Department Environmental Social Sciences

SuSARA: Sustainability Transitions of Sanitation Regimes in Urban Africa: Assessing the prospects for disruptive innovations

Long term transformations of industries and infrastructure systems towards sustainability (so called sustainability transitions) have gained increasing attention in innovation studies, and in human geography and regional studies.  Early iterations of this literature focused on a few industrialized countries but more recently transition research has identified emerging economies and developing countries as major places where transition challenges are to be met.

Transitions towards more sustainable sector structures will depend on successful generation of new service-delivery options and on their large-scale implementation within local contexts.  Regarding the development of these offerings, the actors, networks and institutions, which form around new socio-technical configurations have been conceptualized as Technological Innovation Systems (TIS).  Successful implementation depends on whether and how these configurations fit into local institutional and infrastructural contexts or “socio-technical regimes” that govern public services in developing regions.  As such, there is a fundamental scholarly challenge at work here, how to conceptualize, operationalize, and manage the diffusion or integration of TIS innovations into geographically distinct regimes such that they disrupt “business-as-usual” service provisioning and consumption systems and practices in ways that foster transitions toward sustainability.

The proposal analyzes possible transition pathways in basic services, focusing specifically on the case of Nairobi, Kenya.  It will examine how new socio-technical configurations interact with prevailing regime structures of these sectors.  Three conceptual building blocks are proposed to analyze these interactions: i) system failures for assessing the capacity of the TISs to develop disruptive innovations; ii) user and service provider practices as core elements of regime structures; and iii) legitimization and trust formation as core processes in the embedding of new service options into existing socio-technical regimes.  By analyzing these dimensions and their interaction, we aim at better identifying challenges and prospects for more or less “disruptive” innovations.   In broader terms, this research shall contribute to a more reflexive and institutionally sensitive approach for designing new utility services both by local actors and by international development agencies. 


Prof. Dr. Bernhard Truffer Department head, Cluster Cirus Tel. +41 58 765 5670 Send Mail
Dr. Christoph Lüthi Dr. Eng. Infrastructure Planning Tel. +41 58 765 5614 Send Mail

Jim Murphy, Clark University