31.03.2015, Bipashyee Ghosh
Tags: climate change, Experiments, workshop

Experiments in climate governance - Reflections on a workshop


In early March 2015, the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) hosted the ‘Innovations in Climate Governance’ (INOGOV) workshop. The INOGOV is a Tyndall Centre for Climate change research initiative, which started at 2014, and is a 4 year funded programme by the European Co-operation in Science and Technology (COST). The initiative brought together 24 countries in building a strong network for exploring and sharing knowledge about ‘source, diffusion and effects of policy and governance innovations’ for adapting and mitigating climate change. This particular workshop was themed around "experiments".


Andy Jordan, the chair of INOGOV and Professor of Environmental Policy, in the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia gave a introductory speech to kick start the workshop. He spoke about the importance of state level policies and role of civil societies in transnational climate governance. Embracing this polycentric approach to climate governance, which provides scope for experimentation and mutual learning, greater attention is required to identify leadership, support scaling up and facilitate better coordination among the transnational actors. Mikael Hilden, professor at SYKE and the director of a working group studying effect, effectiveness and legitimacy of the policy experimentation - acted as the wonderful host, organiser and facilitator for the workshop. 


There is several prevailing definition of experiments in the literature. For instance, Broto and Bulkeley (2013) conceptualised urban climate change experiments as the ones, which are delivered by actors in urban communities, purposive towards adaptation and mitigation of climate change and strategic in seeking new forms of learning and experiences. These are also the ones, which “constitute strategies to open up new forms of intervention (for climate governance) in different urban spaces”(Broto and Bulkeley, 2013). Berkhout et al (2010) on the other hand, introduced a concept called ‘sustainability experiments’ which are defined as “planned initiatives that embody a highly novel socio-technical configuration likely to lead to substantial (environmental) sustainability gains”. Associating the concept with transition perspective and applying it in developing context, experiments are considered to be instrumental in creating alternative development pathways for a shift towards sustainable socio-technical regimes (Berkhout et al, 2010).


The first session of the INOGOV workshop constituted papers introducing this variety of definitions and underlying theories concerning experiments. The papers discussed in this session were about methods and processes for setting up experiments, need for non-standardised method of evaluation and capacity and effectiveness of experiments in their local contexts. Experiments are also considered as means for production of new knowledge and construction of new technical arrangements; overcoming institutional complexities and political discourses. Developing new cognitive constructs is also a fundamental consideration for designing of experiments. Such design and its governance from a policy perspective also arises questions about how policies protects and responds to experimentation with ‘disruptive technologies’ and how to build on the learning experiences for further experimentation with such technologies. Other key points that emerged from the discussion are the importance of polycentricism and informal approach in evaluation; and the fact that experiments are not just trial and error, but they have controlled methodological element in it. Such a strong epistemic element is also essential in assessing the success, direction and fairness of transformative potential of these experiments. 


OECD (2012) has acknowledged the importance of local initiatives for ‘green growth’ over the few years underscoring the fact that experiments towards sustainability by local stakeholders in alignment with regional and national policy frameworks are the key towards a green, sustainable economy. Broto and Bulkeley (2013) noted from their empirical research - “urban climate change experimentation goes beyond international policy initiatives, size and concentration of resources or population.” The 3rd session of the workshop encompassed research on local experiments, where the local experimentation is mapped against the local interests, viability, technological solutions and power relations. My paper was discussed in this session, which is co-authored with Rob Raven (Utrecht University), Anna Wieczorek (Eindhoven University) and Andy Stirling (SPRU). The paper mobilised the idea of sustainability experiments and sustainability appraisal of emerging experimentation trajectories in context of electricity through solar photovoltaic and urban mobility in India and Thailand. The research is one of the outcomes of the NWO-WOTRO project on sustainability experiments and a draft version of the paper received valuable feedback from this workshop. 


Researchers have also recognized the fact that adaptation experiments are less visible compared to the experiments for climate change mitigation. In the final session of the workshop, we talked about climate adaptation experiments, focusing on Dutch and French cases of adaptation initiatives. Discussions centered on learning-by-doing experimentation; the impacts learning processes have on policy networks and its consequent effects on adaptation management. Some of the works associated this concept with inputs from transition management theory, appreciating the different types and instances of learning processes in adaptation strategies mainly in coastal ecosystems. The final wrap up session summarised on several learning outcomes from this workshop. The key observations from the selection of papers were that there exist diverse viewpoints on definition, rational and intended outcomes of experiments, even though confined within the common boundary of sustainability, policy and climate change aspects. The social implications of these experiments - legitimacy and power dimensions, transferability of the learning from experimentation in specific contexts to other contexts are some of the areas of research that are less explored. Moreover, the empirical work presented in the workshop demonstrated a ‘northern bias’ and the potential and barriers in experimentation in the ‘global south’ was somewhat under-represented in the discussions. Our paper which fed in results from India and Thailand, was a crucial input to the workshop in that sense, as it played an important role in expanding the stretch of thoughts and dialogues.


I sincerely believe local experimentation strategies are the key for addressing the complex issues like climate change; confirming transparency and accountability of governance and ensuring that the impacts are inclusive and desirable in the long run. The workshop was not just a one-off meeting, but served as a platform for mobilising thoughts and expanding individual networks, which has both long term and immediate goals to serve. Innovations in climate governance is a highly promising research area, so is the idea of experiments – which together serves as a sound, practical model to tackle world’s problems that we are facing today. 





INOGOV, (2014). Retrieved on 28th March 2015 http://www.inogov.eu/


OCED, (2012). Enabling Local green growth. OECD Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED) Programme


Broto, V. C., & Bulkeley, H. (2013). A survey of urban climate change experiments in 100 cities. Global Environmental Change, 23(1), 92-102.


Berkhout, F., Verbong, G., Wieczorek, A. J., Raven, R., Lebel, L., & Bai, X. (2010). Sustainability experiments in Asia: innovations shaping alternative development pathways? Environmental science & policy, 13(4), 261-271.



Bipashyee is a doctoral researcher in Science and Technology Policy at SPRU. She worked in the WOTRO research on sustainability experiments in Asia for 2 years during her masters in Eindhoven and produced her master thesis analysing results from the sustainability appraisal workshops held in India and Thailand.  Her current research interests include social sustainability and transitions in urban mobility innovations in India – focusing on contextual characteristics and inclusive innovation.  

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