STS - conferences, IST2012

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Initiating socio-technical experiments at the municipal level: A case study in fuel cell technology
Michael Ornetzeder, Anna Schreuer, Harald Rohracher

Last modified: 2012-03-19


Transitions towards more sustainable socio-technical regimes crucially depend on processes of social learning and local experimentation. A number of questions arise around issues such as the deployment of supporting infrastructures, the organisation of value chains, the institutional embedding and regulations concerning new technologies or the development of new patterns of use. Only recently more attention has been given to the specific contexts and locations of such technology learning processes as well as to the processes of systematically identifying and selecting experiments and pilot projects at the municipal level.

The municipal level clearly offers huge potential for social learning and experimentation. For many reasons (e. g. available infrastructure, concentration of stakeholders, clearly defined boundaries, etc.) municipalities can be seen as ‘natural’ niches for exploring new technologies in realistic use contexts on a limited scale. At the same time, municipalities can profit from environmental and economic benefits by experimenting with sustainable technologies.

This presentation focuses on the process of selecting and setting up technology learning experiments at the municipal level. It reports on experiences using a Constructive Technology Assessment (CTA) approach to identify and evaluate potential deployment projects in the area of fuel cell technology in Graz, Austria.

The results highlight that dialogue processes between R&D actors, municipal actors and intermediary organisations serve well for the identification of suitable niches for socio-technical experiments. However, for the actual implementation of such experiments the limited room for manoeuvre of municipalities and the importance of the coordination of various governance levels need to be taken into account. In particular, tensions may arise between overarching technology policy goals defined at the national level and problem-based approaches applied at the municipal level based on prevalent local issues and needs.