Over the last decade, the nascent field of Sustainability Transitions has sought to explain the conditions under which technological innovations can diffuse and disrupt existing socio-technical systems through the successful scaling up of experimental ‘niches’. Building on this pioneering work, recent research on ‘grassroots innovations’ argues that civil society is a promising but under- researched site of innovation for sustainability, albeit one with very different characteristics to the market-based innovations normally considered in the literature. In order to explore the relevance of niche development theories in a civil society context, this paper conducts a niche analysis of a growing grassroots innovation – the international community currency movement. This movement comprises a range of new socio-technical configurations of systems of exchange which have emerged from civil society over the last 30 years, intended to provide more environmentally and socially sustainable forms of money and finance. We draw on new empirical research to investigate the global scope and character of community currencies, using primary and secondary sources, elite interviews and participant observation in the field. Our analysis suggests that many of the conventional niche processes are relevant in a grassroots context. However, existing theories do not fully capture the complexity of this type of innovation, nor does the niche development trajectory appear to follow the same path as that of market based innovations. This indicates a need for further theoretical development in order to understand the processes by which innovation emerges from civil society, and we suggest some possible avenues for future research.
Seyfang, G. and Longhurst, N. (2012). Grassroots innovation for sustainability: A niche analysis of community currencies. 3S Working Paper 2012-10. Norwich: Science, Society and Sustainability Research Group.