Power and politics in grassroots innovation

On 8th December 2021 we organised a panel discussion about power and politics in grassroots innovation for the STEPS Centre final event. The STEPS Centre supported a lot of our work on grassroots innovation, summarised in the book, Grassroots Innovation Movements. Whether in community-led water and sanitation, community-supported agriculture and food, citizen energy projects, peer-produced repair and re-manufacturing networks, or DIY urbanism and many more diverse examples; in their innovativeness, grassroots initiatives nurture sustainability aspirations whose full realisation often anticipates and demands deeper social change. They inevitably confront power and politics.

A video recording of the panel can be watched here. In it, the panelists (see below) answer the following questions:

How do grassroots innovators avoid criticisms leveled at innovation more generally, namely
that sustainability conceived in terms of discrete solutions overlooks deeper questions about
power and politics in sustainable transformations?

How can the transformative potential of grassroots innovation for sustainability be strengthened in the coming years?

Answering these questions were:

Flor Avelino, Erasmus School of Social & Behavioural Sciences and DRIFT for Transitions, Erasmus University of Rotterdam

Flor brought her expertise in transformative social innovation, research collaborations in grassroots sustainable urbanism across Europe, and insights about power in sustainability transitions.

Juan David Reina, Independent Researcher

Juan David brought his involvement in grassroots projects with communities in Colombia and Uganda, and his expertise in inclusive design and engineering. He is also an alumni of the STEPS Centre Summer School.

Erika Kraemer Mbula, DSI/NRF/Newton Fund Trilateral Chair in Transformative Innovation, the 4IR and Sustainable Development, University of Johannesburg

Erika brought expertise in informal innovation in Africa, work with makerspaces and grassroots social enterprises, and policy experience with innovation systems and inclusion in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Mario Pansera, Post-growth Innovation Lab, Universidade de VigoMario has studied grassroots innovation initiatives in India, and is now developing important insights for post-growth development that rethinks the founding political and economic assumptions in conventional innovation theory and practice. He is also an alumni of the STEPS Centre Summer School.