Intermediary actors accelerating socio-technical transitions – hope, hype and actionable insight on their capacities in socio-technical change


Seminar 11-12 April, 2019, Aalto University, Espoo, Finland

Schedule to be announced

The aim of this seminar is to present recent and ongoing research carried out by the scholars interested in this topic, and discuss interesting questions that arise for future research. The seminar also concludes the four-year project TRIPOD Intermediaries in the energy transition: The invisible work of creating markets for sustainable energy solutions funded by the Academy of Finland.

Key note speakers:
Johan Schot, University of Utrecht, NL
Paula Kivimaa, Finnish Environment Institute, FIN
Harro van Lente, Maastricht University, NL
Andy Karvonen, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, SWE

Socio-technical transitions aiming for improved sustainability are dynamic processes that do not emerge in a vacuum. Existing infrastructures, technological constellations, consumption practices and political strategies are examples of elements creating lock-ins and path-dependencies that call for active transformative work. Further, while inventions abound, the commercialization of sustainability innovations is often difficult, especially when markets are missing and their adoption would require changes in existing practices, routines and institutions. Transition intermediaries have emerged as potentially powerful actors and entities to speed up transitions and bridge the change between the old and new. They can be defined as “actors and platforms that positively influence sustainability transition processes by linking actors and activities, and their related skills and resources, or by connecting transition visions and demands of networks of actors with existing regimes in order to create momentum for socio-technical system change, to create new collaborations within and across niche technologies, ideas and markets, and to disrupt dominant unsustainable socio-technical configurations” (Kivimaa et al., 2018). Specific examples include, for example, a network for carbon neutral municipalities, HINKU (Lukkarinen et al., 2017) and an innovation organization, Forum Virium (Matchoss & Heiskanen, 2018). However, a whole host of other organisations can also play a role in transitions, such as internet forums, energy advisors, industry associations, social enterprises, real estate agents and research organisations (Hyysalo et al., 2018; Kivimaa & Martiskainen, 2018; Rinkinen & Jalas, 2017). Intermediaries are often identified through the functions they perform, sometimes forming a specific actor category with a separate identity, as either an individual or an organization, and at other times being a temporary activity (Kivimaa et al., 2018).

On the one hand, the intermediaries are viewed as connecting distinct actor groups, such as energy producers and end-users, disconnected consumers, or new entrants and incumbents (e.g. Hyysalo et al. 2018). On the other hand, intermediaries are conceptualized as setting the stage for transitions by advocating specific technologies or policy goals, and facilitating their strategic mobilization in policy work across scales (e.g. Hodson and Marvin, 2009). Several studies have already addressed intermediation in niche development (e.g. Seyfang et al., 2014; Smith et al., 2016), urban transitions (e.g. Hodson et al., 2013) and system innovation (e.g. Klerkx & Leeuwis, 2009; Barrie et al., 2017). It has been found that intermediaries are more seldom officially established to advance transitions than emerge to take this role (Kivimaa et al., 2018), but the ways in which they come into being show variety (Moss, 2009). It has also been noted that the needs for intermediation are likely to change over the course of transitions (Van Lente et al. 2011). The specific roles and functions of intermediation have received a lot of attention in the literature. What is less common are studies on the dynamics of transitions and accounts of complexities and political battles in intermediation work; comparisons of intermediation in different sectoral or geographical contexts, and the complexity of ecologies of intermediaries.


Aalto University: Sampsa Hyysalo, Mikko Jalas, Jouni Juntunen, Pekka Murto

Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE): Eeva Primmer, Paula Kivimaa, Jani Lukkarinen

University of Helsinki: Eva Heiskanen, Kaisa Matchoss, Nina Kahma