Infrasystems are the large technical systems in society delivering water and electricity, making communications and transports possible, managing the gathering and treatment of refuse and sewage, and many other services. Infrasystems mean welfare, convenience and economic growth, but also considerable environmental impacts.
The overall aim of this thesis is to contribute to the development of aspects and prerequisites of infrasystem change in a sustainable direction, by way of elaborating conceptual knowledge. The first main point of departure is the concept of infrasystem, and the related approach Large Technical Systems (LTS), primarily associated the field of history of technology. A key feature is to highlight a socio-technical systems perspective, rather than separating technology from social and institutional aspects.
The second main point of departure is the change perspective Situations of Opportunity (SITOP), which is a draft theory developed within a research programme at the Royal Institute of Technology. SITOP set out from the notion that the possibility to implement changes in a sustainable direction is greater than average at certain moments in time. A situation of opportunity is associated with a prehistory, limiting the field of options for the actors utilising a formative moment.
When SITOP, LTS and other related socio-technical perspectives are cross-fertilised some directions of where to look for future situations of opportunity for infrasystem change in a sustainable direction can be pointed out, e.g. in connection with certain problems or crises in the systems’ development. On the one hand different aspects on how to widen the field of options are discussed, e.g. to promote inter-sectorial actor networks, to identify system synergies and social innovations (paper 1-3), and to highlight services and functions rather than sectors and technology (paper 2). On the other hand, in order to approach the great changes needed in the context of sustainable development, the socio-technical regimes of today have to undergo major alterations, which probably presupposes new sets of actors and actor networks. A more moderate view however, is to seek positive synergies between everyday decision- and policy-making and the long-term striving for sustainable development. Issues often considered as necessities, e.g. renovations of old buildings, or building more roads to moderate congestion – ‘what must be done’ – should be combined with ‘what should be done’, e.g. implementing energy saving solutions in the built environment, or reducing society’s transport dependency. The array of conceivable combinations widens the field of options.
The results also concern indirect effects of infrasystems, which might contribute to processes evaluating fields of options. Infrastructure investments affect activity patterns and the built environment (paper 4). Moreover infrasystems are associated with indirect energy use (paper 5).
The conceptual views presented in this thesis are no immediate means, ready to be used in concrete infrasystem management, but can in the steps that follow primary policy-making support the process of finding out when to implement change, and moreover assessing plausible solutions. In other words – identify situations of opportunity and explore the field of options.
Stockholm: KTH , 2006. , 122 p.