About local initiatives and their potential to achieve wider impact
Existing infrastructure, technical standards, markets and cultures do not support the move towards more sustainable ways of living. To achieve large scale change, it is necessary to understand these institutions: how they shape ideas, decisions, interactions; how and why institutions are deeply anchored; as well as how to disrupt them. Understanding how these changes can be made is therefore of crucial importance. In this presentation, we talk about how institutions might be reconfigured to favour more sustainable practices.
Embeded interactive presentation
In this presentation, we are going to talk about how institutions might be reconfigured to favour more sustainable practices. Existing infrastructure, technical standards, markets and cultures do not support the move towards more sustainable ways of living. To achieve large scale change, it is necesary to understand these institutions: how they shape ideas, decisions, interactions; how and why institutions are deeply anchored; as well as how to disrupt them. Understanding how these changes can be made is therefore of crutial importance.
This topic is connected to the policy and regulations aspect, as well as social aspects of the new clean energy communities.
The information in this presentation is taken from a research paper by Barnes, Durrant, Kern and MacKerron called The institutionalisation of sustainable practices in cities: How sustainability initiatives shape local selection environments.
We developed the content of this presentation with the expert support by dr. Jake Barnes from the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, the NEWCOMERS project consortium partner.
2. CENTRAL PART – CONTENT
In order for more sustainable energy systems to emerge the institutions or rules that guide how energy systems operate, who participates in them and how, need to change. Institutions may refer to explicit, regulatory rules, like how electricity markets operate or what devices can be connected to electricity distribution systems. They may include taken for granted ideas, such as tacit ideas about what the energy system is and does. Or they may include values, norms and expectations about, for example, equity and democracy in the opertion of energy systems. How should infrastructure costs or renewable support schemes be paid for? Institutions can susequently be undertood as collectively agreed rules, which coordinate and structure our daily lives.
Existing institutions, for the most part, support existing unsustainable practices. They discriminate against alternative, more sustainable practices. Understanding how institutions change is therefore important for understanding how more sustainable energy practices or business models might get taken up beyond their experiemental test beds.
Before turning to the tactics actors employ to change institutions, it is useful to think about what gets institutionalised? In a very simple sense we can think of three dimensions:
(1) New ways of doing, which result from the interaction of infrastructures and practices. For example road building is recognised for encouraging car use, whilst installing domestic PV panels has been shown to alter domestic energy use patterns;
(2) New ways of thinking, including energy cultures, conventions, values and perceptions. For example the conventional management of energy systems, as a problem of adequate supply to meet demand, has been challenged by the uptake of intermitent renewable electricity generation infrastructure;
(3) New ways of organising, including energy markets, EU and national government policies and regulations as well as types of actors. For example, facilitating competition has been a primary organising principle of EU energy market policy over preceeding decades and has resulted in energy markets designed to facilitate this. In the last 5 years energy markets have been altered to facilitate flexibility. New ways of organising can also manifest at local scales through the creation of energy communities for instance, as new energy system actors.
Prior research shows that actors may employ a variety of strategies to influence institutions.
To disrupt existing institutions actors can undermine associations and beliefs, undermine compliance within institutions or delegitimize institutions by, for instance, questioning their moral foundations. Think for instance of the 2014 GreenPeace video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhbliUq0_r4] that challenged the moral foundations of a partnership between LEGO and Shell.
To create institutions actors may advocate or lobby for new practices, new ways of thinking or new ways of organising, use mimicry (associating the new with existing institutions and practices), and theorize, define and educate (about new practices).
In addition to these proceses, researchers also stress the importance of collective action and power. To achieve change, requires a sufficiently powerful coalition. Developing a coalition requires networking but it also requires storytelling: the formation of common narratives about what the problems and associated solutions are, their past performance and future possibilities.
In the paper Barnes et al focus on three instances where institutional change could be clearly identified. Each was case was led by local grassroots sustainability initiatives. They//// included: upgrading physical infrastructure to promote cycling; fostering sustainable development ambitions through the formation of a new urban partnership, and; legislating for sustainable food procurement policies.
Each case was successful at altering institutions within an urban environment. So what does a focus on institutional change mean for energy communities and energy systems more broadly? In the following video Dr Jake Barnes explores what lessons might be transfered.
/A video from the expert. Question: The institutional theory shows how some (unsustainable) practices are so deeply rooted in our everyday life, thorugh our values and norms, supported through our selection environments, that changing them takes a lot of effort and time. How does this theory and the findings of this paper apply to energy communities in you opinion?/
So how are institutions altered?
The authors have concluded, that altering the ways of doing, thinking and organising requires multiple tactics and significant levels of perserverance. In many cases, including the analysed cases, which you can read about in more detail in the research paper , the tactics were built around local events (for example a biking accident that happened due to unsatisfactory bike lanes was used to contextualise a movement for a more sustainable infrastructure supporting more sustainable modes of transport). These give initiatives a context and an opportunity to politicise the marginal issues, as well as raise the profile on the unsustainable practices currently in place. Through increasing their agency, initiatives are then able to secure finances, change rules, foster local narratives and implement other changes.
The formation and support of new actor networks is also of crucial importance. They may already exist. They may be formal or informal. Each provides space in which existing practices, policies, ideas and knowledge can be challenged and new ways of doing, thinking and organising can emerge. Actor networks are also viewed as crucial to building momentum, to disrupting the unsustainable ways of doing, thinking and organising, for advocating for their cause. Actor networks can also lead to the creation of new (in)formal governance arenas through which local institutions or rules can be forged. To have impact beyond small scale trials, experiments or communities, promising sustainability practices need to alter wider shared rules or institutions. Achieving wider scale change is never going to be easy but at least there are a wide range of tools through which to disrupt old institutions and collectivley forge new.
If you're interested in more details about how local initiatives achieve change and some examples of these initiatives, take look at the article linked on the slide.
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