Governance of energy transitions: about inclusion and closure in complex sociotechnical problems

Govert Valkenburg*, Giancarlo Cotella

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: When societies are faced with complex technological problems such as energy transitions, two basic approaches to governance are usually mobilized. On the one hand, there are methods that emphasize the need for enlarging the range of knowledge that is taken on board when decisions are to be made. On the other hand, there are methods that emphasize the enrolment of a broader range of actors. In practice, these approaches conflate uncritically, which fails to bring out the potential that each has for specific challenges. We investigate how these two basic approaches can be brought together more systematically, in such a way that their potential vis-a-vis specific challenges, including energy transitions, is maximized.

Methods: The article offers a conceptual exploration. Building on existing approaches, we offer a novel conceptualization of how modes in the governance of complex technological problems can be classified, using energy transitions as a strategic research site.

Results: We offer a typology of strategies built along two axes: the degree of closure, i.e. the extent to which things can still be (re) negotiated and/or their actual implementation questioned, and the degree of inclusiveness, i.e. the extent to which processes are open to all people, as opposed to for example merely policymakers or technoscientific experts. Through the typology, we find four clusters spanned by these two dimensions, which each call for specific governance strategies and each inform specific connections between the actor base and knowledge base of intervention.

Conclusions: Important potentials for the governance of complex technological problems are currently left untapped, if the actor and knowledge bases are unreflexively mobilized. The proposed framework helps realize more of these potentials, by offering advice for how modes of governance with different degrees of closure and inclusiveness can be mobilized.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalEnergy, Sustainability and Society
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2016


  • Governance
  • Complex sociotechnical problems
  • Energy transitions
  • Inclusion
  • Closure
  • Cognitive inclusion
  • Actor inclusion

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