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Resource typeDissertation
Title(s)Enhancing the transformative potential of sustainability innovations: Insights from two European Biosphere Reserves
CreatorDabard, Caroline Hélène  0000-0003-2288-6394 (Social-ecological Systems Institute (SESI), Leuphana Universität Lüneburg  02w2y2t16)
RefereeMann, Carsten
Martín-López, Berta
Riechers, Maraja
AdvisorMann, Carsten
Martín-López, Berta
AbstractGlobal wicked problems call for sustainability innovations and transformations to challenge problematic systems. In this context, there have been increasing expectations that sustainability innovations induce positive and transformative outcomes. Despite a growing transformation research field, however, there is still a need to assess the actual outcomes of sustainability innovations in terms of their transformative potential. Furthermore, although much progress focussed on supportive conditions for innovations, there are only limited insights on the supportive conditions that foster sustainability innovations of strong transformative potential, as opposed to incremental innovations. This thesis aims to address these gaps, in particular, to characterise the transformative potential of sustainability innovations and to identify the supportive conditions that may enhance transformative potential. The thesis thereby examines multiple cases of local sustainability innovations in Schorfheide-Chorin and Fontainebleau-Gâtinais Biosphere Reserves, in Germany and France. Biosphere Reserves, being model regions for sustainable development designed by UNESCO, offer practical and insightful study sites on local sustainability innovations. Insights are presented in three papers, which form the Chapters of the thesis. First, an analytical framework proposes to characterise sustainability innovations through four dimensions: context, actors, processes and outcomes. The framework identifies 31 variables that detail each dimension and enable a cross-case comparison of various sustainability innovations. With a focus on eliciting sustainability outcomes, this Chapter proposes to analyse novelty types, sustainability impacts and amplifying strategies to capture concrete outcomes. Furthermore, the Chapter highlights supportive conditions shared by two case studies of sustainability innovations in Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve. Local sustainability are thus relevant for societal transformations and even often comprise multiple, entangled and co-evolving novelties. Second, sustainability innovations archetypes are identified in each Biosphere Reserve based on empirical data about over a hundred sustainability innovations across the two areas. Archetypes are identified based on outcomes, including novelty type, sustainability impacts, amplifying strategies and novelty scale. Following, transformative potential is interpreted as the capacity of sustainability innovations to produce shallow or deep impacts in a leverage points perspective, and to amplify those impacts through amplifying strategies. Sustainability innovation archetypes can be characterised along a transformative continuum, where incremental innovations produce shallow outcomes and lack amplifying strategies – while transformative innovations produce impacts both shallow and deep, and implement diverse strategies to amplify out and beyond. Empirical evidence shows that few sustainability innovations display a strong transformative potential. The case studies also exemplify how various sustainability innovations could identify joint purposes and synergies, and how Biosphere Reserves may play a bridging role in this regard. Third, the supportive conditions that are connected to different sustainability innovation archetypes are elicited through the decision-making context framework, which articulates that constellations of values, knowledge and governance arrangements underlie different transformative actions. The values that motivate innovation actors and the modes of knowledge production are characterised based on survey data. The governance arrangements that underlie different archetypes are analysed through social network analyses. In particular, governance arrangements are interpreted based on networks being diverse or homogenous, cooperative or hierarchical, and influential or peripheral. Most transformative x archetypes are linked to decision-making contexts made of plural values, collaborative knowledge co-creation and networks that are diverse, cooperative and influential. Incremental sustainability innovations are linked to instrumental values, informative knowledge production and networks that are homogenous, hierarchical and peripheral. This Chapter also highlights reformist and idealist sustainability innovations, which have mixed transformative potential. Idealist innovations focus on value shifts but lack concrete and measurable outcomes, which limits their transformative potential. Here again, the results highlight the bridging potential of Biosphere Reserves in sustainability innovations networks. Following, the thesis proposes recommendations for innovation actors to enhance this potential, notably by identifying how to diversify sustainability outcomes and design amplifying strategies to spread impacts beyond the innovations’ scopes of action. In addition, reflecting on how to twist supportive conditions related to actors and processes could enhance transformative potential, notably by articulating various values and motivations for their actions, designing more collaborative processes, and strengthening and diversifying their networks. Biosphere Reserves may also enhance their role as bridging organisations for local sustainability innovations, notably by articulating regional values and goals, thereby ensuring the integration of various types of knowledge, strengthening local networks, information flows and collaborative processes. This, in turn, may support innovation actors in navigating their context. Finally, the thesis proposes that future research should examine interactions and coevolution of actors, processes and transformative outcomes in sustainability innovations, and elicit the different ways to mobilise values to study and enhance innovations. Furthermore, normative aspects, such as diverging perspectives on desirable outcomes, conflicts and contestations, largely remain to be explored. This could be achieved with a more substantial research focus on radical innovations, activists and social movements. Finally, the thesis acknowledges the contributions of many local sustainability innovations, which participate in multiple ways to promote greater societal transformations towards diverse desirable futures.
KeywordsLeverage points; Sustainability; Sustainability transitions; Schorfheide-Chorin; Fontainebleau et du Gâtinais; Biosphere reserves
Date of defense2024-03-14
Year of publication in PubData2024
Publishing typeFirst publication
Date issued2024-04-09
Creation contextResearch
Granting InstitutionLeuphana Universität Lüneburg
Published byMedien- und Informationszentrum, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
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