Toward an integrative perspective on social learning in system innovation initiatives

Pieter J. Beers*, Barbara Van Mierlo, Anne Charlotte Hoes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


Sustainability transitions go hand in hand with learning. Theories in the realm of sustainability sciencesmostly 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. The Dutch greenhouse sector is predominantly focused on production and efficiency, which causes problems for its future viability. STAP aimed to make the sector more market-oriented while at the same time increasing its societal acceptability (societally responsible innovation). To that end, STAP focused on the development of integrated value chains (primary production, sales, trade) that can 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 the learning outcomes produced by the initiative. We then linked the 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number33
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Greenhouse growers
  • Innovation
  • Interaction patterns
  • Social learning
  • Sustainability transitions


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