On the 20th May, delegates from TIPC member countries Finland, Sweden, Norway, South Africa, and Colombia arrived at the University of Sussex, UK, for three day’s residential training. The training formed part of a wider “Transformative Innovation Learning Journey” organised by TIPC in collaboration with EIT Climate KIC.
The Transformative Innovation Learning Journey is a significant step towards the building of a global constituency of transformative innovation policymakers and researchers. Through a blend of theory and practice, policymakers and researchers have spent the last three days working transnationally to explore the concepts underpinning TIP and reflect on its practical implications for different contexts. The core focus of the journey has been a “transformative challenge”; a project or programme with transformative potential selected by each member country to serve as a practice-based project.
The structure of the three day course was not a typical training of lectures; the focus instead was on co-creation and peer to peer learning, with the aim to foster a global dialogue on Transformative Innovation Policy. As Dr. Matias Ramirez emphasised on the first day, “TIP is all about learning by doing, and it is up to the participants and policymakers to express the directions that TIP must take. There is so much diversity and complexity within transformations; there is no blueprint but instead a process of mutual learning”.
The first day focused on the theoretical frameworks of TIP. Participants explored how change happens in society, using the three frames of innovation as a lens. A key question for TIPC members, who are predominantly STI research funding agencies, was how innovative knowledge can be generated through a TIP approach. The second session, guided by Climate KIC, explored how an actor-driven approach to STI policymaking can facilitate transformative change as opposed to a more traditional technology-driven approach. The day ended with a discussion on socio-technical transitions led by TIPC founder Johan Schot, who stressed the need for policymaking to move away from a “tick list approach”.
Pirjo Kutinlahti, Ministerial Adviser at the Finnish Ministry of Economy and Employment, said, “I now have a better understanding of this theoretical framework but also how to turn this framework into a language for policymakers to understand, so that I can communicate to others why we must change the way we are working.”
After a theoretically dense day, participants met at the Old Ship Hotel in Brighton to digest the first day over dinner. This was an opportunity for participants to reflect on how the theory applied to their own contexts, and to discuss in depth their “transformative challenges”. The emphasis was very much on transnational learning. Andrea Navas, Research Manager at the Universidad del Valle in Colombia noted, “My biggest fear about this training was that the Global North would be held as an example of excellence and that we as “underdeveloped” countries would have to conform to this. Actually, what I have found is that we are all in the same unsustainable world and, although we have different kinds of challenges, they are ultimately the same. What we are doing here is truly co-creating which is excellent.”
The second day moved from theory to the application of theory through experimentation and evaluation. The morning began with a chance for participants to feedback from their dinner discussions and raise key themes, questions or challenges. Dr. Paula Kivimaa then offered insights into how experimentation may improve the performance and spread of transformative innovations. Following this, Sandra Boni and Sandro Giachi introduced key concepts around principles of evaluation for TIP initiatives, and participants were given opportunities to discuss and reflect on evaluation and experimentation through group exercises. Per Koch, Editor for the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education, noted, “We have found the methods needed to put our own projects into broader contexts, and understand how to involve different actors in our projects, so we can create policies for the future and not for the past”.
TIP’s focus on learning by doing meant that there was only so much classroom-learning to be done, and the afternoon comprised of a “Walk-Shop” on niche building. Participants had been discussing how to bring in and learn from non-traditional actors such as social movements, and so after the Walk-Shop the cohort visited the grassroots innovation project “Earthship” in Stanmer, Brighton. The Earthship is an off-the-grid community centre that emphasis sustainability and aims to inspire action for positive environmental change in the construction industry. Participants were able to tour the centre, and receive a talk from one of the centre’s staff.
The day ended with a group dinner at Zero-Waste restaurant Silo in Brighton, with a menu that was entirely locally sourced and all waste being re-used through composting.
On the third and final day it was time to plan for beyond the training; participants applied their knowledge through an intensive morning of country-based group work. Participants mapped out key drivers, variables, actors and socio-technical systems related to their transformative challenges. They were also able to develop a simplified Theory of Change for their projects, based on TIP principles, which they could further develop back home. In the final session, the cohort reflected on some of the key insights, challenges, and areas of contestation. Participants also focused on how they would take the learnings from this journey back to their work in their home countries.
Tshepang Mosiea, Director of the Department of Science and Technology in South Africa, said, “This was a very useful discussion for us because we have a number of policy experiments that we are doing but we didn’t have a theoretical framework to ground it in. What is great is that it’s not a blueprint but an evolving theory and framework, so we now have a space to translate the TIP into our own countries, reflect on that and then plan, manage and coordinate new innovation transitions.”
This, however, was far from the end of the Learning Journey. Member countries will now return to work on their transformative challenges, with mentorship from both TIPC and EIT Climate KIC. The cohort re-meets at the TIPC conference in November 2019 in Valencia, where the dialogue on how to co-create sustainable, transformative change will continue.