Accepted Paper:

What do outsiders learn from experiments?  


Eva Heiskanen (University of Helsinki)
Kaisa Matschoss (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

We investigate experiments in the built environment that develop technologies for distributed and intermittent energy production and consumption. We examine learning by relevant social groups: we critcally explore the notion that experiments re eal competence gaps in their context.

Paper long abstract:

The notion that we can learn from experiments is topical in current discussions on societal transitions and transformational change. Within a socio-technical transitions approach, strategic niche management (SNM) conceives of local experiments within protected spaces as important initiators of learning and empowerment of new technologies. SNM conceives of experiments as sites for mutual, sociotechnical learning between emergent technologies and their contexts of use. Significant attention has been paid to how experiments support learning within the emerging technological niche, but less has been devoted to what and how "contexts of use" learn in pilots and experiments. For example, smart energy demonstrations in the built environment have shown how operation, use, permitting and interconnections can be problematic due to missing competencies.

Following the SNM perspective, we propose that demonstrations of new and innovative technologies can serve not only as a basis for adaptation of the emerging technological niche, but also of surrounding society. Unlike previous research, we focus our attention on analyzing what and how the surrounding society learns from experiments. Our paper tests this perspective on experiments with Finnish examples from pilots in embedding smart energy - solar power and other intermittent energy sources, energy management, smart metering and grids - into real-life environments. Our data consist of 6 case studies and interviews with the users of research results (public authorities, educational bodies). We critically examine whether such experiments can be used to identify - and potentially develop - missing competencies on a broader, societal scale.

Panel T050
Conceptualizing transformational change in energy systems and the built environment