Fostering technological innovation is considered as an important element of policies towards sustainable development. In the past 10 years, evolutionary policy approaches have been increasingly advocated. For several reasons, they seem well equipped to underpin sustainable innovation policies. They focus on dynamics of change and their drivers, they allow for a substantive perspective on technologies beyond mere input–output relations, taking into account trajectories and different characteristics of innovation, and they are able to describe circumstances under which established technologies might persist even when they are to some extent inferior to their new competitors (lock-in). However, the policy effectiveness of evolutionary approaches in cases in which radical or systemic changes are involved is not yet proven. In this paper we assess the theoretical rationale, instrumental aspects and the coping with policy constraints of three evolutionary policy approaches which have also been used in empirical studies: strategic niche management, transition management and time strategies. Each approach has its strengths and specific problems and all three have to be further developed and tested out but they hold promise for contributing to non-incremental change with economic and environmental benefits, by shaping processes of variation, selection and retention, with the outcomes feeding back into policy. They may also be used in other areas in which innovation direction is important, for instance health care or food.