Participatory development of digital support tools for local-scale energy transitions: Lessons from two European case studies

Richard J. Hewitt, C. De Boer, J. Flacke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Spatial planning systems at local and regional levels are often not well-adapted to the growth of small-scale and local social innovations in renewable energy. Participatory decision support tools have been developed to support the implementation of many areas of environmental policy, but are less common in energy contexts. In response to this knowledge gap, we discuss, compare and contrast the participatory development of two different types of digital support tools for the cases of Spain and the Netherlands, leading to insights into the characteristics that local-level stakeholders find particularly desirable. We adopt an integrative approach, hybridizing implementation theory and action research for, respectively, analysis of implementation characteristics of key actors, and knowledge co-construction with participant stakeholders. The tools developed represent two extremes of the spatial decision support tool spectrum, a simple touchscreen application on the one hand (COLLAGE) and a more complicated spatial model on the other (APoLUS). COLLAGE was used and well-liked by stakeholders, whereas APoLUS was not adopted by the participant group, who nevertheless contributed much essential information to its development. We identify eight key differences between the two tools which shed light on the nature of bottom-up energy transition processes: 1: Target users; 2: Target scale of action; 3: Relevance to users’ needs; 4: Interactive quality; 5: Key emphasis; 6: Level of complexity; 7: Ease of communication of tool rationale; 8: Cost. The differences between these tools also relate to a recognized dichotomy in sustainability transition research, with complex spatial support systems like APoLUS tending towards descriptive-analytical modes of sustainability science and simpler tools like COLLAGE being more clearly related to transformational modes. Approaches to supporting local-scale energy transitions that are able to span both modes are likely to become increasingly relevant as the climate crisis evolves. We also identify a research gap between support tools for implementation of established policy and support tools for transformative actions at local scales, and suggest the study of digital “transition support tools” as a promising avenue for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-149
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Transitions
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2020




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