The article introduces the diagnostic studies reported in this special issue and prepares the reader for understanding their full portent, not only as stand-alone articles but also as an expression of a research programme with a common purpose and scientific objective. As such, the article introduces the focus of the CoS–SIS programme on the nexus between farmer practices and institutional context, and primes the reader on the special challenges posed by diagnosis of this nexus. The diagnostic studies scoped the landscape and the regime but mainly as these might impact the niche. What is reported is ‘the view from the niche’. The article explains the structure of the research programme and the role of the PhD researchers in it. It further describes a number of methodological issues common to all.