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sustainability foresight

methods for reflexive governance in the transformation of utility systems

Voß, Jan-Peter

Utility systems for the provision of electricity, gas, water or telecommunication are at the interface of society and nature. They interconnect broader production and consumption patterns and are thus of central importance for sustainable development. Yet, they are particularly difficult to shape. Large technical systems are intertwined with patterns of market organization, administrative institutions, user routines and policy networks. Transformation is not a matter of planning and control but of co-evolution across such heterogeneous domains. The transformation of utility systems therefore, exemplifies the limits of conventional steering approaches to achieve sustainable development. Reflexive governance forms are needed which take into account the embedding of steering activities in dynamic system contexts, and which take up uncertainty, ambivalence and distributed influence as basic features for shaping sustainable development. Sustainability Foresight represents a methodical approach to make reflexive governance operational. It is currently being probed in German utility systems.
Published in: IHDP update : magazine of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change, IHDP