George Perkins Marsh Institute

The Socio-Technical Transition Initiative (STTI)

About the Socio-Technical Transition Initiative

The mission of the Socio-Technical Transition Initiative at the George Perkins Marsh Institute is to ensure that technological advances in energy and other areas related to sustainability are paired with the socio-technical knowledge and tools needed to accelerate transitions that yield multiple benefits to society. The Initiative adapts contemporary research on socio-technical learning and transitions for direct use by policymakers and stakeholders, combining science with outreach to promote environmental, economic and social benefits. The Initiative builds on expertise at Clark, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and other institutions.

Work done through STTI will combine science with outreach to promote environmental, economic, and social benefits. In STTI we view sustainability as not only important intrinsically, but also as an anchor for a broader set of structural benefits including economic development, job creation, poverty reduction, and the movement of local economies toward green technologies and services. Coordinated, bottom-up and top-down interactions with public and private partners will promote these and other benefits. STTI will provide businesses with access to technical, intellectual and entrepreneurial resources, while fostering, monitoring and evaluating socio-technical projects on local and regional scales.

What is a socio-technical transition?

Technological advances can only benefit society if they are disseminated and used. This is not purely a technological issue; technology adoption requires social learning and adaptation at many levels. A socio-technical transition is a joint transformation of coupled technological and social systems that enables society to realize benefits (e.g., energy sustainability) from technological innovation. These transitions can occur via various pathways, but often require widespread learning and behavioral change.

Why are socio-technical transitions crucial for energy sustainability?

Recent years have witnessed an explosion of activity in the development of technology for green energy and sustainability. However, the almost exclusive focus on technological development, rather than the use of technology, has limited the effectiveness of many initiatives. A conventional focus of this kind ignores the fact that technology is part of a complex system that also includes institutions, culture, physical infrastructure, and economic-structural underpinnings. Repeated experience shows that technological and policy developments often far outpace society's capacity to adapt its institutions, economy and culture. The fundamental challenge of transitioning toward sustainability entails harmonizing the pace and direction of change in two dimensions: the social, and the technical. Addressing the challenges of technology adoption and diffusion requires a thorough understanding of the complex interactions between social and technical systems, learning and change.

Where does the Initiative operate?

The initial focus of STTI's attention will be on Worcester's transition to sustainability. This focus reflects longstanding commitments by Clark and WPI to the city, embraces the potential to accelerate socio-technical learning by concentrating efforts in one city, and incorporates the mission of the recently founded Institute for Energy Innovation and Sustainability to help Central Massachusetts become a regional hub for green-energy innovation with accompanying social and economic benefits.

While emphasizing local applications and partnerships, STTI also establishes and maintains connections with relevant centers of research, practice and education worldwide. Through those connections, STTI seeks to (1) capitalize on worldwide research to promote effective socio-technical transitions at home and (2) ensure that the approaches developed by the Initiative are disseminated successfully for broader application.

Can I support or partner with the Initiative?

Yes! If you are would like to help support the Initiative with your time, resources or other donations, or are interested in partnering with STTI, please contact one of the individuals listed below.

Where can I go for more information?

As a starting point, we recommend contacting one of the following individuals, who can then put you in touch with the appropriate expert at STTI.

Gordon Thompson
Institute for Resource and Security Studies
27 Ellsworth Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone: 617.491.5177

Halina Szejnwald Brown
Professor of Environmental Science and Policy
Department of International Development, Community, and Environment (IDCE)
Clark University
950 Main St
Worcester, MA 01610
Phone: 508.793.7172

Jennie C. Stephens
Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy
Department of International Development, Community, and Environment (IDCE)
Clark University
950 Main St
Worcester, MA 01610
Phone: 508.793.8846

Robert J. Johnston
Director, George Perkins Marsh Institute
Professor, Department of Economics
Clark University
950 Main St
Worcester, MA 01610
Phone: 508.751.4619