Spreading the word about grassroots innovation

STEPS_logo_RGBA new briefing from the STEPS Centre, called Making Futures, includes a summary of some activities we’ve initiated in recent years to help spread the word about grassroots innovation. More specifically, it indicates how challenging it can sometimes be to engage research findings into improved support for grassroots activity, especially with innovation policy-makers. As the report says,

“A key insight was that the products — the most visible things or solutions — were only half the story. Communities of makers and hackers create something more than objects: they create things that are less visible, but no less important. These are things like the right to unpack technology, take it apart and understand how it works; a sense of solidarity and community; the sharing of skills and learning; and even new visions of the future.”

Whilst a product or service might be open to scaling-up, the diffusion of the less tangible qualities, which are just as important (or even more important) in terms of wide-scale transformations to more sustainable societies, may require new means of support and promotion. Grappling with these intangibles can imply big changes for policy-makers, who might, for example, need to scale-down their decision-making and resources to make them accessible and adaptable at grassroots level. Some of the emerging things can challenge key policy commitments, such as the right to hack or repair in relation to policies of intellectual property. Communicating this research finding to policy audiences unaccustomed to thinking about grassroots approaches is important, but so too is engaging with other groups and movements working out how such a change could be brought about, including movements seeking policy change. Whilst such political changes is, or ought to be, a matter for democratic debate and activity, research can nevertheless have an important role in informing the issues at stake.