First phase of INNOVCITIES complete – project report available

The first phase of INNOVCITIES which ran from 2015 to 2017 has been formally completed. This phase focused on understanding processes of institutional innovation, and it’s effects for achieving adaptable urban governance systems. It was funded by the European Commission through a Marie-Sklodowska Curie Action Fellowship.

This work now directly feeds into the second phase of INNOVCITIES (2018 to 2019). This will focus on the role of institutions in realizing equity and justice in cities under climate change. It is conducted in collaboration between the Open University of The Netherlands and The Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) at the Vrije University Amsterdam.

A public project summary from the first phase of the project is now available here as pdf. It is a summary of the full report to the European Commission.

What type of research is needed for helping societies respond to climate change?

A new collaborative paper has just been published involving a large group of researchers on societal transformations and climate change from across the globe, exploring the question of what type of research is needed for helping societies respond to climate change.


The paper outlines what is needed to achieve more action-oriented research that will be more effective in accelerating learning about how to achieve transformations to sustainability. It has been published in the journal of Energy Research and Social Science.

This is important because researchers increasingly ask themselves: “how can my work be most effective in helping to urgently address climate change?”. At the same time, policymakers and practitioners work with knowledge in many diverse ways that often differ to that of researchers, but also ask themselves  the same question about the overall impact of their work. In other words, if we’re all in the same boat, what does it mean to do research effectively in the context of climate crisis? This paper reflects the combined thoughts of a large group of authors on this question.

The paper is open access (!) and freely available here: The title and abstract are below:


Ten essentials for action-oriented and second order energy transitions, transformations and climate change research’


The most critical question for climate research is no longer about the problem, but about how to facilitate the transformative changes necessary to avoid catastrophic climate-induced change. Addressing this question, however, will require massive upscaling of research that can rapidly enhance learning about transformations. Ten essentials for guiding action-oriented transformation and energy research are therefore presented, framed in relation to second-order science. They include: (1) Focus on transformations to low-carbon, resilient living; (2) Focus on solution processes; (3) Focus on ‘how to’ practical knowledge; (4) Approach research as occurring from within the system being intervened; (5) Work with normative aspects; (6) Seek to transcend current thinking; (7) Take a multi-faceted approach to understand and shape change; (8) Acknowledge the value of alternative roles of researchers; (9) Encourage second-order experimentation; and (10) Be reflexive. Joint application of the essentials would create highly adaptive, reflexive, collaborative and impact-oriented research able to enhance capacity to respond to the climate challenge. At present, however, the practice of such approaches is limited and constrained by dominance of other approaches. For wider transformations to low carbon living and energy systems to occur, transformations will therefore also be needed in the way in which knowledge is produced and used.


Fazey, I., Schäpke, N., Caniglia, G., Patterson, J., Hultman, J., van Mierlo, B., et al. (2018) Second order transformation research for a changing climate. Energy Research and Social Science. 40: 54-70.

New paper on social justice and societal transformation under climate change

A new paper has just been published on the topic of social justice and societal transformations to meet the global 1.5C climate change target.

This paper was a collaboration between 10 researchers in the INOGOV network to explore the role of social justice in (potentially) enhancing the political feasibility of societal transformations for urgent global climate action.

There has long been much attention to issues of social justice in dealing with climate change in recent years. This is often focused on the justice implications linked to global cooperation (e.g. within international negotiations), or on justice-related impacts at a local level (e.g. vulnerable groups disproportionately affected by climate change). Our paper takes a slightly different perspective, exploring how attention to social justice can help to shape effective and ethical climate responses to support urgent climate action.

The abstract of the paper is below:

“Constraining global climate change to 1.5C is commonly understood to require urgent and deep societal transformations. Yet such transformations are not always viewed as politically feasible; finding ways to enhance the political feasibility of ambitious decarbonization trajectories is needed. This paper reviews the role of social justice as an organizing principle for politically feasible 1.5C transformations. A social justice lens usefully focuses attention on first, protecting vulnerable people from climate change impacts, second, protecting people from disruptions of transformation, and finally, enhancing the process of envisioning and implementing an equitable post-carbon society. However, justice-focused arguments could also have unintended consequences, such as being deployed against climate action. Hence proactively engaging with social justice is critical in navigating 1.5C societal transformations.”

The paper is fully open access and can be found here.


Patterson, J.J., Thaler, T., Hoffmann, M., Hughes, S., Oels, A., Chu, E., Mert, A., Huitema, D., Burch, S., Jordan, A. (2018) Political feasibility of 1.5°C societal transformations: the role of social justice. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 31:1–9 [Open Access].

Global survey of cities completed – 96 cities across the world!

A major global survey being conducted by the INNOVCITIES project has recently been closed after receiving responses from 96 cities across 6 continents. 

This survey aimed to assess the types of institutional innovation occurring in cities across the world, and explanatory factors for these changes. The survey targeted 120 cities across the world, distributed evenly across and within continents. Relevant experts from sectors such as government, academia, NGOs, and industry were invited to complete the survey. The survey was made available in 7 languages: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. The survey period was May-July 2017 (10 weeks). 

In total, experts from 96 cities responded, comprising a total of N=316 individual responses. For 68 cities, two or more responses were obtained, which helps to increase confidence in the final data. 

Currently this data is being analysed for both policy and academic outputs. As a first step, a Policy Report is being prepared to rapidly share descriptive findings with respondents and other interested stakeholders. The target launch date for the report is February 2018. Various academic publications are also being prepared and will be made available as soon as possible. 

A pdf flyer snapshot of the survey is available here.

INNOVCITIES joins network on Innovating Water Governance in Amsterdam

The INNOVCITIES project has recently joined a new network of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners on a new 3-year project on Innovating Water Governance in Amsterdam. This network is creating a Knowledge-Action hub focusing on how to advance a diverse range of cutting-edge approaches to sustainable water governance in cities, drawing on concepts such as “circular economy” and the “water-energy nexus”. The project has 4 core Work Packages:

  1. Governance strategies in a dynamic context (this is where INNOVCITIES contributes)
  2. System changes
  3. Distribution of responsibilities and risks
  4. A knowledge-based system for future-proof governance of the water cycle

As an early step, the consortium will soon be hosting a series of Knowledge-Action Studios, and public forums at the Pakhuis de Zwijger – a creative cultural and intellectual hub situated in the heart of Amsterdam.

This exciting new consortium will consolidate Amsterdam’s position as a global leader on the knowledge and practice of sustainable cities. INNOVCITIES is very excited to become part of this initiative!

New paper published on “sustainability transformations”

A new paper has just been published on the topic of “sustainability transformations”. This is a strong theme emerging in recent years within global sustainability research and policy debates, which focuses on understanding how societies can make major changes towards achieving a more sustainable and just world, particularly under climate change.

This paper surveys a variety of different approaches to studying sustainability transformations, and particularly focuses on identifying what is known and what is missing when it comes to the governance and politics dimensions.It is published in the journal of Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions.

This work is a collaboration within the Earth System Governance network.

The paper is fully open access (!) and is freely available here: The title and abstract are below:

‘Exploring the governance and politics of transformations towards sustainability’


The notion of ‘transformations towards sustainability’ takes an increasingly central position in global sustainability research and policy discourse in recent years. Governance and politics are central to understanding and analysing transformations towards sustainability. However, despite receiving growing attention in recent years, the governance and politics aspects of transformations remain arguably under-developed in the global sustainability literature. A variety of conceptual approaches have been developed to understand and analyse societal transition or transformation processes, including: socio-technical transitions, social-ecological systems, sustainability pathways, and transformative adaptation. This paper critically surveys these four approaches, and reflects on them through the lens of the Earth System Governance framework (Biermann et al., 2009). This contributes to appreciating existing insights on transformations, and to identifying key research challenges and opportunities. Overall, the paper brings together diverse perspectives, that have so far remained largely fragmented, in order to strengthen the foundation for future research on transformations towards sustainability.

Citation details:

Patterson, J., Schulz, K., Vervoort, J., van der Hel, S., Widerberg, O., Adler, C., Hurlbert, Anderton, K., Sethi, M., Barau, A. 2017. Exploring the governance and politics of transformations towards sustainability. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions.


New paper published on institutional work (introduction to Special Issue)

James Patterson and Raoul Beunen have recently had a paper published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management on the topic of “institutional work”. 

R. Beunen & J.J. Patterson (2016): Analysing institutional change in environmental governance: exploring the concept of ‘institutional work’, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2016.1257423

This paper reviews various theoretical ideas about institutional change, and argues that the novel concept of institutional work provides a useful way of analysing institutional change in environmental governance. Institutional change is a notoriously tricky topic, and is only recently becoming a theoretical focus in the institutional literature. In environmental governance, scholars often highlight the need for institutional change in response to all manner of sustainability problems, but understand how and why institutional change happens is challenging. 

The paper is an introduction to a new Special Issue edited by Raoul and James in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, which pulls together 15 contributions from scholars in multiple countries across the world (Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Chile) to explore the notion of institutional work in environmental governance. 

An authors meeting will be held on 23-24 March at the Symposium on learning and innovation in resilient systems at The Netherlands Open University, Heerlen to discuss draft papers, and it is anticipated that all papers will be submitted for review by the end of May 2017, and hopefully start to appear online in the second half of 2017. 


Collaboration with climate change researchers in Chile

James Patterson recently conducted a research visit to Santiago, Chile to collaborate with researchers from the Faculty of Social Sciences at Universidad de Chile and CR2: Centre for Climate Change and Resilience” (a national climate change research network).

The purpose of the visit was to jointly organise an agenda-setting workshop on “The Human Dimensions of Climate Change Research in Chile: emerging questions for an interdisciplinary research agenda”, working in particular with Dr. Rodolfo Sapiains, Lecturer at Universidad de Chile and Research Associate at CR2. The workshop involved a mix of presentations from researchers, policymakers, and NGOs, interspersed with breakout dialogue sessions, on topics of governance, psychological dimensions, and community experiences. It was attended by over 50 participants from research, government (local, regional, and national levels), and NGOs and community groups. Findings of the workshop are currently being written up into a social science research agenda for climate change in Chile.

James Patterson (in blue) giving a presentation (with the assistance of a translator!)

While visiting, James also met with several MSc students conducting thesis research projects, and discussed methods and shared ideas, and gave a guest lecture in a course on water governance and politics in the MSc course: “Climate change and the social sciences”, at the Universidad de Chile, Chile. He also conducted fieldwork interviews, and met with senior officials from the Department of Climate Change in the National Ministry of Environment.

James Patterson and Rodolfo Sapiains outside the national Ministry of Environment prior to a meeting with the Department of Climate Change.

Keynote given at water-energy-food nexus conference in Germany

James Patterson, coordinator of INNOVCITIES, recently gave a keynote presentation at the Water-Energy-Food Nexus Symposium in Osnabrück, Germany.

James was invited to speak on the topic of “sustainability transformations” based on work he has led with a team of collaborators within the Earth System Governance network, exploring the meanings and implications of the emerging research agenda of sustainability transformations. His address gave a synthesis of different schools of thought on sustainability transformations, particularly focusing on governance and politics dimensions, and implications for the water-energy-food nexus.

The water-energy-food nexus is an emerging research topic that focuses on interactions and interdependencies between water, energy, and food sectors. It highlights that solving problems in any individual sector is not possible without considering deep interactions with the other sectors, which poses tremendous challenges and opportunities for governance.

The forum was organised by the Sustainable Water Future Programme, which is a research project under Future Earth.

Call for Abstracts: conference on learning and innovation in resilient systems

From the conference organisers:

The Netherlands’ Open University is organizing a 2-day symposium, which offers an unique opportunity to discuss these topics, in an interdisciplinary environment, whilst paying strong attention to the relevance of the concept of Resilience for environmental issues.

Resilience has become a fashionable buzzword in recent years. The term is frequently found in many different discourses ranging from nature conservation (WWF’s adaptation and resilience program), sports psychology (teaching athletes about resilience), to development work (resilience in rural areas). It appears that everything (cities, companies, software) and everybody (managers, children, teachers) can and should be resilient. With our current knowledge of future challenges like climate change, globalization and food security resilience can offer a way to develop strategies to cope with uncertainties.

We invite scientists from a range of disciplines to debate how and to what extent innovations and learning processes in various systems contribute to the transition towards (more) resilient systems, be it individuals, organizations, et cetera. We welcome theoretical papers, methodological papers, and empirical studies or combinations thereof; and invite abstracts that discuss and examine innovations and learning for resilience from various angles. Several journals have expressed an interest in the papers that will be presented at the conference, including the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (COSUST) which has agreed to publish a special issue emanating from the conference. Other ideas for publications can be developed during the conference.

Confirmed speakers include Prof. Carl Folke (Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), Prof. Jan Rotmans (Erasmus University Rotterdam/DRIFT), and Prof. Andrew Jordan (University of East Anglia and COST Network INOGOV), and a range of others from several academic fields.

Panel proposals accepted so far (additional papers and additional ideas for panels welcome) are on the following topics:

* Climate change: science, knowledge and power
* Towards resilient governance systems: understanding institutional innovation in environmental governance
* Towards resilient (energy) systems in society
* The resilience of urban systems
* The origin, diffusion and impact of the concept of resilience in environmental governance
* Innovation in EU environmental policy
* Current trends in learning and innovation for sustainability

More information can be found on our website.

Practicalities and submission deadlines:

Interested participants/authors are encouraged to submit 250 word abstracts by 15th October 2016 as a first step towards full paper development. Please send your abstract to  Authors will be notified of acceptance/rejection before the 15th of December 2016; contributing authors are expected to submit a full first draft of their paper by the 1st of February 2017.