A journey through TIPC’s milestones with Bipashyee Ghosh

Thinking & Analysis

Bipashyee Ghosh has been part of TIPC’s journey from the very beginning. Starting her academic career as a PhD student with TIPC’s founder and academic director Professor Johan Schot, she joined the lead up to the launch of the consortium and has been a core member of the team ever since. Bipashyee has shaped the TIPC methodology with leading key publications such as the Transformative Outcomes framework as well as significant contributions to advancing policy experimentation in South Africa and the TIP Resource Lab. With TIPC entering a new phase, focussed on adoption and scaling, and with Bipashyee starting a new role with UCL (University College London), we asked her to reflect upon her path with TIPC up until this point, including key milestones and learnings, challenges and achievements and a look ahead to TIPC’s future.   

I started my journey in SPRU in September 2014, with my PhD. Johan was the director of SPRU and one of my supervisors. Back then, I was fascinated by urban mobility systems in Global South cities (I still am) and wanted to apply a transitions lens in understanding how change happens in interlinked systems like public transportation in a city like Kolkata (my hometown). However, doing a PhD in SPRU and with Johan was a bigger experience than my doctoral research itself. It was an inspiring journey to be part of numerous SPRU seminars, the PhD forums, the winter schools and SPRU’s 50th Anniversary conference – where Transformative Innovation Policy as a new third science, technology and innovation frame was debated, much before the paper was published in Research Policy in 2018. It was great timing that TIPC was launched around the same time I finished my PhD, and I wanted to be part of this movement  

There has been many highlights throughout the past five years but there are three key milestones that for me and for TIPC were quite significant.  

Certainly, the development of the Transformative Outcomes framework is one to mention. We needed a methodological framework to operationalise the big ideas of the third frame of innovation policy. The idea of experimentation with policy makers was also in the making and we had to develop a methodology for experimentation. I remember the experiences of brainstorming the kind of policy experimentation TIPC would support, how to measure transformative change processes and how to monitor change through experimentation. These were questions that motivated the Transformative Outcomes framework – which was presented, tested and applied in many real world policy contexts, before the paper got published in Science and Public Policy in 2021. After publication, this really became the heart of my work for a while – to present the framework and the underlying theory, develop the framework further (e.g. through efforts to create indicators, measures, context specific applications etc).  

The second milestone I am quite proud of is the systems thinking game which we developed during the pandemic. This was our own experiment within the core research team – tapping into the world of gamification, learning and engagements. It still strikes me how we spent weeks and months, defining the rules of a full-fledged multi-player decision-making game. The idea behind the game (and we were successful in building it) is to show the contestations between transition actors, in the face of urgency, to enable or disable systemic change. I wish we could find a way to further develop the game and make it accessible to an even wider audience, as a very practical tool to understand and navigate complex systems change.  

A third milestone, for me, was to be the academic lead (together with Ed Steinmueller) in the development of the TIP Resource Lab. There is so much work that went into this behind the scenes, to develop its backbone and structure, the type of learning and capacity building space we wanted to create and how to mobilize the knowledge. It is great to see the platform this has now turned into, also very much due to the tremendous efforts by Ed, Geraldine Bloomfield and Vicky Shaw, amongst many others 

Becoming an interdisciplinary researcher

I have asked myself what made me stick around and why I continued to stay so motivated and engaged with the consortium for such a long time. I believe there are a number of reasons. First of all, it was so rewarding to witness our frameworks and concepts, transformative innovation, transformative outcomes, policy experimentation and formative evaluation, come to life and be taken up by policy practitioners around the globe – in South Africa, Sweden, Colombia and Chile. It was more than an academic endeavour, I could apply and refine the theories on and with practitioners in the real world. The methodology for policy experimentation really evolved over time as well and we kept learning from the process over the years.  

Secondly, it was the people that made me stay. It’s not every day that you find projects in which colleagues become friends, senior colleagues are so kind and supportive, providing encouragement, yet constantly challenging each other. The ambition in the team was always very high and the willingness to push boundaries, do the unthinkable, really inspired me. Working in the TIPC team, I gained confidence and a solid ground to go out in the world and talk about my research, with humility and with openness to learn and modify my thinking along the way.

In other words, TIPC really shaped me into becoming a transdisciplinary researcher. I learned how to co-produce knowledge, how to clearly communicate with a non-academic audience, how to facilitate a discussion, instead of lecturing as an expert, and how to expand my own knowledge horizons through messy and real engagements with people from different countries, backgrounds and experiences. 

TIP in South Africa: An eye-opening experience

The first time I personally started to realise that TIP was generating real policy impact, was during our visit to South Africa in October 2019. At this point, South Africa was already on board as a member of the Consortium for a couple of years, and I travelled there with a few colleagues to explore, together with our partners from the South African Department of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSI), how we can transform entire systems in order to address some very local transformation challenges.  

I’d like to take the opportunity to give a shout out to Imraan Patel, since he was so welcoming, passionate and committed to TIP, it was really motivating. The NRF hosted us and we all gathered in the Nelson Mandela Hall. Imraan had managed to bring together a diverse group of people, representing a variety of organisations and presenting a whole portfolio of potential projects and programs we could be engaging with for transformative change in a range of systems. This was really an eye-opening moment for me to see so many people from various organisations, coming forward to apply TIP thinking in their practices. I remember thinking, how difficult it will be to choose a few initiatives for working closely together, because they were all so good and had so much transformative potential.  

In 2021, I went back to South Africa and met with Prof Erika Kraemer-Mbula and Dr Glenda Kruss, to engage further in the South African context on applying TIP theories in practise. During this visit, I facilitated a number of masterclasses, was super impressed by the emerging community of practice and PhD and postdoctoral research capacities, all critically engaging with ideas around TIP from many different perspectives including decolonisation, entrepreneurship and circular economy. I wish to continue building on these foundations of these relationships with my dear colleagues in South Africa, and continue to explore challenges and opportunities of transformative change in the African context.   

Another highlight of my time in TIPC was the TIPC Engagement Week in Valencia in 2019 where we experimented with the idea of transdisciplinary conference which meant a space for not only presenting papers and research, but for showcasing transformative projects of real world practitionersWe wrote a call for projects instead of papers. That was the beginning of a long road of building a knowledge infrastructure for TIP – a road we will be travelling on for a long time as knowledges and communities grow and evolve in the directions of transformative change, that TIP embodies.  

Challenges and opportunities

TIPC made me a researcher who is deeply motivated to build and sustain knowledge communities, beyond publish-and-perish cultures. It took an incredible amount of time and mental capacity to design workshops that are truly engaging, interactive and meant for co-creation of knowledge – something hard to anticipate without actually doing it. Over time, I started enjoying the interactions and writing for non-academic audience – as a true challenge, that wipes the boredom of mainstream academic research work. I felt rewarded and refreshed. For example, I learned to write ”user guides” for our practitioner audience, visiting the TIP Resource Lab website and keen to learn about a systemic theory of change and where to begin in policy experimentation. Writing for those who would read and think “I know what she means, I would be willing to apply the framework in my practise”, is the joy that is unmatched.  

There were also some other challenges along the way which of course come naturally and are part of any project. Even after several years, TIPC was still a ‘new project’ in many ways, and I found myself explaining the fundamental theories to new audiences. With such high ambitions of enabling transformations, the impact of our work was hard to measure and compare. Later we started publishing Learning Histories which provided insights and addressed these issues to some extent.  

Second, the idea of directionality, while central to TIP thinking, is hard to comprehend and mobilise. I  realised that focussing on socio-technical system change has its merits, but not without blindspots, where the concept of directionality could potentially capture much bigger and deeper challenges such as injustices and coloniality. In our conversations with colleagues from the Global South and from my own lives experience in the South, I think we need to reevaluate TIP frameworks to truly enable decolonial transformations in these contexts.  

TIPC's contribution to sustainability transitions

There has always been a lot of criticism that transition theories do not explain the dynamics of change in a Global South context, where inequalities, asymmetric power dynamics, informalities, and bottom up community driven innovations are common. In the second phase of TIPC, I see more hope in TIP practitioners to truly embrace Global South dynamics, with the Latin America and Africa Hub expanding and working in highest momentum. It has been an incredible learning experience for me and others in TIPC’s Global North institutions, to listen to our ‘network of coaches’ from the Global South to integrate, modify and adjust the theory to their own country contexts.   

Looking back at where we started, I still think TIPC is a kind of experiment at the interface of science, policy and activism, that will continue to evolve in coming years. We tried a lot of academic and policy work that was not mainstream. The members that first joined were visionary leaders, who took the leap of faith with us, and had the passion to do something different. And while a few  projects have happened in the meantime, I would say that policy experimentation is still a niche practise, which needs a lot of nurturing from both academic and policy communities.  

As TIPC is scaling up in the second phase, I have immense hope that more policy practitioners – national governments, regional governments and science funding organisations will be on board to rethink their transformation strategies with TIPC, cooperate with private investors through the Deep Transitions Lab, building and scaling up the diverse networks societies need to make transformative change happen. There are large academic networks such as STRN (Sustainability Transitions Research network), EU-SPRI, Globelics and AfricaLics, who could be true allies in advancing the TIP research agenda. I also believe that not only researchers, but students trained in interdisciplinary programmes are important actors in transformative change processes. This is why, I am truly excited about my role as Lecturer in Engineering, Innovation and Public Policy at the UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP). I will be teaching interdisciplinary Bachelor and Master students and there is great potential to involve extremely passionate and dedicated students in the TIP work, bring in new perspectives and further develop our theories and practices.  

All in all, I would like to express my immense gratitude to be part of the TIPC family. TIPC has given me so much, personally speaking, in terms of exposure in academia, in practice, internationally but also locally. It is truly a privilege to be part of this forward-looking and ambitious research programme. I hope that many others get such exposure and opportunities. As part of my new role at UCL, I would love to stay connected to TIPC, as it is my home. Hopefully I can continue to come back home every now and then.  


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