Framing transitions to sustainable accessibility

This work package contributes with knowledge on the dynamics in urban
transformation processes. Special emphasis will be put on the role of public actors in such processes, with a particular emphasis on Stockholm. Deeper knowledge on
factors effecting public actors’ possibilities to stimulate sustainable travel patterns
among different individuals and groups will also be produced.

Aim and research questions

The aim of this work package is, first, to identify theoretical perspectives, points of departure and concepts that can be used to inform and inspire the programme’s work on 1) the roles of disruptive innovations, actors and institutions in transitions to sustainable accessibility and 2) factors influencing behavioral changes toward sustainable practices among user groups. Second, the work package will carry out research on selected theoretical work of relevance both to the program and to international scientific efforts to understand climate-related individual and societal change more generally.

Research questions addressed

  • What are core conditions, potentials and barriers in transitions to far-reaching sustainable accessibility from an integrated sociotechnical perspective that encompasses both technical configurations, actors and institutions?
  • How can theories of behavioral change on an individual level be used to understand factors that influence the potential for stimulating sustainable behavior among various groups of users?

Context of this work package

The task of understanding the prerequisites and implications of a transition to far-reaching sustainable accessibility, as well as the role of disruptive innovations in this transition, calls for identifying relevant theoretical perspectives, concepts and points of departure. Concepts and points of departure must be sufficiently broad to accommodate the scope of the programme, as well as to inform the interpretation of empirical results of the programme as a whole in meaningful and policy-relevant ways.

In addition, an important goal of an ambitious, long-term research programme such as Mistra SAMS must be to provide scientific work that can contribute to international knowledge production in relevant core fields.

This work package will draw upon two areas of theoretical work that have core relevance for Mistra SAMS:

  • Interdisciplinary research on processes of sociotechnical change toward sustainable accessibility, and;
  • Research from behavioral sciences and geography on factors influencing behavioral changes toward sustainable practices

Work package leader

The leader of this work package is Åsa Aretun , VTI.


Task 2.1 Innovations in processes of sociotechnical change

The aim of this task is to identify relevant theoretical perspectives and concepts that can be used to interpret and understand crucial factors that influence long-term transitions to smart, sustainable mobility and accessibility, particularly the role of institutional barriers and institutional changes in such transitions.

The following research questions will be addressed:

  • How can the results of previous studies of transitions and sociotechnical change processes in relation to innovations be specifically applied to accessibility service innovations, ASIs) with regard to core dynamics, patterns and “lessons learned"?
  • What insights from earlier research can be used to understand institutional barriers to change in sustainability transitions and how such barriers have been fruitfully handled in specific policies?
  • How can power dynamics in transition processes be understood and what are their implications?

The point of departure for this task is that all innovations (such as accessibility service innovations, ASIs) are sociotechnical in nature, that is: they consist of complex intertwinings of technical configurations, actors and organizations, and institutions; they are embedded in specific societal contexts and conditions that influence the potential for system change; and they develop and evolve in often unpredictable ways ( Bijker and Law 1992 ; Summerton 1994 ; Hackett et. al. 2008 ).

One social science approach that is highly fruitful for the purposes of the current program concerns sociotechnical processes of transition ( Geels 2005 ; Geels et al 2012 ). One of the key concepts in transition theory is the multi-level perspective by which change processes involve at least three dimensions in successive phases of development. Transition theory emphasizes the importance of exploring the relation between niches (often referred to as “protected spaces” where radical innovation occurs), regimes (which refers to specific institutional settings that usually provides stability against upcoming new niches) and landscapes (which refers to broader contextual dimensions at a macro level) ( Geels 2011 ). These perspectives are highly relevant to Mistra SAMS.

Other highly fruitful approaches to understanding dynamics and tensions in sociotechnical changes are grounded in the interdisciplinary area of science and technology studies, STS. Relevant work in this area focuses on e.g. the role of social movements in bringing about disruptive changes in the politics of knowledge production ( Epstein 1996 , Papadopoulos 2011 ), the interactions of collective actors and discourses in arenas around specific technologies ( Clarke 2005 ; Clarke & Star 2008 ), and the role of users in shaping innovations ( Akrich 1992 , Oudshoorn and Pinch 2003 , Shove and Walker 2010 ). These perspectives and others are fruitful when analyzing the role of disruptive innovations and their potential for stimulating transformative change in transport systems.

Task leader: Åsa Arentun, VTI

Task 2.2 Behavioral changes toward sustainable accessibility practices

The aim of this task is 1) to identify theoretical perspectives and models for understanding current mobility practices, both on an individual level and among user groups, and how opportunities and restrictions in time-space may influence these practices; 2) to apply relevant theoretical perspectives and concepts as a means of understanding factors that influence behavioral change in mobility practices.

This task will be grounded in two areas of research that will be used to analyze factors that influence behavioral changes related to accessibility and mobility.

First, time geography, which was originally developed by the Swedish geographer Torsten Hägerstrand ( Hägerstrand 1985 ), and can be used to study how opportunities and restrictions in time-space may influence mobility practices, making it well suited to concretize issues of accessibility and mobility. The starting point of this work is how events occur in a time-space framework, how people and things make up paths in time and space, and how their location in space and their potential to overcome distances put restrictions and opens opportunities for various kinds of social processes. Accessibility not only means reaching different supplies through mobility, it can also be produced by co-location or by bringing things to people. There is an important interplay between mobility services and locations in space, making this kind of theorizing a powerful tool in understanding the wider context of accessibility and mobility in processes of disruptive innovations and transitions to entirely new regimes of accessibility. Thus time geography can serve as an empirically grounded framework for both connecting behavioral and institutional dimensions of system change, as well as analyzing factors that influence accessibility in both personal travel and freight transport.

Second, this task will draw upon perspectives from psychology which focus on factors affecting current mobility practices on an individual level, the potential for behavioral change in these practices among user groups, and the process of change itself. Several highly relevant models focus on factors affecting behavioral intentions and/or behaviors themselves. Two models, namely the theory of planned behaviour ( Ajzen1991 ) and the theory of interpersonal behaviour ( Triandis, 1977 ), analyze normative/social factors and perceived consequences of the behaviour, where the latter also includes the importance of habit. Two broader models such as the health belief model ( Rosenstock, 1966 ) and motivation protection theory ( Rogers 1975 ), focus on different emotional responses that influence the potential for behavioral change. These perspectives are highly relevant to Mistra SAMS.

There are several models with regard to behavioral change on a more general level that are relevant for understanding pre-requisites for behavioral change toward more sustainable accessibility practices, as well as the process of change itself. For example, the trans-theoretical model of change ( Prochaska and DiClement, 1983 ) outlines six reversible stages that individuals goes through before a new behavior can be firmly established. The task will use this work as a basis for assessing factors that are significant for changing behaviors toward more extensive use of new accessibility service innovations (ASIs) in individuals and among specific user groups.

Task leader: docent Henriette Wallén Warner, VTI .

Belongs to: Mistra SAMS Sustainable Accessibility and Mobility Services
Last changed: Jul 18, 2019