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Governance of transitions towards a sustainable economy: challenges of exnovation (GOSETE)

Context and questions: beyond the innovation side of transitions governance

While environmental threats appear as more severe, non-reversible and urgent than expected, we have to acknowledge that the transformation pace of our economies is too slow. Climate objectives are far from being achieved. Until now, transition policies have focused mainly on the direct support to technological and social innovations, such as ‘clean’ technologies or the various forms of circular economy (in the framework of what is called Strategic Niche Management). The mere support to ‘sustainable’ innovations, while being necessary, does not seem to be sufficient to realize the required socio-technical transformations: on one side, their dissemination is slow, and on the other side, innovations often only add to the existing regime, rather than replacing it. This forms the basic rationale for exploring transitions governance that focuses on the other side of innovation: exnovation.

The exnovation concept at the core of the project

Exnovation refers to processes of destabilization, decline and phasing-out of industries, technologies, business models and practices that raise systemic sustainability problems (environnemental, socioeconomic, health related, related to urban-planning, etc.). The exnovation concept has been recently used in Sustainability Transitions Studies to analyze the German strategy of nuclear energy and coal phasing-out, in the framework of the Energiewende. Those can be considered as emblematic cases of exnovation. GOSETE questions the exnovation concept at the level of the metropolitan governance of the transitions towards a sustainable economy.

Our research questions: an interdisciplinary approach

Our starting point was that little attention is paid in society to that phenomenon: exnovation does not generate immediate commercial opportunities, appealing achievements for political leaders, or mobilizing projects for citizens. How can the Brussels Capital Region engage in transition processes that take into account exnovation challenges, in addition to the direct support to sustainable innovations?

The research addresses this question with an interdisciplinary expertise combining Sustainability Transitions Studies, sustainability assessment and legal analysis. It aims to:
  • analyze the main challenges of the exnovation governance in the BCR, by assessing the scope and magnitude of the related environmental, social and economic impacts;
  • develop strategies and an institutional design of adequate responses;
  • organize a broad and inclusive societal debate on exnovation challenges.

Our working areas or case studies

Our applied research is structured around three main Brussels’ cases:

    1. The low-emission zone and its future (urban mobility transitions)
    2. The transition to a circular economy through exnovation lenses: on ‘delinearisation’ challenges
    3. Retail trade through exnovation lenses: on the challenges raised by the surge in e-commerce


Innoviris, Appel : Prospective Research 2019




Buco, VUB


Exnovation, Sustainability transitions, Transition governance, Sustainability assessment, Legal studies, Prospective research, Brussels Capital Region


  • Prof. Tom Bauler. Transitions Studies, SONYA, IGEAT, contact par email
  • Prof. Wouter Achten. Evaluation durabilité, SONYA, IGEAT, contact par email


  • Dr. Ela Callorda Fossati. Transitions Studies, SONYA, IGEAT, contact par email
  • Dr. Solène Sureau. Evaluation durabilité, SONYA, IGEAT, contact par email

Other project collaborator(s)

  • Dr. Bonno Pel. Transitions Studies, SONYA, SONYA, contact par email
  • Dr. Aurore Fransolet. Transition Studies, SONYA, SONYA, contact par email



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Updated on January 3, 2022