The challenges of sustainable development (and climate change and peak oil in particular) demand system-wide transformations in socio-technical systems of provision. An academic literature around co-evolutionary innovation for sustainability has recently emerged to attempt to understand the dynamics and directions of such socio-technical transformations and social change, which are termed 'sustainability transitions'. This literature has previously focused on market-based technological innovations. Here we apply it to a new context of social movements and social innovation, and examine the role of civil society-based social movements in a transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy in the UK. We present new empirical research from a study of the UK´s Transition Movement (a 'grassroots innovation') and assess its attempts to grow and diffuse beyond the niche. Applying strategic niche management theory to this civil society context delivers theoretically-informed practical recommendations for this social movement to diffuse beyond its niche: to foster deeper engagement with resourceful regime actors; to manage expectations more realistically by delivering tangible opportunities for action and participation; and to embrace a community-based, action-oriented model of social learning (in preference to a cognitive theory of behaviour change). Furthermore, our study indicates areas where theory can be refined to better explain the experience of grassroots innovations and social movements, namely through a fuller appreciation of internal niche processes, and integration with theories of social movements and social practices.
sustainable consumption energy social movements sustainability transitions social innovation socio-technical systems