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Nature-based innovation systems

Partners' Institution
Södertörn University
van der Jagt, A.P.N., Raven, R., Dorst, H., Runhaar, H., 2020. Nature-based innovation systems. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 35, 202–216.
Thematic Area
Development studies, Environmental studies, Systems thinking-Theoretical framework and assessment
Transitions literature regards technologies as critical components in shifting systems towards sustainability, which has informed the development of the technology-oriented Technological Innovation System (TIS) framework. The emerging discourse on nature-based solutions (NBS) – multifunctional nature-integrated spatial planning and design innovations – raises the question to what extent TIS can account for the development and diffusion of NBS. Following a literature review, we present the Nature-Based Innovation System (NBIS) framework delineating critical factors for urban nature-based innovation. We find both commonalities and differences between TIS and NBIS, suggesting that the roles of place-based dynamics, agency and governance structure are more central to nature-based innovation, and market formation is more central to technological innovation. This has implications for the study of sustainability transitions, which has likely underplayed the potential of innovations at the nexus of socio-technical and socio-ecological systems. Future research is needed to refine the NBIS framework, for example by studying evolutionary developmental trajectories.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
The article is comparing literature on Nature Based Solutions used for urban sustainable development to Technological Innovation Systems theories. The finding is that concepts used for describing transitions to sustainability using  Nature Based Solutions has clear similarities to the concepts used for Technological Innovation systems. Based on these findings the authors suggest the opportunity of discussing Nature based innovation systems. The main addition needed is to give more emphasis to the placed based dynamics in a NBIS ( due to its link to the local eco-system) compared to the TIS that provides more generic descriptions (or technology specific).

The particular characteristics of a TIS that is studied are the functions in the system. In a TIS as well as in a NBIS the direction of search or the discourse guiding the development of innovation is important. Another important function is learning or knowledge development and diffusion. Mobilization of external resources is an important function in both types of system description, which means that the links to the system´s environment are importan
Point of Strength
Comparing two different ways of describing systems with similar aspirations but different approaches turns out to be very fruitful. The article could inspire lecturers to find ways of showing students that a particular vocabulary has resemblances in another, and that the phenomena we want to learn about could have many names. The strength also lies in the way differences are discussed which may lead to a strengthening of all the involved theoretical frameworks.