Grassroots innovations is an emerging field of research which examines the emergence and diffusion of community projects involving experimentation with ‘social’ innovations as well as 'green' technologies for sustainability. Seeing networks of activists and organisations as sites of innovation, the aim is understanding the learning processes that take place.

Grassroots innovations explore wider problem framings and focus on social learning rather than simply design and implement technical solutions. Viewing the grassroots as sites of innovative diversity where the rules are different, research on grassroots innovations is concerned with the challenges related to both internal learning/organisation and external diffusion/reproduction of innovations.

The original research agenda on grassroots innovations has been pursued in different projects investigating areas such as community energy, complementary currencies and sustainable housing. This literature has identified a need to investigate the role of culture in driving participation in and growth of grassroots innovations because key questions around identity, belonging and purpose are crucial for the evolution of community projects. Focusing on social learning rather than technical solutions, grassroots innovations are catalysts of new knowledge and learning processes. As embodiments of alternative knowledge grassroots innovations become sources of transformative knowledges and cultures.

Novel forms of grassroots innovations, which use new forms of communication and employ sustainability narratives strategically, have emerged in recent years. Projects which work to demonstrate what is made possible by thinking and acting differently, rather than just mobilising against something, are providing new ways of empowering change. A new 'making and doing' culture, which focuses on the creative possibilities in making, is building bridges between individuals and communities with the potential for transforming both systems of provision and self-identities.

Research on grassroots innovations endeavours to understand these new dynamics. As a field of study, grassroots innovations explores how alternative norms and thinking challenge dominant sustainability paradigms and embody ways of living that are based on long-term visions and connection with the environment.


Gill Seyfang and Adrian Smith: Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development

In their seminal article Seyfang and Smith sketch out an indicative research agenda on grassroots innovations. Seeing community action as a potential site of radical innovation, they aim to bridge to as yet separate strands of research: civil society activism and innovation.

David Gauntlett: Making is Connecting

This book examines ‘the social meaning of creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0’ and explains how participatory cultures are transforming not only materials but self-understandings as well. You can read the first and last chapter free of charge on Gauntlett’s website.

Tessy Britton (ed): HAND MADE

This book is about an emerging community culture which use innovative ideas, methodologies and structures to demonstrate what is made possible when you think differently. Showcasing a wide range of community initiatives and projects this is an inspiring portrait of how people are currently changing their worlds.

Kevin A. Carson: The Homebrew Industrial Revolution

Did you know that small-scale, localised economies are more efficient than the capitalist economy? Kevin Carson describes why an economy of agility and low overhead may well appear from the burning phoenix of capitalism in this detailed account of old and new production models.

Community engagement in the social eco-system dance

This discussion paper by Eileen Conn contrasts the horizontal peer relationships that exist in many communities organisations with the vertical hierarchical relationships in more formalised and institutionalised organisations. Conn argues that community engagement must recognise and respect these differences and learn from horizontal peer dynamics to achieve effective social change.

Researching the innovative approaches to sustainable development pioneered by community activists. We aim to improve understanding of these initiatives, and offer policy advice on how to support them to grow and spread their ideas.

You can find more grassroots innovations ideas and projects here.

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