Understanding dynamics of transformative ecosystems of grassroots innovation: visions, strategies and the role of local policies



The aims of the project were:

– To understand the contribution to transformation of grassroots initiatives towards more just and sustainable systems.
– To understand how visions, strategies and interactions of initiatives model the contributions and the pathways to transformation.
– To explore the role of existing local public policies for supporting grassroots innovation niches, and to make new recommendations

The project ran from 2016 and 2020 and focused in two niches in the city of Valencia.

– Niche of food. We focused in alternative local food networks initiatives: veggie boxes, farmer markets, buying groups, food coops or online marketplaces.
– Niche of energy. Community initiatives for energy transition: an energy consumer cooperative; a social enterprise and a workers’ coop developing processes for energy efficiency and self-consumption; a civic network lobbying for “a new energy model”.

For the conceptualisation of transformation, the project developed a specific normative approach connecting ideas from socio-technical transitions theory with ideas from capability approach.
We used interviews, focus groups and workshops. For dissemination, we create relevant products (research and policy-briefings, videos) and create spaces for shared discussion.

In terms of the impact of initiatives in transformation, some results were:

– Different capabilities are expanded in different groups. They go beyond material aspects of human flourishing, and connect with political, ethical, emotional and spiritual dimensions.
– Both individual and collective capabilities are developed.
– The new configurations prefigured by grassroots seem to be more relevant for human flourishing, compared with those on existing food and energy regimes.

On the visions, strategies and relations modelling transformation processes:

– Initiatives show a similar vision: they point to more local, democratic, decentralized, diverse and decomodified systems of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.
– Strategies diverge among initiatives: from more radical (building small, radically democratic and self-managed initiatives, and replicate) to more pragmatic (adapt values, arrive to bigger audiences, and scale). However, they seem to be complementary, mobilizing different groups, with different expectations.
– Regarding interactions, they are fundamental for the niches to grow, as initiatives share knowledge, activities, people and ideas which help other initiatives in their own strategies. More radical initiatives inspire those more pragmatic. Those more pragmatic help protecting and empowering more radical ones.
– More radical initiatives create more capabilities in less people. More pragmatic initiatives create less capabilities in a bigger number of persons. This happens in both niches.

On the role of policies:

– Actions developed by local government of Valencia have helped essentially in the public legitimation and in the connection between initiatives.
– Local policies need to be very diverse, negotiated and in close connection with local reality to adapt to the diversity of initiatives and strategies.

The research gives new insights for various debates on transformative innovation policies:

– Highlights the relevance of grassroots innovation in transformative change towards more just and sustainable models
– Illustrates the role of capability approach (or other theories) to normatively assess this transformative change.
– Shows the importance of addressing the diversity and complexity of grassroots innovation
– Illustrates the complexity for developing and implementing policy mixes to support this diversity of grassroots innovation for transformative change.

Project Resources

Paper Grassroots Innovations for Human Development (English)

Paper Learning and Grassroots Innovations (English)

Policy briefing on local policies for grassroots innovation (Spanish):

Paper Transformative innovation and grassroots innovation (Spanish)

Book Innovatión Social Colectiva (Spanish)


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Submission Number: 03