest.
Hi Marc, the articles by Sorrell (& Svensson & Nikoleris) were probably the reason I took a break from reading MLP after your blog introduced me to the literature a year or so ago. But really, these authors are just requesting some extra work to be done clarifying definitions. The distinction between system and regime might be an important one, but the definition of a system is an essential starting place. The Røpke diagram in the Geels 2019 paper “Socio-technical transitions to sustainability: a review of criticisms and elaborations of the Multi-Level Perspective” helps us categorise systems theoretically. But so often there are overlaps between systems that make defining them a messy business in practice. We probably have “Cockpit-ism” to thank for the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines. (I guess we will see an MLP study of this “innovation” in time.)
thanks, I will have a look at the Ropke diagram.
For me the MLP is a kinda sorta useful heuristic, but once you start trying to use it to answer empirical/real world problems, you need to bring in other lenses (depending on what your questions are). So I don’t lose a lot of sleep of its manifold and manifest shortcomings. As you will see from this blog, I am a little more intrigued by TIS (but quite ignorant – something I will try to fix over the coming months). The question of overlaps between systems – famously energy and mobility, but also bringing in the “water nexus” is something a lot of people are trying to grapple with. It’s been around as an acknowledged problem/challenge going back 15 plus years, is my sense. Some of the more old, allusive stuff is knocking around the back of my head right now. Have you read Giddens “The Consequences of Modernity”? Based on some lectures he gave at Stanford. The concept of “the juggernaut” is on point, I guess…
(you can email me if ever you want, on firstname.lastname@example.org)
“I thought I could create a kinder, gentler world. But the train demanded otherwise.” Cavill, Snowpiercer.
There are some interesting diagrams in Chapter 5 of this Giddens book. Thanks!
Maybe I shouldn’t place “innovation” in scare quotes when discussing mRNA vaccines. Apparently the technology has been around for 40 years as a “niche” innovation https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02483-w