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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Actor-level experiences of public-private-civil society partnerships for energy transitions

The sociotechnical transitions literature seeks to identify broad principles and processes of change relating to the co-evolution of society and technology. As such, the literature tends to conceive of actors in terms of collectives: individuals as actors themselves are little studied and social psychological factors even less. Yet individuals underpin all transitions processes. This study examines the connections between the social psychological experience of actors as individuals, specifically in the context of partnerships between public, private and civil society organisations established for the purpose of facilitating energy transitions. The focus is on the functioning of these partnerships, but in particular regarding the experiences of the individuals involved and the implications of these for systems and structures.

A variety of perspectives have been used to analyse commercial partnerships within the innovation studies literature, but public-private-civil society partnerships tend to have broader goals and rationales. Woodson (2016) lists these as including: as a response to the complexity and interconnectivity of contemporary problems prohibiting a single organization from accomplishing their goals; as better able to overcome market deficiencies than a single actor; as spreading the risk of failure over multiple parties and projects; and as improving the economies of scale of R&D and pooling the talents of different sectors. From another perspective, Chataway et al. (2009) observe that these partnerships may also function as knowledge brokers and integrators that drive innovation, stimulate R&D and negotiate among other organizations. In this respect they share some of the functions of innovation system intermediaries. Yet, such partnerships have also been critically discussed, especially regarding the question from where and how they obtain and maintain their legitimacy in various respects. Such partnerships may involve unequal power relationships in which community partners are likely to be the weaker players, particularly where there are asymmetries in access to resources. At issue here is the extent to which structures that integrate civil society actually help to resolve legitimacy and other challenges.

Drawing on these and other literatures, such as those of transition management, knowledge co-production and participative innovation governance, our key research questions relate to the functioning of energy-focused public-private-civil society partnerships as experienced by the individual actors involved and the implications of this experience for organisational and system-level change. Our hypotheses include: (i) that relatively inclusive processes, particularly those that involve citizens, are viewed as having higher legitimacy; (ii) that participatory innovation processes enhance learning; and (iii) that these are positively associated with the potential to induce system-level change. Our methods are case study based and the outcomes enable a demonstration of the connections between micro-, meso- and macro-levels in terms of conditions, success factors and structurating factors that support activity for energy transitions.

Paul Upham
Leuphana University

Paula Maria Bögel
Leuphana University

Olga Kordas
KTH Royal Institute of Technology


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