28 Nov Strategic Niche Management
Strategic niches are protected spaces for emerging technologies, where expectations are articulated, social networks built, and learning occurs. Although Strategic Niche Management (SNM) can be done in a directed, strategic manner, more diffuse, loosely connected and self-organizing niches also exist.
We apply a Strategic Niche Management (SNM) approach, often used to study the co-evolution of niche technologies, user practices, and regulatory structures within socio-technical transitions (Schot and Geels, 2008). The key processes in Strategic Niche Management are the building of social networks; the articulation of shared expectations and visions; and learning processes over a variety of technical, market, infrastructure, regulatory and social issues (Schot and Geels, 2008; Jenkins and Sovacool, 2018). The flow of information and communication is central for these processes (Caniëls and Romijn, 2008).
Strategic niches are “protected spaces that allow nurturing and experimentation with the co-evolution of technology, user practices, and regulatory structures” (Schot and Geels, 2008, p. 538). In theory, they support new technological pathways capable of penetrating the prevailing socio-technical regimes, destabilizing or replacing unsustainable technologies (Jenkins and Sovacool, 2018, p. 236]. Importantly, the niche does not refer to local or minor projects – while these form the basis of the niche, there needs to be a “global niche”, a community level where shared rules are enacted and framed that feeds into the individual small projects (and in turn learns from those experiences) (Schot and Geels, 2008).
Strategic Niche Management research has emerged over the past two decades to understand these niches and their role in socio-technical transitions (Jenkins and Sovacool, 2018). The theoretical approach has also been used with a specific strategy in mind, by actors who are trying to enact change and use niche management as a policy tool (Caniëls and Romijn, 2008). However, policy relevance in the sense of setting up a management system is not necessarily the essence of the approach: niches can emerge organically through collective action, and can be steered by a range of actors endogenously (Schot and Geels, 2008). In the academic literature, SNM has been applied as an analytical tool (Jenkins and Sovacool, 2018), and shedding light on the key processes happening in a niche through analysis is valuable for decision-makers, even in the absence of a “manager”.
The key processes of SNM are social networking, articulation and convergence of expectations and visions, and mutual learning among niche actors (Schot and Geels, 2008). Since networks function as conduits for the spread of ideas, practices and beliefs, networking may be considered as underlying the other two functions (Caniëls and Romijn, 2008). The building of social networks is important to create a constituency behind a technology, facilitate interactions between relevant stakeholders, and provide the necessary resources (money, people, and expertise). Social networks are likely to contribute to niche development if they are broad and diverse, i.e. multiple kinds of stakeholders are included to facilitate the articulation of multiple views and voices. Participants in the networks should also be able to mobilize commitment and resources within their own organizations and networks (Schot and Geels, 2008).
Learning includes articulating the barriers that the niche faces and how they can be dealt with (Kemp et al., 1998). Networks can affect learning in two ways: exposure to diverse ideas in wide networks supports broad learning, but too much diversity can prevent accumulative learning (Jenkins and Sovacool, 2018). Learning processes may concern multiple dimensions of niche technologies, such as technical aspects and design specifications, market and user preferences, cultural and symbolic meaning, infrastructure and maintenance networks, industry and production networks, regulations and government policy, as well as societal and environmental effects (Schot and Geels, 2008).
Though a linear SNM process of first defining the shared expectations and visions, then networking with the right actors for learning and experimentation, has been presented (Lopolito et al., 2011; Rantala et al., 2020).
- Rantala, S., Toikka, A., Pulkka, A., Lyytimäki, J. (2020). “Energetic voices on social media? Strategic Niche Management and Finnish Facebook debate on biogas and heat pumps”. Energy Research & Social Science, Volume 62, April 2020, 101362.
- Schot, J., Geels, F.W. (2008). “Strategic Niche Management and sustainable innovation journeys: theory, findings, research agenda, and policy”. Technol. Anal. Strateg. Manag., 20 , pp. 537-554, 1080/09537320802292651
- Jenkins, K.E.H., Sovacool, B. (2018). “Managing energy and climate transitions in theory and practice: a critical systematic review of Strategic Niche Management”. K.E.H. Jenkins, D. Hopkins (Eds.), Transitions in Energy Efficiency and Demand: The Emergence, Diffusion and Impact of Low-Carbon Innovation, Routledge, pp. 235-257.
- Caniëls, M.C.J., Romijn, H.A. (2008). “Actor networks in Strategic Niche Management: insights from social network theory”. Futures, 40, pp. 613-629, 1016/j.futures.2007.12.005.
- Lopolito, A., Morone, P., Sisto, R. (2011). “Innovation niches and socio-technical transition: a case study of bio-refinery production”. Futures, 43, pp. 27-38, 1016/j.futures.2010.03.002.
- Caniëls, M.C.J., Romijn, H.A. (2008). “Strategic Niche Management: towards a policy tool for sustainable development”. Technol. Anal. Strateg. Manag., 20 , pp. 245-266, 1080/09537320701711264.
- Kemp, R., Schot, J., Hoogma, R. (1998). “Regime shifts to sustainability through processes of niche formation: the approach of Strategic Niche Management”. Technol. Anal. Strateg. Manag., 10 , pp. 175-198.