SNM supports the introduction of sustainable innovations (Raven, 2005)
that emphasises steering of the group of relevant actors (Geels and Schot,
2007). SNM can be applied in a
multilevel perspective (MLP) that distinguishes three sociotechnical levels,
namely, landscapes, regimes and niches1
(Geels, 2002). The core of an MLP is the interaction between landscape, regime
and niche, and the way top-down landscape pressure and bottom-up niche
development influence the evolution of sociotechnical regimes2
(Grin et al., 2010).
SNM aims to understand the
conditions under which innovations for sustainability succeed, and guide
governance of innovations for sustainability. Sustainable innovation
trajectories can be facilitated by creating the so-called niches. The
assumption is that properly constructed niches act as building blocks for
broader societal changes towards sustainable development (Schot and Geels,
2008). Seyfang and Smith (2007) distinguished two types of niche innovations:
market based and grassroots. They argued that market based innovations differ
from grassroots innovations in context (market vs social economy), driving
force (profit vs social need), niche (market rules vs values), organisational
form (firm vs diversity of organisations), and resources (commercial oriented
vs diverse non-profit funding).
Niches are conceived as ‘cosmopolitan’ (i.e. not
situated) spaces, constituting multiple on-the-ground local projects, linked
together by networks and intermediary organisations (Hargreaves et al., 2013).
These intermediaries at the cosmopolitan or niche level consolidate the
learning flowing ‘up’ from projects, and repackage it into mobile forms as
transferrable standards, best practice and other resources to help new projects
which, in turn, re- interpret and embed the knowledge ‘downwards’ into new
local contexts. In this way, they aggregate learning and resources to help grow
the niche through replication of projects, and influence regimes to adopt niche
ideas and practices.
1 Landscape can
be defined as exogenous events and trends that shape niche-regime dynamics. While
regime is understood as a relatively stable and aligned set of rules directing
the behaviour of a set of actors along the trajectory of incremental
innovation, niches are conceived as protected spaces where novel sociotechnical
configurations are established (often as a direct response to an unsustainable
regime), experimented with, and developed, away from the normal selection
pressures of the regime (Smith and Raven, 2012).
2 The configuration of actors, technologies and institutions for fulfilling a
certain societal function.