Beyond ‘resistance to change’: Interference management in System Innovation
This paper addresses a recurring theme in system innovation and sustainability transitions research, pertaining directly to the politics of system innovation: The issue of ‘barriers’ and ‘resistance’ to change. Framed as such, they appear as accidental and unfortunate phenomena, as obstacles on the road towards transformative change. These framings do not do justice to the multisided and contested nature of system innovation processes, however. Introducing a unidirectional ‘race-track metaphor’ (Stirling, 2011), they normatively dismiss the voices of actors experiencing interference from change attempts. Taking a more polycentric perspective, by contrast, ‘resistance to change’ can be appreciated with more nuance, through the bidirectional concept of ‘interference’. Based on four in-depth case studies into innovation attempts in the Dutch traffic management field (Pel, 2012), it is argued that alleged ‘resistance’ and ‘barriers’ are by no means accidental, but are only regular manifestations of innovations interfering with stakeholders: Interference occurs even in cases of seemingly ‘incremental’ innovation. Compared as sequences of translations (Callon, 1982, Akrich et al, 2002a,b), the cases bring forward various faces of interference. The key conclusion is that management of system innovation involves not only avoidance and reduction of interference, but also its somewhat paradoxical counterpart of interference-seeking. The term ‘interference management’ denotes the integrated handling of interference, offering both a framework for analysis and a repertoire for action.