The Innovation System Canvas as a methodological approach to support the setup and diffusion of TIS experiments:  

C. Hohmann, B. Truffer

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


Heavy rainfall events, urban heat island effects, and other consequences of global (climate) change are already accumulating in many countries around the world. These increasing pressures urge urban settlements to adapt to these challenges. In this context, the configuration of the technical urban infrastructure plays an important role for the resilience of urban areas. In our study, we focus on the sectoral domain of urban wastewater management in Germany. Although great efforts have already been made in the development of visionary strategic planning towards more sustainable urban wastewater management in Germany and other OECD countries, an implementation and innovation deficit can be attested for planning outcomes in reality (Kiparsky, Sedlak, Thompson, & Truffer, 2013; Malekpour, Brown, Haan, & Wong, 2017). This deficit consists of a gap between visions and strategic planning on the one hand and implementation in practice on the other hand. To take a step towards closing this gap, we draw on innovation system thinking to identify relevant capabilities, networks and institutional arrangements for implementing successful innovations in this sector. The TIS approach (e.g. Carlsson, Jacobsson, Holmén, & Rickne, 2002; Edquist, 1997; Markard & Truffer, 2008) can serve as a powerful heuristic framework to analyze the formation of an emerging industry. The framework comprises the structural components (agents, institutions, technologies) and system functions of the innovation activities in focus. However, the outcome of a TIS analysis is highly dependent on the chosen system boundaries, which makes it difficult to compare the outcomes to other TIS analysis. We find the TIS concept lacks suitable tools to translate the outcome of the analysis into practical implications, e.g. for the setup of innovation experiments. In this contribution, we introduce the Innovation System Canvas (ISC) as a methodological approach to identify the structural and functional components of a TIS in an explicit scheme. The ISC is built on the methodological approach of the business model canvas (BMC) of Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010). Reflected in the idea of the BMC, the ISC is a simplified and aggregated representation of the relevant structural components and functions of a TIS. The ISC can act as an interface between the TIS concept and the practitioners in an action field. With the support of the ISC, a shared language can be developed in a transdisciplinary environment. It can be understood as a means of negotiation between the relevant actors in decision making during the implementation and diffusion process of a TIS experiment. To illustrate the methodological approach of the ISC, we draw on the empirical case of decentralized rainwater management in Berlin. In Berlin, the current problem situation regarding wastewater disposal has urged political actors to promote the implementation of decentralized rainwater management. For this purpose, the Regenwasseragentur was initiated as a transition intermediary (Kivimaa, Boon, Hyysalo, & Klerkx, 2019) for decentralized rainwater management by the Federal State of Berlin state and the Berlin water utility. Our research aim is to accompany an innovation experiment in Berlin Mitte, using the ISC as a structuring tool. By conducting an innovation workshop and expert interviews, we identify the benefits of the ISC in the set up phase of an innovation experiment. In the implementation and diffusion process of innovation experiments within a TIS, the interdependencies and tradeoffs between actors, networks, and institutions are often not recorded systematically enough. The ISC can help to reveal these elements by mobilizing the knowledge of the involved transdisciplinary actors to then derive adequate institutional arrangements. As this is always a proactive process, the ISC provides a tool for the setup and diffusion of innovation experiments instead of a predictive model for TIS formation. With the above-introduced ISC, we intend to overcome the barriers to innovation experiments in urban wastewater management in practice and thereby taking a step towards closing the innovation deficit in this field.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventThe 11th International Sustainability Transition conference (IST) - Online event
Duration: 18 Aug 202021 Aug 2020


ConferenceThe 11th International Sustainability Transition conference (IST)


  • Urban wastewater management
  • Socio-technical transition
  • innovation system analysis
  • Experimentation
  • Participation


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