Participatory methods and methodologies for a more just transition: Reflections from the 2021 Eu-SPRI Conference

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This blog considers the use of participatory methods based on discussions in 2021 at the Eu-SPRI Conference. 


During the 2021 Eu-SPRI conference (1), Paula Kivimaa in her keynote speech highlighted the importance of including a social justice perspective in the design and implementation of transformative innovation policy.  With this idea in mind, we convened the track titled “The use of participatory methods for transformative innovation engagements.” As researchers from the Global South and working in the Global North, our premise was that current design and implementation of innovation policies largely ignore using participatory methodologies to include diverse groups of people (community actors, or civil society organizations, or ordinary people) in the decision making process. This premise is rooted in our understanding that giving credibility to diverse, marginalised actors as knowledge producers is a matter of epistemic justice (Boni and Velasco, 2019), which, we argue, is an essential feature of a just transition.

Our key motivation to co-convene a track on this topic was to welcome contributions and learn from experiences and projects using variety of participatory methods and involving variety of actors in various geographical contexts that challenges the mainstream innovation policy approaches and resonates with our work on the new frame of Transformative innovation policy (TIP).

The discussions for this track spanned across three sessions in three days of the conference, constituted by rich debates that offered three board areas of learnings to us.

First, we learnt about a multitude of participatory engagement methodologies from various project designs. An example of such a design is the formulation of regional dialogues for a High-tech Strategy in Germany. The authors of the paper designed a process to involve up to 60 actors of the regional innovation system through dialogues taking place in workshops and conferences. Another interesting methodology was that of creating citizen forum in Sweden to design eco-social policies in food, mobility, housing and work. Using a matrix based on the nine fundamental needs developed by Max Neef, the authors made a case for alternative ways of meeting needs with reduced energy use and less ecological impact. Another paper drew from rich experiences of engaging in watershed management in Malaysia using a Place-Based citizen-science perspective, where involvement of community actors around the research process in identifying local problems was central to transformations.  A third interest method of participatory engagement  was showcased by authors from EIT Climate KIC Transitions Hub. Using impressive visual and facilitation methods, they were able to engage with multiple stakeholders including city authorities from  different cities across Europe in identified practical solutions and opportunities for transformative innovations during a series of system mapping exercises.

A second area of learning from the contributions of this track has been on how researchers working with innovative participatory techniques faced the challenge of the pandemic to continue their research and practise. The face-to-face workshops designed to produce interactions and co-creation of knowledge, most of the time using visual methods, were adjusted quickly. It was noted that the shift to greater reliance on technology in enabling participation made engagement with specific groups of people extremely difficult. (eg. the elderly or the most economically vulnerable with lack of digital literacy and/ or lack of access to digital tools were left out in revised methodologies). But, at the same time, it has been a steep learning experience for researchers who embraced the new normal and quickly adapted their research designs to be more digitally inclusive and broaden their outreach. The new normal also allowed researchers to experiment with online visual tools that can be shared and replicated across contexts.

A third area of learning for us in the track was around the role of actors and their capabilities in enabling participatory and hence transformative innovation policy. Several contributions in the track touched on institutionalising the capacity building among various stakeholders to lead and create space for participation and just transition. One such contribution shared fascinating experience of the organisers of a global course (the MGG Academy) devoted to training global changemakers on enhancing their capacities for transformative leadership. Another paper highlighted the role of “institutional entrepreneurial publics” in exercising their agencies in action towards transformations. The settings of a social lab in mobilising the interventions of these entrepreneurs through  Responsible Research and Innovation, seem particularly transformative, as  these engagements have focussed not only on acquiring knowledge and skills but also on influencing a change in mindset and frames of understanding and addressing societal challenges through innovation. Problem-based learning, system and design thinking, “merging knowledge” have emerged as valuable methodologies for transdisciplinary governance, required for enabling just transitions.

These three broad areas of learning deeply resonate with and complements of our own work in the Transformative innovation Policy Consortium, where we co-create knowledge with policymakers and practitioners to make innovation policy more transformative. Our experimental approach draws from learnings about how to co-produce knowledge and facilitate building trust and alignment between multiple stakeholders’ visions and actions. We believe that institutional entrepreneurship and capability building for transformative leadership among changemakers are critical for achieving the twelve transformative outcomes (Ghosh et al., 2020), which is at the heart of our formative evaluation methodology. In conclusion, all contributions of this track of the Eu-SPRI conference constitutes “a sustainable knowledge infrastructure on TIP” that we, TIP researchers are aiming to build throughout this year running up to the upcoming TIP conference in 2022. We expect to further engage in deeper conversation with the contributors of the track and therefore welcome their expression of interest by 20th August 2021 in this conference. Continuing this conversation to scale up and institutionalise knowledge on participatory methods for inclusive, just and transformative policy engagement is a timely imperative for the European green deal and for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, by making a social and environmental just transition for the whole planet.


Boni, A., & Velasco, D. (2020). Epistemic Capabilities and Epistemic Injustice: What is the Role of Higher Education in Fostering Epistemic Contributions of Marginalized Knowledge Producers?. Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric12(01), 1-26.

Ghosh, B., Kivimaa, P., Ramirez, M., Schot, J., Torrens, J., 2020. Transformative Outcomes :

Assessing and reorienting experimentation with transformative innovation policy Transformative outcomes, TIPC Working Paper, TIPCWP 2020-02. Online access: wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Transformation-outcomes-TIPC-working-paper.pdf (Paper now accepted in Science and Public Policy)


Pending Eu-SPRI, 2021



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