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Research article2021Peer reviewed

A practice approach to understanding the multilevel dynamics of sanitation innovation

Kokko, Suvi; Fischer, Klara


Although radical innovations are expected to play an increasing role in sustainable development by changing existing (unsustainable) systems, many of them do not succeed. This paper describes one such failure of inno-vation in the sanitation sector and offers insight into how innovators could redirect the innovation process to bring about real change. Drawing on practice theory in combination with the multilevel perspective on sus-tainability transitions, we identify elements of practices associated with a sanitation innovation and analyse how these interact with established practices in the sanitation sector. We establish the factors that facilitated and impeded this innovation?s ability to create change. Based primarily on interviews conducted during a longitu-dinal case study undertaken between 2012 and 2018, our results suggest that: 1) the division of practice into elements of material, activity, competence and meaning facilitates a detailed analysis of how the innovation interacts with existing practices; 2) innovators may need to act as activists to align the meanings ascribed to the practice at hand across the regime actors, and 3) understanding the different elements of practice helps identify lock-ins that prevent niche innovations from succeeding. We conclude that it is necessary to change the practices of more resourceful actors in different parts of the regime, especially in policy, in order to move beyond experimental stages of innovation.


Radical innovation; Practice theory; Multilevel perspective; Sanitation; Global South

Published in

Technology in Society
2021, Volume: 64, article number: 101522

      SLU Authors

    • Sustainable Development Goals

      SDG9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure
      SDG17 Partnerships for the goals

      UKÄ Subject classification

      Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

      Publication identifier


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