Sustainable development is arguably the most important societal challenge of our time. This challenge requires several transitions. In the first phase of these transitions, an important activity is to experiment with sustainability innovations. A series of experiments may contribute to an upscaling process towards a broader regime change in the long term [1
]. It is important to consider the local and regional scale to learn what works and does not work in specific spatial contexts. Cities are seen increasingly as agents of change [2
], as ideas spread more easily in densely populated areas because of proximity advantages. Moreover, cities increasingly see themselves as laboratories (i.e., experimental places) where innovations can be trialed ([3
]). Experimentation is increasingly regarded as a governance strategy that may serve as an alternative to conventional predict-and-provide forms of urban planning [4
While observing patterns of urban sustainability experimentation in Europe, researchers have identified particular regional hotspots for various types of sustainability experiments. For example, Berlin is well known for its grassroots food experiments [5
] and for its leading role in urban energy transitions [6
], and Barcelona and Toulouse are known for their fab labs [7
]. It is relevant to ask ourselves why these localized densities of experiments exist [8
], whether distinct regional contexts such as social or institutional factors make cities and regions favorable for experiments, and whether different local arrangements give rise to different patterns of experimentation [9
More generally, these questions deal with the topic of how the spatial context matters in transitions. This topic is being studied in an emerging and exciting research field: the geography of transitions. Recently, the literature in this field has expanded considerably [10
]. We are interested in a specific phase of transitions, namely the phase of experimentation. As a contribution to this research field, we have recently developed the habitat concept [11
]. The habitat is defined as the configuration of the most important spatial context factors enabling the future upscaling of sustainability experiments. We empirically found that these factors, such as the existence of a vision and of regional multi-actor networks, are deeply embedded, both locally and regionally.
The various types of sustainability experiments may flourish in specific habitats [11
]. For example, grassroots energy experiments may flourish in a transition town, and guided high-tech living labs may flourish in a science-based campus milieu. We are interested in capturing these contrasting habitats and in the dimensions that cause this contrast; hence, our research question is the following: which spatial context factors enable the future upscaling of sustainability experiments in contrasting regional habitats in Europe, and can these factors be influenced in a positive way? It is important to clarify here that in this research we are interested in how to anticipate future upscaling of experiments during experimentation; we are not analyzing the actual upscaling process. This requires a predictive approach in our research design. We believe that a better understanding of contrasting habitats and upscaling factors would help to give the stakeholders involved in these experiments more tailor-made support for experimentation, including an improved understanding of how different contextual factors shape different patterns in experimentation.
The paper proceeds as follows. Section 2
provides relevant insights from the literature on the geography of experimentation and proposes an analytical framework. Section 3
specifies the methods used, Section 4
describes the findings in four cases, and Section 5
discusses and reflects on the results. Finally, in Section 6
a conclusion is presented and an agenda for future research is developed.
4.1. Budapest—Local Urban Food
In the Budapest region, many grassroots food initiatives have been started in the past few years, such as initiatives for regionalized food systems, urban farming, urban gardening, responsible gastronomy, and Food Banks. These initiatives are rooted in a deeper underlying food awareness, possibly in historical Hungarian gardening systems [51
]. In the last decade of the 20th century, many of the kitchen gardens disappeared; they were ‘killed by the supermarkets’ (interview no. 1.1). Since 2004, this food awareness has been growing in strength again, which can be observed in the growing interest of certain groups of citizens in sustainable food (healthy, organic, zero-waste, regional, solidary, and transparent). This increased food awareness and the new initiatives for regionalized food systems may be able to ‘revitalize the historical kitchen garden system’ (interview no. 1.4). Issues of trust and mistrust are often discussed. In the new localized food systems, people like to restore ‘trust in the future, trust in clean and safe food, trust in the production system and trust in the farmer’ (interview no. 1.10).
The type of knowledge involved in the habitat of the experiments analyzed varies from tacit (e.g., regarding the organizational aspects of a community gardens and a food bank project) to codified (e.g., in urban farming technologies). The habitat may contain localized knowledge about the historical Hungarian gardening systems.
The type of governance in the habitat of the projects is grassroots; the projects are carried out by citizens and by social entrepreneurs. There is no governance for these initiatives from the government. The political support for grassroots food initiatives was recently strongly reduced (interview no. 1.1). The people involved in the projects have not yet formed a network.
Regarding the informal localized institutions, we observe that one of the groups involved in sustainable food is a countercultural group of urban, young, open-minded, creative people ‘with a lot of hope’ (interview no. 1.1). The general feeling in this group is, ‘yeah, I will be part of something, I will support the movement, the higher aims and values’ (interview no. 1.3).
In our respondents’ view, Budapest has some regional innovation advantages for regional expansion and the international replication of grassroots food experiments. Budapest is a Hungarian food hub, there is a large food awareness and an urban culture, and there are international influences such as from multinational companies (interview no. 1.7), foreigners, and tourists. These people can bring ‘fresh views’ (interview no. 1.2).
Social learning occurs and is needed at various levels. Respondents indicate that learning takes place on the level of individuals engaged in an initiative, on the level of the initiative, and between food initiatives in the region.
According to the interviewees, the most important factors expected to enable future upscaling of the initiatives are (i) the availability of funding; (ii) trust; (iii) recognized good examples; (iv) room for experimentation; and (v) a regional platform or network. Most of these factors are regional habitat factors. The interviewees indicate that it is possible to influence the factors in a positive way, stating that this improvement can often be achieved by the regional stakeholders themselves.
In the final workshop, possible next steps were discussed. The participants concluded that it is very important to create a sectoral platform or network where the people from various food-related initiatives can meet and exchange knowledge and ideas. Moreover, such a platform can foster the upscaling of different initiatives, and it can facilitate the development of hubs and training. The role of the platform is to engage partners, to execute experiments in pilot projects, and to develop regional, national, and international networks.
4.2. Karlsruhe—Future District
In the Karlsruhe region, many sustainability initiatives have been carried out, for instance, in urban gardening, fair trade, energy production, sharing, recycling, and repairing. The region has evolved from a ‘civil servant’ region (interview no. 2.7) into a region with science and innovation. In the Oststadt district, the creative class started to grow from around 2005 (interview no. 2.1); this may be related to the renovation of an old industrial area into a creative district.
The type of knowledge involved in the habitat of the selected projects is tacit knowledge, which is mostly related to organizational issues and ways to motivate citizens to join the initiatives: ‘We learned a lot, especially how to organize such a project’ (interview no. 2.5).
The type of governance is guided, with grassroots elements. Some guidance and support for these projects has been given by both the university and the government. Generally, there is strong political support for sustainability initiatives. The coordinator of the university supports the citizen groups by providing infrastructure, a meeting place, an existing network, public relations, funding, and legitimization. Within a set framework, the citizen groups are free to develop their initiative. The university forms a network with the various initiatives and creates a learning environment.
Regarding the informal localized institutions, the respondents indicate that the traditional values are still there, but a new counterculture is emerging. Elements of this counterculture include community building, sharing goods, spending time with friends, social entrepreneurship, societal awareness, and an aversion to technology and ICT. ‘Technological development is crazy; Internet, TV, …. This is not the way we would like to live. We would like to go back to personal contact’ (interview no. 2.5). The counterculture is searching for a new lifestyle, but they are not considered radical: ‘They are not rebellious, but they are innovative’ (interview no. 2.7). This counterculture consists mostly of young, creative people, including artists and students.
The region offers various regional innovation advantages for these experiments. It is a prosperous region with high education levels and a high quality of life. The people are interested in living in a ‘green public space’ (interview no. 2.7). There is a supportive general regional culture; several respondents emphasize the mentality of the region (Baden-Württemberg, Germany). Elements of this culture include a liberal, open-minded, pragmatic, and solidary attitude, as well as a willingness to experiment.
Regarding social learning, several respondents indicate that learning is needed in every project. The involvement of the university generates learning between projects, for example, by organizing project evaluations and network discussions. Some important learning challenges include learning how to involve more participants in the projects and learning how to take more risk.
According to the interviewees, the most important factors expected to enable future upscaling of the initiatives are (i) room for experimentation; (ii) funding; (iii) regional networks; (iv) motivation; (v) political will; and (vi) leadership. These factors are a mix of project-internal and regional habitat factors. The interviewees indicated that the project-internal factors (such as motivation and perseverance) are often difficult to influence in a positive way. These factors are closely connected to individuals. However, the interviewees stated that the habitat factors can be influenced, mostly by regional stakeholders.
In the final workshop, the possible next steps were discussed. Many suggestions were made for future improvement of the habitat. The participants of the workshop discussed project-internal factors such as personal development (e.g., being tolerant, developing leadership, taking risks, and trusting that the projects will continue). The following suggestions were made for improving the habitat factors: making it more attractive to learn from projects, connecting with other projects in other groups in the city, and mobilizing more political support. In the group meeting there was a common opinion that it is important to develop more attractive projects, so that more people will be involved.
4.3. Valencia—Science Park
In the Valencia region, many technological sustainability experiments have been carried out, for instance, in food (e.g., biological agriculture), energy (e.g., ICT and technology), mobility (e.g., electrical vehicles), circular economy (e.g., plastics), and water (e.g., water savings). Since 1980, many technological institutes have been created to promote innovation. Agro-food is still a strong sector, and the energy, health, and creative sectors are emerging sectors. In 2015, a political change resulted in more support for sustainability.
The type of knowledge involved in the habitat of the selected projects is mainly highly specialized technological and codifiable knowledge originating from the universities and the R&D institutes, with a few tacit and social innovation elements (for example, in the behavioral aspects of an experiment with a sharing system for electrical cars).
The type of governance is guided. The experiments are governed by a hospital, a firm, the government, and a technological R&D institute. The city vision supports these experiments and promotes the execution of experiments in living labs. There are several regional sectoral networks.
Regarding the informal localized institutions, the interviewees state that the local/regional counterculture plays an important role in sustainability experimentation. It consists of groups of young people with a strong community feeling and an interest in social relations. Some respondents mention other characteristics (i.e., open-mindedness and willingness to take risks); others see these elements as a part of the general regional (or even Mediterranean) culture. The respondents do not consider the counterculture radical.
The interviewees indicate that the region offers a few regional innovation advantages for these experiments. One respondent indicates that ‘the living conditions, for instance the Mediterranean climate, are excellent. It is like California: this attracts innovators and talent’ (interview no. 3.1). The physical conditions for experimentation are good. The region has two universities and various technological R&D institutes. At the universities, the ‘international students bring new ideas and innovations’ (interview no. 3.5). Several respondents indicate that the region has an open-minded and entrepreneurial culture; people are not afraid of failure.
Regarding social learning, it is stated that ‘learning is everywhere’ (interview no. 3.3), both first- and second-order learning. Learning by doing is the favorite learning style. ‘Learning by doing is part of the Valencian mentality; we just try!’ (interview no. 3.4). For future upscaling to succeed, respondents indicate that it is necessary to exchange learning experiences with other projects.
According to the interviewees, the most important factors expected to enable future upscaling of the initiatives are (i) funding; (ii) vision and political will; (iii) socio-cultural factors (community feeling, open-mindedness, willingness to take risks); (iv) entrepreneurship; (v) regional networks; and (vi) marketing. These factors are a mixture of project-internal and regional habitat factors. Respondents indicate that the project-internal factors (e.g., entrepreneurship) are difficult to influence in a positive way; these factors are closely connected to individuals. However, the interviewees indicate that the habitat factors can be influenced, often by the regional stakeholders themselves.
There was no interest in joining a final workshop, although in the interviews it was stated that ‘collaboration in quadruple helix networks was important’ (interview no. 3.1) and that there is a ‘wish to exchange experiences in regional networks’ (interview no. 3.7). It is not clear why the respondents were not interested in a workshop. We received feedback on our preliminary findings in a meeting with young regional experts in energy and climate change innovations. They also discussed additional ways to influence the habitat factors in a positive way, for example, by searching for additional funding sources, by branding Valencia as a living lab, and by stimulating curiosity in children to promote learning from experiments.
4.4. Toulouse—Fab Region
In the Toulouse region, many grassroots technological experiments have been carried out, for instance in approximately 35 fab labs, various repair cafés, a hackerspace, ICT associations, and electronics associations. The experiments are probably rooted in a long history of manufacturing industry in the region, and in a century of aeronautics industry. At the moment, the aeronautics and aerospace industries are a very important sector in the region. The region shows higher economic prosperity and employment growth than the average in France. The type of knowledge involved in the habitat of the selected projects is highly specialized technological codifiable knowledge, such as computer coding for a 3D printer or a laser cutter, in combination with creativity and design knowledge. This knowledge is widely available in the habitat. In the repair cafés, tacit knowledge is also involved.
The type of governance is grassroots. The habitat is characterized by self-governance by the ‘makers’. However, the fab labs are a member of a regional federation and of a global platform. The global platform provides strict guidelines for the projects. The ‘makers’ want to be free to develop their innovations, without requirements or guidelines from funders. As one interviewee put it, ‘we need a Maecenas!’ (interview no. 4.8).
Regarding the informal localized institutions, respondents state that the region has a large countercultural movement. In the city alone, there are around 270 alternative associations. Important values of this group include being against overconsumption, being self-sufficient, showing resistance, and employing guerrilla tactics. ‘We put up resistance against … everything; this goes back centuries’ (interview no. 4.10). The members of this movement meet at a yearly festival, which has about 35,000 visitors. Part of this movement is the fab lab community. The ‘makers’ appreciate this community, stating that ‘the atmosphere here in the fab lab is helpful. It is about the community feeling, the creativity, the absence of competition and the commitment’ (interview no. 4.5).
The region has various regional innovation advantages to offer for sustainability experiments; the Mediterranean climate is an important asset. The people show a strong social and environmental awareness. In addition, the region has a strong position in scientific engineering, in combination with creativity. This creativity is visible from the presence of artists and from an architectural and design school. A majority of the interviewees emphasize that there is a supportive general culture of open-mindedness, curiosity, and tolerance: ‘Usually people say “not in my backyard”. But in Toulouse the backyards are big!’ (interview no. 4.8).
Regarding social learning, the interviewees state that a new way of learning has recently emerged, which is about sharing knowledge, learning by doing, and being allowed to make mistakes. The government has formulated an ambitious open innovation and open source strategy for the region. ‘Toulouse wants to develop a model for the cooperative city in 2030’ (interview no. 4.13). ‘The region wants to be transparent. Everything should be open-source’ (interview no. 4.10).
According to the interviewees, the most important factors expected to enable future upscaling of the initiatives are (i) the community feeling of the ‘makers’; (ii) documentation and tools in the fab lab; (iii) regional networks; (iv) regional knowledge and skills; (v) funding; and (vi) communication. These factors are a mixture of project-internal and regional habitat factors. Respondents indicate that all the factors can be influenced in a positive way, often by the regional stakeholders.
In the final workshop it was concluded that the regional stakeholders (the makers, managers, coordinators, and politicians) do not yet have a coherent vision about the importance of fab labs for the makers themselves and for society at large. There is uncertainty whether fab labs are about having a good time while in the process of the ‘making’, or whether it is also about developing prototypes for the economic and sustainable development of the region and beyond. Important ingredients of a coherent vision about the fab labs might include the further development of a strong community feeling of sharing and collaboration, and the improvement in the conditions for transferring ideas and prototypes from the fab labs to elsewhere (i.e., other fab labs, incubators, and companies), for example, by keeping good documentation and by professionalizing the external communication.
4.5. Comparison of the Four City Regions
In Figure 4
, the four cases in the four city regions are compared regarding the five dimensions of the archetypical experimentation patterns. Figure 5
shows a comparison of the factors expected to enable future upscaling.
When comparing the experimentation patterns in the case study results, we find the following interesting similarities and differences:
In general, we observe that the five analytical dimensions of the constructed archetypical experimentation patterns (see Figure 2
) have explanatory power for the diversity between the cases. However, elements of other archetypes are also visible in the cases. Such a mixture is, for instance, visible in the Karlsruhe
case (in which the governance is mainly guided but also has grassroots elements) and in the Valencia
case (which deals mainly with technological innovation but also has some elements of social innovation).
The role of countercultures is worth noting; these are very important in all four cases. Apparently, they play a crucial role in experimentation and future scaling, for instance, as pioneer users, participants, or stakeholders. The importance of pioneer users of innovations has been described by Rogers [54
], who mentions the early adopters as an important user group and an integrated part of the local social system. In our research, the characteristics of the countercultures in the four cases are clearly different. In the upper quadrants, the countercultures mostly comprise young people, for whom community building is important, and who are searching for a new lifestyle. In the lower quadrants, and especially in Toulouse, the counterculture has a more radical character; it shows a stronger resistance against the mainstream.
In all the cases examined in this research, respondents emphasize creativity and open-mindedness as important cultural factors; creativity is not reserved for the ‘middleground’ habitat. This finding refers to the work of Florida [45
], who shows that creativity and openness to innovation correlates with a specific subculture. In a few cases, these factors are not limited to the counterculture but are rather a characteristic of the general regional culture. The regional innovation advantages are important in each of the cases. In three cases, the respondents underscore the good living conditions as important; in Valencia it was added that ‘these conditions attract innovators and talent’. This was also recognized by Moulaert and Mehmood [15
], who mention the natural environment as an important part of an innovative milieu. There is a contrast in regional innovation advantages between the upper and lower quadrants. In the upper quadrants, the education levels and presence of knowledge institutes are emphasized, whereas in the lower quadrants, a social and environmental awareness is underlined. This awareness in the grassroots habitats is also emphasized by Seyfang and Smith [26
]; they show that people’s motivation for grassroots action is based upon different values from the mainstream, for example, by a bottom-up generation of alternative systems of provision.
In every case there is a strong awareness that learning is an important factor in sustainability experimentation. Learning by doing is the favorite learning style in the two quadrants on the left-hand side. In the quadrants on the right-hand side, no favorite learning style was indicated. Overall, we see that stakeholders are primarily interested in exchanging knowledge, ideas, and experiences. This knowledge exchange can be classified as first-order learning. The interviewees do not mention second-order learning explicitly, although we observe some second-order learning in the quadrants on the right-hand side. Social learning was not directly addressed by the respondents; however, we observed a social learning process in the final workshops in the four cases. Indications of social learning were addressed in expressions such as “it is important to create a sectoral platform or network” (in the Budapest—local urban food case) and “it is important to develop more attractive projects” (in the Karlsruhe—future district case).
presents a comparison between the factors expected to enable future upscaling. There is a wide variety of factors. We observe a mixture of project-internal factors and habitat factors, as well as a substantial contrast between the four habitats.
In every case, the interviewees emphasize the habitat factors ‘funding’ and ‘regional networks’. For funding, it is indicated that it is necessary to have better access to public and private funds. For regional networks, there is a clear difference between the upper and the lower quadrants. In the upper quadrants, it is indicated that it is vital to build multi-actor networks with a shared vision. A tightly coupled network [36
] may promote the sharing of a vision. In the lower quadrants, the people involved in grassroots experiments are interested in being members of regional or global platforms. The links between members of these platforms are loose; they serve primarily for the exchange of knowledge between similar experiments.
The main aim of this research was to explore the dimensions of contrasting regional habitats for sustainability experimentation in Europe. The main finding is that the five dimensions offer explanatory power for the diversity in factors expected to enable future upscaling. With the five dimensions we were able to construct four archetypical experimentation patterns. The empirical work has shown that the four cases belonging to these patterns each have specific factors expected to enable future upscaling.
The first point for discussion
is a reflection on the ability to influence the habitat factors, i.e., the factors expected to enable future upscaling. From Figure 5
it may be assumed that the ability to influence these factors is varied. Most of the factors, such as funding, room for experimentation, and regional networks, may be relatively easy to influence by the regional stakeholders (e.g., by the government) in the short term. This was also confirmed by the interviewees. However, some other factors, such as the regional knowledge and skills and the regional cultural factors may refer to localized assets and capabilities which are difficult to influence [21
]. In the TIM literature, it is indicated that these elements depend on socio-economic and socio-political history [16
]. The respondents are more optimistic about this ability to influence these assets and capabilities than what is expressed in the existing literature.
The second point for discussion is the general applicability of the results. The findings of this research are based on four cases in four city regions in Europe. When comparing these findings with the developed archetypical experimentation patterns, we have two remarks. First, we observe that the analytical contrast between the archetypes is less visible in the cases. The cases often represent mixed forms of the archetypes. With regard to the regional innovation advantages, we observe a large variety of factors mentioned in the cases. Some of them were included in the archetypes, but a lot of them are not, such as the living conditions. Second, we may conclude that each case is an example of a larger family of similar European habitats. We may even assume that other European habitats can be plotted in the analytical space that is spanned by the four cases. It would then be possible to find the factors for future upscaling for another habitat by interpolating between the four cases in this research. However, great caution is required here. This research has also made clear that regions may possess very distinct and unique dimensions of spatial context factors, which are of crucial importance to future upscaling. For example, there are regions with a pronounced economic specialization (such as the aeronautics industry in the Toulouse region) or regions with a defensive regime context towards certain sustainability experiments (such as the Budapest region). Furthermore, it should be noted that we have analyzed regions which contain a medium-sized or a large city; the situation in rural areas may well be very different.
The third point for discussion
is the relationship between habitats and regions. In our earlier work we suggested that various habitats may overlap in a geographical sense [11
]. In this research there were also some indications that a city region may host several habitats, and this may have important policy consequences. This research shows that regional stakeholders are able to influence the majority of habitat factors in a positive way. An important policy decision on a city level would, for instance, be the choice between promoting learning between firms and research institutes in a science park, or promoting community learning in a grassroots milieu. This research may help to make explicit decisions in such matters.
The fourth point for discussion
is the importance of the maturity of the habitat. When we reflect on the habitat concept from a systems perspective, we could argue that it is not only important that the individual factors are present, but also that the factors are present in combination with one another and that the factors can mutually reinforce each other. The presence of these factors in combination can make the habitat more mature. Sekulova [14
] indicates that the quality of the mutual relatedness of the factors (e.g., values, counterculture, a nonrestrictive regime) is relevant for creating a ‘fertile soil’ for grassroots initiatives. In fact, our findings show some indications regarding the maturity of the habitat. In Budapest—local urban food
we observe a few motivated individuals experimenting with innovations, in a period with recent socio-political changes. There is food awareness, but common values are not yet explicit. The counterculture is very small, and a network has not yet been formed. There is no environment for learning between projects, and there is no supportive urban or regional vision. In Karlsruhe—future district
, what we see is different. We observe a large group of motivated citizens, a history of several years of grassroots initiatives in the district, common underlying values, participation by a countercultural group, an existing district network, an environment where learning between projects is stimulated, and supportive urban policies. We may therefore conclude that the habitat of Karlsruhe—future district
is more mature than Budapest—local urban food
, and that this maturity is the result of the combination of various habitat factors, including a history of several years of experimentation which may have improved the habitat in a co-evolutionary way. As one of the interviewees said, ‘Karlsruhe has created a good habitat in the past years, and at the moment it is very good’ (interview no. 2.4).
In this study, we had the following research questions: which spatial context factors enable the future upscaling of sustainability experiments in contrasting regional habitats in Europe, and is it possible to influence these factors in a positive way? The main conclusions are as follows:
Funding and regional networks are important factors enabling future upscaling in every habitat.
Every habitat has its additional distinct factors which enable future upscaling.
This study suggests that it is possible to influence the majority of the habitat factors enabling future upscaling in a positive way, such as funding, room for experimentation, and regional networks. However, some important other factors, such as regional knowledge and skills have a path-dependent nature; as they are rooted in the socio-economic history of the region, they are not easy to improve in the short term.
In this study, we address gaps in our understanding of how different spatial contexts facilitate different types of sustainability experiments, or, in other words, how geography matters. We have developed four archetypes of these contexts and have identified distinct context factors. However, our analysis contains only four cases, with specific themes (urban food, slowing down, technological experiments on a campus, and makerspace experiments). It may be possible that other sustainability themes require different context factors.
Our findings are consistent with previous findings in the transitions and regional innovation literature, although some factors are found to be understated in the literature (e.g., the presence of a counterculture and the importance of regional living conditions). We observe that the analytical contrast between the theoretical archetypes is less visible in the real world. Social learning is regarded as a key process in sustainability experimentation in the literature, and in practice we have observed that the respondents are aware of the importance of learning; however, they do not yet have an articulated opinion on the various forms of learning (e.g., first- versus second-order learning and social learning in groups) and the factors enabling learning. We have, however, observed social learning processes in the group meetings.
The findings of this research allow us to give some practical policy recommendations:
We observe that nowadays policymakers are very interested in developing their own city or region into a copy of an iconic successful example, such as a ‘Silicon Valley’, a ‘creative city’, or a ‘smart city’. This aspiration often goes hand in hand with a form of experimental governance to test innovations. This study has shown that there is a wide diversity in city regions. As a result, each city region may have its own specific context factors which enable these experiments. When making a future sustainability vision, we recommend for local and regional policymakers to anchor this vision in an analysis of the distinct available and necessary context factors. The method developed here may be useful for that analysis.
An important finding of this research is that the majority of the habitat factors enabling future upscaling can be influenced in a positive way, mostly by the regional stakeholders. This insight may have empowered the group of interviewees and motivated them to think about future joint actions. Our policy recommendation is to support these discussions, and to stimulate the formation or further expansion of a multi-actor sustainability network or platform. These networks may enable experimentation towards future upscaling.
This study provides one of the first attempts to systematically analyze the spatial context factors enabling the future upscaling of sustainability experiments. We have found evidence that in experimentation processes, the geography matters. We are convinced that more research is needed, for instance, research including more case studies with different sustainability themes and different contexts, such as rural areas. It would also be valuable to analyze more cases with a defensive regime context, as these situations may require a specific approach. A second item for future research is the upscaling dimension. The four regions in this study not only have various context factors for experimentation, but also have different conditions for future upscaling. An important question for further research is which localized factors are needed for the actual diffusion and translation of sustainability experiments. We recommend that this question be answered in future research.