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Three Key Questions

1. How does the fit in local context conditions, i.e. existing modes of governance, the inherent structures, institutions, networks, and capacities of the community, with renewable energy technologies affect the local energy transitions?

The ideal case is a system “that seeks to unleash the ingenuity, and stimulate the creativity, of political entrepreneurs. It is a system that is structured so that actors within the system are given opportunities for institutional innovation and adaptation through experimentation and learning” (Andersson and Ostrom 2008, p. 77). Such a system depends on a number of context factors like the nature of the problems that needs to be tackled, the strength of existing interaction and cooperation between different (public and private) actors within the communities, their embeddedness, and their ability of collective learning (Andersson and Ostrom 2008; Brownill and Carpenter 2009; Neumeier 2012). However, there is no distinction between communities with strong context factors and those without. Firstly, existing local interactions, embeddedness, modes of governance, and capabilities are highly path-dependent on and the result of an evolutionary, nonlinear and highly interactive process of decision-making and investing in the past (Todtling and Trippl 2005). Todtling and Trippl (2005, p. 1204) distinguish between three types of regions regarding their preconditions for innovation, networking and innovation barriers: (1) peripheral regions with low levels of clustering and a weak endowment with relevant institutions (organizational thinness); (2) old-industrial regions specialized on mature, traditional industries; (3) fragmented metropolitan regions with a lack of interaction and only loose networks. The first one lacks substantial knowledge spillovers as they are bound to a certain geographical distance to the next urban center, whereas the latter two face issues of specialization (old-industrial regions) and diversification (fragmented metropolitan regions).

Secondly, local interactions, embeddedness, modes of governance, and capabilities do not linearly influence local transitions and innovativeness, but need to be balanced depending on the nature of the local problem. As Jessop (2000) argues, there are certain dilemmas suggesting that local context factors need to be in balance: (1) horizontal governance allows the inclusion of a number of relevant non-state actors, but also demands a more intensive coordination and steering; (2) cooperation inherently might conflict with competition of individual actors for power, influence, and resources within the community; (3) within the community, decisions have to be made on prioritizing certain interests and objectives which inherently increases potential conflicts between individual actors; (4) community networks need to establish a certain amount of closure to establish commonly shared rules, identities, and a high level of trust, but also be open for new information to enter the system. In the proposed research project, we analyze local transition processes and innovation considering both the preconditions within the municipal setting and the balance between relevant context factors.

2. How does the process of mobilization and organization influence local transition processes and innovation and how does this process interact with existing capacities, structures, and networks within the communities?

The strength of local communities lies in the strong ties, close networks, and frequent interactions that have established a high level of trust and reciprocity among the network members. This bears a high potential for the community to craft their own ways of organization and coordination in order to establish a mode of governance that fits the purpose of the transition process (Andersson and Ostrom

  • 2008). There are two dynamics, which either might encourage local transition processes or strongly limit the communities’ ability for self-coordination: (1) Voluntary engagement in local politics of individual actors and citizens is highly influential on formal procedures on the local level, and activism and protest can lead to the failure of large infrastructure projects even before they have been started. As a consequence, effective governance of local transition seeks to establish a more participative and network-based mode of coordination and organization, substantially enhancing the role of local entrepreneurs, civil society cooperatives and associations, etc.; (2) local initiatives and network-based modes of governance highly depend on local capacities of both its active members and the supporting environment (Middlemiss and Parrish 2010). At the same time, more inclusive governance modes and increasing activities might increase local interaction and cooperation, and establish a positive feedback-cycle (Kokx and van Kempen 2010). However, if local initiatives fail to mobilize substantial resources and community networks, there is also a high potential for negative feedback loops with local conflicts to arise (Aragon et al. 2014).
  • 3. How does the communities’ ability for capacity-building and long-term adaption of community values, interests, attitudes, etc. influence consistency and robustness of local transitions and innovations over time?

Here, the focus is on social innovations as a change in “attitudes, behavior or perceptions resulting in a form of collaborative action that enables the improvement in the first place” (Neumeier 2012, p. 55). These major changes are based on the communities’ long-term ability to provide capacity-building in the following domains: (1) the collection and provision of relevant information of local processes and environments, (2) a culture of equitable, accountable, and transparent participation of local actors in decision-making processes of the community, and (3) a supportive culture of community cooperation between different types of actors within the network (Cuthill and Fien 2005, p. 71). More specifically, local government aiming to increase community capacity may encourage and develop skills and knowledge that is already present in the network within certain associations, social clubs or grassroots initiatives. It is them, being responsible for directing local resources effectively, to establish local identities for the community, and to encourage and support members of the network to form a collective mind as a common good (Cuthill and Fien 2005, p. 71).

 
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