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Reflexivity and Learning in System Innovation Processes

Partners' Institution
Södertörn University
Reference
Beers, P.J., Mierlo, B. van, 2017. Reflexivity and Learning in System Innovation Processes. Sociologia Ruralis 57, 415–436.
Thematic Area
Development studies, Sustainable Development, Systems thinking-Theoretical framework and assessment
Summary
In-depth insight into the relationship between reflexivity, learning and reflection is needed to enrich governance approaches for persistent sustainability issues. However, current conceptualisations of reflexivity seem limited for the understanding of system innovation processes – reflexivity remains highly abstract and often gets conflated with reflection, and, by extension, learning. In this article, we critique the concepts reflexivity and learning and then present an exploratory case-study of greenhouse vegetable production in the Netherlands to examine their relations. Results suggest a shifting compatibility between initiative and context – reflexivity alignment: the extent to which an innovation initiative shares an orientation towards structural change with its institutional setting. Furthermore, learning sometimes appeared to increase reflexivity, as often assumed, but we found evidence of the opposite as well – reflexivity changes preceding learning. Synthesising the results, we posit three archetypal modes that describe the relation between learning in and reflexivity of a system innovation initiative.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
The article concerns possible ways for system actors to become part of the process to transform the system or the transition of one system state to another. Reflexivity, reflection an learning are in much of the transitions literature crucial to the creation of opportunities. The authors clarify the meaning of these concepts and how they can be better understood for transition processes, using the foilowing definitions that bundles system properties in a new way:


Reflexivity is operationalised in terms of:

rules guiding actors’ practices (organisationally, legally,politically, symbolically),
relations between actors, and between the initiative and context,
practices (common ways of working) and
discourse related to the future of the initiative’s sector.

A learning outcome occurs when knowledge (the what), actions (the how) and relations (the who) become substantively interwoven

The article shows how these definitions can be tested on a real case.
Point of Strength
The clarifications on reflexivity and learning are useful for the understanding of relations and transformation drivers in social systems as well as in socio-techniocal and socio-ecological systems.

The clarifications on reflexivity and learning are useful for the understanding of relations and transformation drivers in social systems as well as in socio-techniocal and socio-ecological systems.



The clarifications on reflexivity and learning are useful for the understanding of relations and transformation drivers in social systems as well as in socio-techniocal and socio-ecological systems.

The clarifications on reflexivity and learning are useful for the understanding of relations and transformation drivers in social systems as well as in socio-techniocal and socio-ecological systems.