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Beyond the Buzzwords: "Innovation" and the closing of equity gaps
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science, Technology and Environment.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0611-7512
2014 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

With point of departure in History of Technology and STS this paper discusses water and energy provision systems applying theoretical concepts such as recombination, recursive structures, internal replacement and structural deepening. Why do the dominant systems look the way they do, how were they formed by societal,scientific and environmental conditions? How does “innovation” happen within a large technical system? What do we even mean by innovation; has this just become another buzzword? 

Using concrete examples from water and electricity provision from the past and the present, the paper discusses under what circumstances socio-technical change is likely to take place, and how innovation could lead to a closing of equity gaps. Closing the equity gap requires increased diversity in the setup of systems for providing water, sanitation and energy services. The dominant modes of providing these services have developed to match the hydroenvironmental, economical and socio-cultural conditions in early 20th century Europe and USA. While these modes have their advantages, in many contexts in the South they will not serve the purpose of closing theequity gaps, without further innovation and modification. As shown by historical examples, local contextspecific innovation activities are likely to generate configurations tailored to local preferences, needs andresources. The local-level innovation could be characterised as 'horisontal recombination'. However, local innovation activities must also fit into the large socio-technical system. Two changes in local innovation environments are critical: First, creating space for local experimenting and innovation. Instead of regulating minimum service standards and streamlining technological solutions, system builders may need to develop a modular approach where different – but compatible - technological solutions are engaged depending on context. Second, socio-technical change can accelerate if local innovation is combined with a ‘vertical recursive structure’, where search activity and perfection of the entire system is sought by means of – for example - internal replacement. This requires a higher degree of accountability and transparency. Ultimately,this is a product of power structures in society.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
innovation, water, sanitation, history, developing countries, technology change
National Category
History of Technology
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-169887OAI: diva2:825799
World Water Week, 31 Aug to 5 Sep, 2014, Stockholm, Sweden

 Workshop 8, Fighting poverty post-2015: securing access to energy, food and water

QC 20150624

Available from: 2015-06-24 Created: 2015-06-24 Last updated: 2015-06-24Bibliographically approved

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