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Projet WAYS-OUT – Governing destabilisation pathways and phase-out: Pluralising knowledge in support of deliberate low-carbon transitions governance and strategies.

The destabilisation of existing systems is an emerging research and policy concern related to socio-technical transitions. Accelerating low-carbon transitions requires not only the deployment of alternative options, but also dealing with inertia and lock-in of existing systems and actors that tend to resist, slow down or prevent transition efforts. Relying only on emerging options and innovations without considering the destabilisation and discontinuation of incumbent systems considerably reduces the possibility of socio-technical transitions. Accelerating low-carbon transitions requires the active phase-out of high-carbon activities, with destabilising effects on existing systems which can only be appropriately handled if their potential trajectories and outcomes are anticipated.

The main objective of the WAYS-OUT project is to generate systematic and interdisciplinary knowledge on destabilisation processes to inform policy in support of more ambitious and feasible transitions pathways. The research strategy mobilises and compares in-depth destabilisation case studies across a large number of empirical settings (different sectors, countries, and historical periods). WAYS-OUT contributes to efforts anticipating destabilisation arising from decarbonisation pathways and exploring the prospects for turning destabilisation challenges into opportunities for managed transitions.

The WAYS-OUT project is led by Dr Bruno Turnheim and involves a team of researchers from LISIS (Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire Sciences Innovations Sociétés) and CIRED (Centre International de Recherche sur l’Environnement et le Développement).

The WAYS-OUT project is funded by the French “Programme d’Investissements d’Avenir” MOPGA, managed by the ANR under grant number ANR-19-MPGA-0010.

Duration: WAYS-OUT is funded for 48 months (1 April 2020 to 31 March 2024).

WAYS-OUT objectives and framing

The core objective of WAYS-OUT is to improve the understanding and governance of socio-technical transitions, by specifically focusing on its flipsides: destabilisation, decline and discontinuation processes, and phase-out strategies. This implies shifting the gaze away from novelty creation and innovation processes within transitions dynamics.

WAYS-OUT pursues the following objectives:

  1. Understanding destabilisation processes via conceptual elaboration and the development of a typology of destabilisation pathways.
  2. Developing more systematic and interdisciplinary knowledge drawing on a plurality of perspectives.
  3. Extensive case comparison building on existing and new case studies, spanning multiple domains (energy, mobility, agri-food), contexts (geographical and historical), with a focus on maximising the variation of observed destabilisation patterns.
  4. Informing destabilisation governance by focusing on deliberate phase-out strategies, policy instrumentation and its evaluation, political choices, and the politics of knowledge and expertise.

Accordingly, WAYS-OUT focuses on the following research questions:

How can destabilisation be understood? What does this focal shift (away from novelty creation) imply for what is known about transitions and associated challenges?

These research questions can be further broken down and operationalised:

  1. What are the mechanisms and conditions for destabilisation processes?
  2. How can the comparative analysis of destabilisation patterns be carried out?
  3. How can we make sense of the variety of possible destabilisation trajectories?
  4. What destabilisation governance strategies can be envisaged?
  5. What kinds of knowledge and expertise are relevant for destabilisation research and governance?

WAYS-OUT mobilises a range of disciplines and perspectives:

  • A socio-technical perspective, grounded in transitions studies and innovation studies. This is the main perspective put forward for conceptual development and empirical case studies in different sectors (energy, mobility, agri-food).
  • A techno-economic modelling perspective, primarily related to Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs), and exploring how destabilisation processes can be modelled.
  • A politics of knowledge and expertise perspective, oriented towards understanding how destabilisation processes and phase-out objectives reconfigure epistemic communities.