How to organize change

Networks that transform society

How do you overhaul more than a century of gasoline technology? How do you persuade people to adopt energy saving technologies? New energy solutions have to compete with decades of gradual improvement in existing technologies. The more firmly a technology is established, the harder it seems to replace it with something entirely new.

Industralization and market acceptance
Transforming our energy use is not solely about technology. Industrial initiatives, social will, and personal motivation will be every bit as important.
That’s why specialists in innovation and marketing join our research projects. They have a long-term focus on the market and know its dynamics. They oversee the whole chain of industrialization and market acceptance. Often energy efficiency is not the right hook to provoke consumer action. Improvement starts at the other end. Talking about built environment, for example, the starting point is often comfort.

Strategic niche management
Our scholars have developed the concept of “strategic niche management”. It is a combination of two theories of technological change: social constructivism and evolutionary economics. Technological change is a matter of learning, network building, and articulating expectations. Yet, new technologies are often not mature enough and require protection from the struggle to survive in a mainstream market. Biological evolution shows us that new species emerge in geographically isolated niches. With a variety of actions, technologies can mature in a protected area, before they go into competition with established technologies. To nourish a niche, different experiments should converge around a community, sharing lessons, and developing a common vision. To increase the prospects of a new technology, careful targeting and conscious use of regulations and opportunities is necessary. That’s why we call this approach “strategic”.

Real-life experiments
Organizing and managing a community around a niche is extremely important. Concrete and real-life experiments are an important means to bringing together different actors. For example, TU/e intends to do field experiments to test certain smart grid concepts. This will not only include regulators and the electricity sector, but also consumers. A common experiment facilitates network building, stimulates learning, and may lead to adjustments in expectations. This provides valuable feedback. Unexpected side effects can then be dealt with at an early stage.
Strategic niche management is necessary to influence the success of a new technology. Active learning, network building, and articulating expectations are decisive for new technology.