Conceptualizing leapfrogging with spatially coupled innovation systems: The case of onsite wastewater treatment in China

Christian Binz*, Bernhard Truffer, Li Li, Yajuan Shi, Yonglong Lu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A rapid implementation of potentiallymore sustainable sector structures in newly industrializing countries (NICs) is of key importance to reach global sustainability. The conceptual basis for assessing such " leapfrogging" potentials is however still rather weakly developed. The present paper elaborates an encompassing conceptual framework drawing on the technological innovation systems literature and adding an explicit geographical focus that embeds an NIC's innovation system in its international context. From this, we derive six ideal-type leapfrogging trajectories. The framework is applied to the case of a potential transition to onsite wastewater treatment in China. Empirical evidence is based on 30 expert interviewswith representatives from companies, universities, authorities and associations in China and Europe. Our results suggest that leapfrogging in the Chinese wastewater sector might develop in either an integrated " international innovation system" trajectory, where Chinese and international actors closely interact, or in an " international competition" trajectory,where Chinese actors endogenously build up technological leadership in strong competition to international actors. We conclude by outlining policy implications and by discussing future research priorities for leapfrogging and transition studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-171
Number of pages17
JournalTechnological Forecasting and Social Change
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • China
  • Geography of transition
  • Leapfrogging
  • MBR technology
  • Onsite wastewater treatment
  • Technological innovation system


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