Wednesday 7
Histories of Innovation and transformation in complex systems
Ola Tjörnbo
› 11:30 - 11:30 ()
› Rondelet
Histories of Innovation and transformation in complex systems
Ola Tjörnbo  1@  , Frances Westley@
1 : Waterloo Institute of Complexity and Innovation  (WICI)  -  Website
University of Waterloo 200 University Avenue West Waterloo, Ontario -  Canada

Panel: Histories of Innovation and transformation in complex systems

Chair: Frances Westley

Abstract: Transformation in complex systems is typically thought to require innovation. Across a range of literatures, ranging from socio-technical transitions (Geels 2007), to social innovation (Westley et al. 2007), and within resilience theory itself (Olsson et al. 2004) there is widespread agreement that transformation depends on the emergence of a new idea that becomes both a driver for the transformation process and an attractor around which the system reconfigures itself. There is a lack of understanding about how such innovations emerge however. Most cases looking at transformation do not trace the origins of the process back to the inception of the innovation itself and thus little is known about how to create or develop such triggers of change.

The papers in this panel track five historical social innovations that dramatically changed the systems they entered and have had a major impact on shaping the modern world. Drawing inspiration from Brian Arthur's (2009) studies of innovation in socio-technical systems, these cases trace the origins of these innovations back to the original phenomenon that provided the spark for a new way of thinking, and then proceed to follow them over time as they take shape, establish themselves and gradually provoke a radical reconfiguration.

Along the way, these cases raise questions about the role of agency, cross-scale interactions, and opportunity contexts in allowing innovations to undermine the resilience of existing regimes , activate the adjacent possible and establish new regimes. These questions are dealt with explicitly by a sixth synthesis paper.

The synthesis paper also reflects on the value of historical case studies as a method for building new theory about transformation in complex systems. In particular, it discusses the use of multiple theoretical perspectives and heuristics in order to illuminate a single case. Each of the five cases is considered in relation to notions of landscape, regime and niche (Geels and Schot 2007); basins of attraction and fitness landscapes (Kauffman 1995); agency and opportunity contexts (Dorado 2005); and elective affinity (Arthur 2009).

This panel will make a significant contribution to understanding how transformation occurs in complex systems and in particular with regards to the issue of how innovative ideas are conceived and spread. It presents a holistic conception of processes of innovation and transformation, combining insights from multiple different theoretical traditions and also makes a contribution to the debate around interdisciplinary methodologies.

Format: Traditional


Frances Westley: “Historical studies of social innovation: A synthesis”

Ola Tjornbo: “The Internet as a Social Innovation: The Role of Initial Conditions and Ideological Landscapes in Shaping the Development of the World Wide Web.”

Katharine McGowan: "One Test: How a new idea about what differentiates cognitive ability shifted social outcomes and shaped valuation over the 20th century"

Sean Geobey: “The Global Derivatives Market as a Social Innovation”

Nino Antadze: “The National Parks as a Social Innovation”

Jaclyn Blackstock: “The Legalization of Birth Control in North America: A Historical Reflection on the Emergence of this Social Innovation”

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