Social Innovation

Technological innovation is not possible without social innovation. Social innovation means many different things. Social innovation is about changes in social relationships, systems or structures, and how changes serve to fulfill a shared need or goal.

Technological innovation cannot take place without social innovation. Although this statement is receiving more and more recognition, it remains difficult to shape research into social innovation. This is because social innovation encompasses so many different things. However, two elements are present in every definition. First, social innovation is about changes in social relationships, systems or structures, and second, these changes serve to fulfill a shared need or goal or solve a shared socially relevant problem. This is why social innovation is seen as a key component to the transition to a sustainable, safe and affordable energy supply. This is also why our social innovation research is characterized by two main themes.

The first theme is about the behavior of people in the energy transition, that is how do people behave and what do they want and not want – as citizens or consumers, but also as employees, policymakers or entrepreneurs, – as an individual, but also as a member of an (energy) collective, a board of directors, etc. What people do individually or in groups also depends, among other things, on how we are organized as a country, our history, which institutions there are and what opportunities people have to behave in a certain way. The second theme is about energy justice. How can we ensure that the energy transition, as a shared socially relevant goal or problem, does not create other problems for certain groups in society that affect communion? How can we ensure that the energy transition is fair and just for all citizens? Knowledge of these aspects is considered to be essential. By sharing and applying this knowledge, we can contribute to an accelerated implementation of sustainable, efficient, and carbonless energy systems.

Changing behavior requires insight into human decision-making processes.

Many models that estimate the effects of adopted and planned policies are economic. They assume that people make rational decisions with the motivation to keep costs as low as possible. Yet, human decision making appears to be considerably more complicated. A better forecast can be made of the possible effects of plans and measures by investigating which factors play a role in making choices in the field of sustainable energy. For example, the consumer behavior model, (Consumer Decisions Comprehended), predicts future sustainable purchasing decisions based on these factors (ECN part of TNO, 2018).

To get citizens involved in the energy transition, we will have to put ourselves in the driver seat of change. It is not sufficient to only focusing on what citizens should do differently, the future of our planet, and/or the euros. In addition to “homo economicus”, there is a need to bring forward other aspects of human beings, such as homo psychologist, homo sociologist, homo faber, homo ludens, etc., in the further development of appropriate modeling tools, such as the CODEC model.  In a (only in Dutch), TNO researchers describe a Value compass ​​that can contribute to emphasizing a broader view of people, for example when developing policy.

The energy transition is also influenced by how companies behave and organize themselves.

In addition to understanding consumer choice behavior, it is also important to know on what basis companies make decisions. Governments are better equipped to shaping policy when it is clear what motivates companies to opt for new technologies, when the most important obstacles to sustainable (chain) cooperation are known, and when we understand what companies encounter in practical terms when opening up new markets for sustainable products and services.

For the (process) industry, it is very important to start thinking and working differently. A culture shift is needed in which sustainable purchasing and the use of renewable energy must become ‘the new status quo’. For example, we have developed training for suppliers of sustainable process technology to help them better highlight their green proposition. Furthermore, a significant part of the possible energy savings can be capitalized on by having employees work in an energy-conscious manner. In a European context, we contribute to accelerated energy savings in the food industry, in which effective energy management and ‘good housekeeping’ are central.

In the built environment, questions arise from construction companies, contractors, developers and installers. How do we open up the market for sustainable, gas-free home renovation? Knowledge about the target group is very important, but it is equally important how providers organize themselves and cooperate in the chain. Within the project “The third success factor” it was investigated how parties who work on renovation projects with high energy ambitions can achieve effective cooperation. The question is constantly asked how we can scale up the practices of these frontrunners.

Such questions also arise in the local implementation and spatial integration of technology. It is clear that you cannot “suddenly” place a solar park or wind farm somewhere. It is clear that residents must be involved in time and preferably also be able to participate, but how do you do that? In the local integration of technology – sun, wind, but also CO2 storage – we contribute to the development and application of innovative participation methods.

Finally, it is important that the energy transition is fair.

The effects of human actions and trends in society are crucial for the energy transition, but the other way around: the influence of the energy transition on society is also very important for feasibility. Fairness and justice play a major role here: the costs of the transition are not evenly distributed on their own and certain people or groups are affected disproportionately hard. What balance can be found for groups in society that are disproportionately hit because of their income, their profession, the company where they work, or the location where they live? In answering that question, it is important both to qualitatively map which groups are hit harder and how this manifests itself, as well as to quantify the extent of these effects.

Every stakeholder must contribute to the energy transition to the best of his ability. This requires a change in knowledge, attitude and behavior for everyone, from installer to policymaker, from CEO to team worker. This includes a policy that enables fair distribution of costs and benefits.