Toward an Integrative Perspective on Social Learning in System Innovation Initiatives

Theories in the realm of sustainability sciences mostly concentrate on diversity and learning outcomes, whereas theories from the educational sciences mostly focus on learning as an interactive process. In this contribution, we aim to benefit from an integration of these perspectives in order to better understand how different interaction patterns contribute to learning.


We studied STAP, an innovation initiative of Dutch greenhouse growers that aims to make the sector more market-oriented while at the same time increasing its societal acceptability. To that end, STAP focused on the development of integrated value chains that contribute to a transition towards a societally sensitive greenhouse sector.


As action researchers, we collected extensive transcripts of meetings, interviews, and various other documents. We used an open coding strategy to identify different patterns of interaction and learning outcomes and linked these interaction patterns to the outcomes. Analysis suggests that seemingly negative attack-and-defend patterns of interaction certainly can result in substantial learning results, while seemingly positive synthetic interaction patterns, where participants strive to build on each other, can result in rather bland interaction without substantial outcomes. The results offer an empirical basis to our approach of linking learning interactions to learning outcomes, and it suggests that learning for sustainability can be enhanced by focusing on interaction patterns.



Beers, P. J., Van Mierlo, B., & Hoes, A.-C. (2016).



Toward an integrative perspective on social learning in system innovation initiatives. Ecology & Society, 21(1), 3. Journal of Life Sciences, 69, 5-13.


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november 17, 2016