Sustainability in the making: the case of new sanitation in the Netherlands

Project: PhD

Project Details


Motivation There is a need for socio-technological system change for new sanitation - more specifically source separated sanitation – to become a viable option for sustainable sanitation. The sunk investments in the current infrastructure, national rules and regulation, division of costs and benefits and sanitation practices of households are not adapted to decentralised sanitation. Moreover, ensuring the use of recovered resources means developing completely new relationships with for instance farmers. We propose two approaches: Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and Learning for system innovation (LSI) to develop a better understanding of the hurdles along the transition pathway and discovery of possibilities to overcome them. Thus the approaches will contribute to creating impact as well as taking responsibility for longer term effects of introducing water innovations in people’s lives. Research challenge Regarding new sanitation: Social-scientific research on the transition to a sustainable sanitation system that also contributes to other transitions (energy, food etc) is rather rare. It mainly concerns analyses of the existing socio-technological system and development of the new innovation system and research on the sanitation practices of households. The transition to a sustainable sanitation system (social and technical) gets form in networks of people creating experiments in practice, pilot projects or implementing new technologies in real life (niches). If all goes well, the change process includes learning about what works and what does not work and how to overcome hurdles while developing new relationships, new discourse, new knowledge and new practices. These processes are at the core of the proposed research project. Of specific interest is the role of citizens in the first Dutch pilot projects. It will be investigated how local residents are involved in the decision making of the sanitation systems implemented in the context of these pilot projects and what this means for how they value the functioning of the actual systems. Regarding transition studies: The project connects the fields of RRI and sustainability transitions in the making (especially learning for system innovation) to enrich both fields. RRI specifically focuses on opening up the process of innovation towards diverse perspectives and options. Studies about sustainability transitions in the making start from what is happening on the ground, decisions that are being taken, future visions driving action, learning among partners and the direction in which the pathway of change enfolds. An emerging debate within science is about how to balance the opposite needs for a clear direction in the pathway of change on the one hand and the need for creating diversity of technological options, social possibilities, relationships, perspectives, etcetera. A key question for the project thus is how choices can be made in a responsible way. Methodology The research consists of case studies of pilot projects with decentral sanitation in housing in the Netherlands. The multiple case study includes running and failed initiatives to realise pilot projects. Data will be collected with interviews, participatory observation and focus group discussions and analysed from an interpretive perspective.
Effective start/end date1/04/23 → …


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