Literature review of Strategic niche management and sustainable innovation journeys (Schot & Geels 2008)

This is a literature review of Schot & Geels (2008) for the course engineering for sustainable development. The aim of this review is to provide my fellow students with a summary of the content of this paper as well as ideas of how to apply this knowledge to the sustainable Texel project. This paper introduces us to two major concepts: strategic niche management (SNM) and the multi-level perspective (MLP).

Literature review of Strategic niche management and sustainable innovation journeys originally written by Schot & Geels (2008) reviewed by Robert Crone


The introduction of SNM was to address the problem of promising sustainable technologies not being able to bridge the gap between R&D and market introduction. Many new technologies cannot compete in the current market with established technology, the existing infrastructure, user practices, regulations, etc. do not allow them to be competitive. However, some technologies may be socially desirable, serving long term goals such as sustainability. To enable these technologies to survive a niche can be created, a “protected space that allows nurturing and experimentation” (Schot & Geels 2008).

Linking this to the sustainable Texel project I think that we can view Texel as such a niche. At Texel experiments can be done with many hopeful sustainable technologies without immediately exposing them to the selection pressures of the entire market. However, to go from niche to actually changing a regime turned out to be very difficult and this is where the MLP is linked to SNM to explain how this process works.

The MLP consists of three levels, from bottom to top: technological niches, socio-technical regimes and the socio-technical landscape. Regimes are existing large-scale systems such as for example our transport and energy systems. The landscape is “an exogenous environment beyond direct influence of niche and regime actors” (Schot & Geels 2008). So the landscape is a given that cannot be controlled, but the landscape can exert pressure on the regimes requiring them to change and thus creating a window of opportunity for a niche to become a part of a regime. Niches that help regimes evolve in such a way that the pressures from the landscape are relieved can be successful. To quote Schot & Geels (2008): “Niche innovations […] can only diffuse more widely if they link up with ongoing processes at regime and landscape levels”

In conclusion some advice on how the niches we create have a higher chance of being successful from Elzen, Hoogma, and Schot (1996).

  1. The articulation of expectations and visions which should be made:
    1. Robust by sharing them with more actors
    2. Specific
    3. High quality by being substantiated by ongoing projects
  2. The building of social networks around the niche:
    1. Broad networks involving multiple kinds of stakeholders
    2. Deep networks by including people able to mobilize resources
  3. Involve learning processes at multiple dimensions, including first-order (collection of facts and data) and second-order learning (changes in cognitive frames and assumptions) in the following fields:
    1. Technical aspects and design specifications
    2. Market and user preferences
    3. Cultural and symbolic meaning
    4. Infrastructure and maintenance networks
    5. Industry and production networks
    6. Regulation and government policy
    7. Societal and environmental effects

Not all of this may be realistic in the short amount of time given for the project, but creating a robust and specific vision and trying to involve stakeholders should be possible.


Elzen, B., R. Hoogma, and J. Schot. 1996. Mobiliteit met Toekomst; Naar een vraaggericht technologiebeleid [Mobility with a future. Towards a demand-oriented technology policy]. Report to the Ministry of Traffic and Transport (in Dutch). Adviesdienst Verkeer en Vervoer, Rijkswaterstaat, Rotterdam.

Johan Schot & Frank W. Geels (2008) Strategic niche management and sustainable innovation journeys: theory, findings, research agenda, and policy, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 20:5, 537-554, DOI: 10.1080/09537320802292651



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