Department Environmental Social Sciences

Industry dynamics and sectoral transformations towards sustainable utility services

The key competency of the research group is the analysis of spatial dimensions in transition processes, with the aim to understand how transitions unfold differently across different geographical contexts. The group focusses on analyzing the complex sectoral changes in emerging industries of sustainable technologies. In the analysis of innovation processes that influence industry dynamics, we use a “socio-technical systems” perspective, which is the interplay among different kinds of actors (firms, academia, end users, policy makers, associations, civil society groups etc.), networks and institutional structures.

The group mostly works with the theoretical concepts of socio-technical regimes and technological innovation systems in order to analyze sectoral transformations and emerging industry dynamics. Empirical cases encompass urban water management, electricity and transport. Geographically the group has worked on projects in Europe, Australia, the US, China, South Africa, Kenya and Malaysia. The results inform innovation policy and management. Methodologically, the group has strong competencies in interview campaigns, discourse analysis, discourse network analysis, strategic foresight, discursive scenario methods, and technology road mapping.

Main focus areas

Sustainability transitions of infrastructure sectors in high-income countries

  • Analyzing conditions to support the success of radical innovations
  • Analyzing early industry formation processes
  • Analyzing institutional conditions, which sustain or hinder large-scale transition processes
  • For example: how can decentralized water treatment systems become a widely accepted alternative in urban water management in Europe

Industry formation and transformation in catch-up countries

  • Technological leapfrogging and catch-up in clean-tech industries
  • The role of spatial relationships and global value chains in explaining success of failure of early industry formation processes
  • For example: understanding changes in the Chinese urban water management sector, shifts to membrane bioreactor technology

Sustainability transitions in urban informal settlements in low-income countries

How can we understand transition processes in informal settlements, a context characterized with widespread poverty, social inequality, heterogeneous and fragmented public service provision, informal economies, and unreliable formal institutions? Research in this domain focuses specifically on urban renewal and basic service innovations in cities in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Group Leader

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Truffer Department head, Cluster Cirus Tel. +41 58 765 5670 Send Mail


Dr. Xiao Shan Yap Scientist, Cluster Cirus Tel. +41 58 765 5420 Send Mail


Bernhard Truffer is a full professor at Utrecht University, where he is involved in various courses and where he supervises master and PhD students

Key Publications

Yap X.-S., Truffer B. 2018. Shaping Selection Environments for Industrial Catch-up and Sustainability Transitions. A systemic perspective on endogenizing windows of opportunity. Research Policy.

van Welie M. J., Cherunya P.C., Murphy J., Truffer B. 2018. Splintered regimes in developing cities: the case of sanitation in the squatter settlements of Nairobi. Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

Cherunya, P. C.; Ahlborg, H.; Truffer, B. (2020) Anchoring innovations in oscillating domestic spaces: why sanitation service offerings fail in informal settlements, Research Policy, 49(1), 103841 (16 pp.), doi:10.1016/j.respol.2019.103841, Institutional Repository
Boschma, R.; Coenen, L.; Frenken, K.; Truffer, B. (2017) Towards a theory of regional diversification: combining insights from evolutionary economic geography and transition studies, Regional Studies, 51(1), 31-45, doi:10.1080/00343404.2016.1258460, Institutional Repository
Weber, K. M.; Truffer, B. (2017) Moving innovation systems research to the next level: towards an integrative agenda, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 33(1), 101-121, doi:10.1093/oxrep/grx002, Institutional Repository
Binz, C.; Truffer, B. (2017) Global innovation systems - a conceptual framework for innovation dynamics in transnational contexts, Research Policy, 46(7), 1284-1298, doi:10.1016/j.respol.2017.05.012, Institutional Repository
Truffer, B.; Murphy, J. T.; Raven, R. (2015) The geography of sustainability transitions: contours of an emerging theme, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 17, 63-72, doi:10.1016/j.eist.2015.07.004, Institutional Repository
Fuenfschilling, L.; Truffer, B. (2014) The structuration of socio-technical regimes - conceptual foundations from institutional theory, Research Policy, 43(4), 772-791, doi:10.1016/j.respol.2013.10.010, Institutional Repository
Dewald, U.; Truffer, B. (2012) The local sources of market formation: explaining regional growth differentials in German photovoltaic markets, European Planning Studies, 20(3), 397-420, doi:10.1080/09654313.2012.651803, Institutional Repository
Truffer, B.; Coenen, L. (2012) Environmental innovation and sustainability transitions in regional studies, Regional Studies, 46(1), 1-21, doi:10.1080/00343404.2012.646164, Institutional Repository
Markard, J.; Raven, R.; Truffer, B. (2012) Sustainability transitions: an emerging field of research and its prospects, Research Policy, 41(6), 955-967, doi:10.1016/j.respol.2012.02.013, Institutional Repository
Störmer, E.; Truffer, B.; Dominguez, D.; Gujer, W.; Herlyn, A.; Hiessl, H.; Kastenholz, H.; Klinke, A.; Markard, J.; Maurer, M.; Ruef, A. (2009) The exploratory analysis of trade-offs in strategic planning: lessons from regional infrastructure foresight, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 76(9), 1150-1162, doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2009.07.008, Institutional Repository

Group Leader

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Truffer Department head, Cluster Cirus Tel. +41 58 765 5670 Send Mail


Current Projects

We are identifying the challenges of modular infrastructure systems for the Swiss economy and society using the example of urban water management.
An inter- and transdisciplinary strategic research program that strives to develop novel non-gridconnected water and sani- tation systems that can function as comparable alternatives to network-based systems.
We seek to understand how formal and informal institutions, planning procedures and resources drive or constrain informal settlements upgrading in Sub Saharan Africa cities.