An innovation systems approach to sustainability transitions: analysing socio-cognitive institutions in Austrian and South African cases

Van Heyningen, Jan Pieter (2016-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY : Choosing new socio-economic pathways for sustainable development requires one direction of economic development to be selected above another. This dissertation discovers which factors within innovation systems may lead to these trajectory changes. Little understanding exists of how socio-cognitive institutions (SCIs) within innovation systems (ISs) may enable or hamper this shift. The ability of nations and regions to direct socio-economic activity towards sustainability is an increasingly significant global challenge, with distinctive characteristics in different socio-spatial contexts. It is urgent that better comprehension of how transitions to sustainability can be induced within society is conveyed to those who need it. While the sustainability transitions (STs) literature confronts this problem, it neglects the finer intricacies of socio-economic influences of change, which may hamper or enable socio-technical transitions. In contrast, innovation systems, whether national, regional or local, do not confront the challenge of sustainability head-on, but arguably provide an excellent conceptual framework and policy tool for doing so. ISs also provide a strong theoretical framework for comprehension of these intricate mechanisms within national, regional and local economies, which may shift them to more sustainable trajectories. This dissertation seeks to overcome this challenge. It will highlight the dearth of understanding of the configurations of a sustainability-oriented innovation system. It is assumed they are both social and institutional. This study aims to investigate the socio-cognitive institution, assumed to be crucial. From this a primary research question follows: How do SCIs within regional innovation systems (RISs) constrain or enable pathways to socio-economic development for sustainability, in turn affecting socio-technical transitions to sustainability at different structural and scale levels? The primary research question is divided into three investigative themes and research sub-questions. This informs the analytical framework for a content analysis (CA) of the derived data stemming from the investigation of the case studies. What is investigated from an ethnographic and transdisciplinary research process is: First, how the strengths or weaknesses of ISs enable or constrain the ability of nations and regions to transform toward sustainability. Second, how sustainability-oriented SCIs may influence the direction of regional innovation systems (R)ISs, resulting in socio-economic pathways effecting STs. Third, how SCIs form within ISs at macro, meso and micro socio-structural levels and national, regional and local geographic scales. The derived data of the research in the form of interview texts are explored via a content analysis methodology. A rigid and deductive analysis framework is employed before an inductive approach is used to reflect on the extensive literature reviews of IS and ST theory. While the Austrian case represented an established sustainability-oriented RIS, the South African case ‘Transforming Technopark’ (TTP) in the context of the Western Cape Regional Innovation system was a contemporary and transdisciplinary case study. The transdisciplinary approach involved the researcher acting as a consultant, and co-developing a vision and strategy with various triple-helix stakeholders of the town of Stellenbosch. The study also extended to the regional level to gain perspective on the regional embeddedness of the case. The findings of both cases strongly support the notion that SCIs are powerful enabling factors, within regional innovation systems. Their direction is strongly influenced by both internal and external factors in the RIS. SCI can exist as both informal and formal structures in society. Informal SCIs for sustainability may diffuse within the RIS to become formal SCIs. Knowledge generation for sustainability was recognized as the most important and powerful driver of both SCI change and the formation of sustainability-oriented innovation systems. The findings of the research, which are generalized to provide a theoretical background and model of sustainability-oriented innovation systems (SoIS), can be aimed at policy development for STs. The investigation was undertaken from a more macro-economic vantage point, of RIS. Recommendations are that more micro, business and organizational sets of perspectives of the influence of sustainability-oriented innovation systems on the functioning of the economy is now required. This would enhance the notional understanding of socio-economic transitions to sustainability considerably, and build upon what has been achieved in this study.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING : Sosio-ekonomiese wee moet verander om volhoubaarheid te bereik. Daar is min begrip vir hoe SCIs binne ISs hierdie verandering bevorder of terughou. Nasies en streke se vermoe om sosio-ekonomiese aktiwiteit na volhoubaarheid te stuur is 'n toenemende globale uitdaging, met kenmerkende eienskappe in verskillende sosio-ruimtelike kontekste. Terwyl die literatuur ten opsigte van volhoubaarheidsoorgange (STS) hierdie probleem aanspreek, word die verwikkeldheid van sosio-ekonomiese invloede op verandering van sosio-tegniese oorgange wat dit kan belemmer of bevorder, misgekyk. Andersyds konfronteer nasionale, streek- en 'plaaslike' vernuwingstelsels nie die uitdaging van volhoubaarheid regstreeks nie, maar voorsien 'n konseptuele raamwerk en beleid om dit te doen. ISs bied 'n teoretiese raamwerk om hierdie meganismes binne nasionale, streek- en plaaslike ekonomiee, wat dit kan neem na meer volhoubare trajekte, te verstaan. Die tesis poog om hierdie uitdaging te oorkom en om die gebrek aan begrip vir die opsette van 'n volhoubaarheid-georienteerde vernuwingstelsel te beklemtoon. Dit sluit beide sosiale en institusionele stelsels in. Die doelwit is om die krities-belangrike sosio-kognitiewe instelling te ondersoek. 'n Primere navorsingsvraag is vervolgens: Hoe belemmer of bevorder SCIs binne RISs maniere tot sosio-ekonomiese ontwikkeling vir volhoubaarheid en, op sy beurt, hoe beinvloed dit sosio-tegniese oorgange na volhoubaarheid op verskillende strukturele en skaalvlakke? Die primere navorsingsvraag onderle die analitiese raamwerk vir 'n inhoud-analise (CA) van die afgeleide data wat spruit uit die gevallestudies. Wat ondersoek word vanuit 'n etnografiese en transdissiplinere navorsingproses is as volg: Eerstens, hoe die sterk of swak hoedanighede van die ISS die vermoe van nasies en streke belemmer of bevorder na volhoubaarheid. Tweedens, hoe volhoubaarheid-georienteerde SCIs die trajek van die plaaslike innovasie stelsels (R)ISS mag beinvloed, wat lei tot sosio-ekonomiese wee wat STs bewerkstellig. Derdens, hoe SCIs binne ISs op makro-, meso- en mikro sosio-strukturele vlakke vorm, en nasionale, streek- en plaaslike geografiese skale. Die afgeleide data in die vorm van onderhoudtekste word ondersoek deur middel van 'n inhoud-analise metode. ‘n Rigiede en deduktiewe analise-raamwerk word gebruik voordat 'n meer induktiewe benadering gebruik word om te besin oor die uitgebreide literatuurresensies van ISs en STS teorie. Terwyl die Oostenrykse geval 'n gevestigde volhoubaarheid-georienteerde RIS verteenwoordig, is die Suid-Afrikaanse geval van ‘Transformasie Technopark’ (TTP) in die konteks van die Wes-Kaapse Streeksvernuwingstelsel, 'n kontemporere en transdissiplinere gevallestudie. Tydens die transdissiplinere benadering het die navorser as konsultant opgetree, en was mede-ontwikkelaar met verskeie trippel-heliks belanghebbendes van Stellenbosch. Die studie het ook uitgebrei na plaaslike vlak om perspektief te kry op die plaaslike verankering van die saak. Die bevindings van beide gevalle ondersteun die gedagte dat SCIs belangrike bemagtigingsfaktore binne plaaslike vernuwingstelsels is. Hierdie neiging word beinvloed deur beide interne en eksterne faktore in die RIS. SCI mag bestaan as informele en formele strukture in die samelewing. Informele SCIs tot volhoubaarheid mag binne die RIS ontplooi en dus formele SCIs word. Kennisuitbreiding van volhoubaarheid word erken as die belangrikste en mees invloedryke faktor van SCI verandering, en die vorming van volhoubaarheid-georienteerde innovasiestelsels. Die bevindinge van die navorsing wat veralgemeen word na 'n teoretiese agtergrond en model van SoIS lewer, kan gerig word op die ontwikkeling van beleid vir STs. Die ondersoek poog om 'n groter makro-ekonomiese oogpunt van RIS te bewerkstellig. Aanbevelings is dat 'n groter mikro-, of sake-perspektief van die invloed van volhoubaarheid-georienteerde vernuwingstelsels op hul sakemodelle vrugbare toekomstige navorsingsrigtings mag bied.

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