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Niche Management Policies for Sustainability Transitions in Socio-Technical Systems: A Simulation-based Analysis of Complex Dynamics

Final Report Summary - NICHES (Niche Management Policies for Sustainability Transitions in Socio-Technical Systems: A Simulation-based Analysis of Complex Dynamics)

In line with the EU Sustainable Development Strategy, novel policy approaches are needed for the targeted change in the unsustainable consumption and production patterns. In that context, the NICHES project aims:
1. To analyze key characteristics of innovations and corresponding socio-technical systems that strongly condition the effectiveness of support policies
2. To develop design guidelines for improving the effectiveness of a support policy by considering the key characteristics of innovations and corresponding socio-technical systems.
3. To analyze and develop a set of indicators and decision heuristics that can be used for monitoring and steering support policies during implementation.
The first half period of the project is mainly devoted to establishing the conceptual and technical foundations of the research. The results of this early modeling process as well as preliminary analysis provided valuable lessons for models to be developed, and analysis to be conducted during the second half of the project. The second half period of the project focused on simulation-based exploration of innovation support strategies through agent-based simulation experiments. In synergy with another EC-funded research project, i.e. ARTS, these analyses also focused on social innovations and the dynamics of transition initiatives as a sort of innovation niches. These experiments revealed the context-sensitive nature of supporting regimes. The key contextual characteristics are observed to be the composition of the potential adopter pool in terms of their preference structures, and availability of resources that will be used to support niches in that context. Another observation that supported a prior expectation is that there is a clear tension between supporting a few innovations versus distributing the resources to a larger set of them, especially in the cases where increasing returns and network effects are strong. While supporting a few increases the possibility of one of those innovation reaching a critical mass, such a policy may exclude promising innovations and leave them unsupported. Supporting these stylized observations with empirical cases will be an important follow up for this project.

The impacts of this project on the career development of the researcher is beyond initial expectations. The mobility supported by NICHES strengthened the links of the researcher especially with the sustainability transitions research network in EU. As a consequence, the researcher was invited to join three large research consortia. The first focused on end-user behavior in built-environment. The second focused on the development of an evaluation framework for policy models on global climate change. The third one was closely related to NICHES as it focused on niches of social sustainability innovations. While the first two failed to secure EC funding, they contributed significantly to the network of the researcher. The third project is funded by EC under the FP7 program (i.e. ARTS project). The findings from NICHES are already feeding ARTS, and the ARTS project ensures the continuation of the career development of the researcher in this field.

The researcher is promoted to Associate Professor by the Council of Higher Education, and now has a tenured position in the host institution.