Building Institutional Capacity for Sustainability Transitions through Innovation Experiments : A Case Study of Sustainability Innovation Networks and Craft Beer SMEs
Abstract: The concept of experimentation is increasingly promoted to facilitate social learning for sustainability transitions. Experiments are collaborative initiatives designed to generate knowledge and test innovative practices to address a collective sustainability challenge. However, it is often unclear whether experiments generate any impact beyond the initial project scope. Recent literature has called for further research on how the dynamics and outcomes of sustainability experiments might lead to broader system transformation. This thesis applies the institutional capacity (IC) building framework to analyze the knowledge resources, relational resources, and mobilization capacity developed in two innovation networks experimenting with symbiotic resource exchanges in the craft beer sector – one utilizing unsold bread to offset malted barley in brewing in the UK, and one piloting the use of highly treated wastewater instead in the brewing process. Each case is characterized by the recent emergence of successive experiments conducted across growing communities of actors to from an innovation network. The study found that the collaborative experiments did boost overall levels of IC to further develop the respective practices. However, the capacity for further sustainability action is unevenly distributed among the innovation networks. Findings identified range of actors involved, their relative levels of commitment required to participate in the projects, and the resources they have available for further action as key factors influencing the different rates of growth and transformative potential of the networks. This supports prior research that found institutional support from established actors is important for an innovation to scale up. The findings also suggest that, if designed well, collaborative experimentation projects are a useful platform for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to engage in open innovation and organizational learning processes for adoption of circular economy (CE) practices.
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