The provision with basic services of water, energy and telecommunication is one of the preconditions for welfare generation in industrialized societies. The concrete form in which these services are delivered has tremendous impact on the environment by influencing our lifestyles, technologies and products.
Utility services have developed along a dominant trajectory over most of the 20th century. As a central aim, these systems were supposed to provide non-discriminated access for the population to clean water, sanitation and reliable energy at low prices.
Over the past couple of years, however, this socio-technical paradigm
has increasingly been questioned. Utility sectors have experienced an increasing
number of transformation pressures.
- First, since the mid of the 1980s new concepts for organizing the regulatory framework have been developed and were applied in a wide number of industrialized countries. Deregulation, liberalization and privatization have changed the rules of the game fundamentally.
- Additionally, a wide number of new technologies have been developed, which open up new technological pathways that might depart fundamentally from the paradigms followed over the past decades.
- Finally, there are a number of new developments also on the part of users of utility services, which create additional pressure for these sectors.
In sum, on the one hand these transformation pressures represent
major challenges for a continued high level provision with basic services in
industrialized societies. On the other hand, they also open up windows of
opportunity for fundamental system transformations. These transformations have
to be analyzed with regard to their potential to lead to more sustainable sector
Tasks and goals
Cirus’ research activities aim at understanding the transformation processes currently taking shape in utility sectors, at identifying potential future development paths, at evaluating their environmental, economic and social consequences and at developing new strategies for action. In order to accomplish this goal, Cirus draws on theories, methods and data from the social sciences - in particular Science and Technology Studies, institutional and evolutionary Economics, Ecological Economics, Economic Geography and Governance Studies.
We analyze the transformation processes both at a macro-level (emphasizing sectoral level transitions and national policies supporting these transitions), at a meso-level (developing regional-level institutions of governance for these transformations, analyzing innovation networks and heterogeneous actor networks) as well as at a micro-level (e.g. new forms of innovation management and strategic planning at the level of individual utilities).
Although Cirus has a clear academic focus, it collaborates with
policy makers, industry managers and actors from civil society in order to
support better management and coordination processes. Up to date, Cirus has been
very active in collaborative research projects (transdisciplinary research
organizations) with academic, political and economic actors.
CIRUS has expertise in the following domains
- Innovation Systems Analysis
- Regime transformations and niche dynamics
- Strategy Analysis and Innovation Management
- Foresight, Technology Assessment and Scenario Planning
- Decision support and Decision procedures
- Strategic Niche Management
- Transition Management
Empirically our research focuses strongly on water, sanitation and energy. Methodologically we largely rely on qualitative social science methods (interviews, focus groups) as well as on participatory planning procedures (foresight).