Explaining Sustainability Transitions by Bringing Together the Multi-level Perspective and the Multiple Streams Framework

Case Study Dutch Transition to Electric Cars

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Sustainability transitions are socio-technical developments driving and being driven by policy change while being inherently value-laden and political. Thus, to understand how such sustainability transitions come about, it is crucial to comprehend how socio-technical and policy change co-evolve. This study applied the Multi-level Perspective (MLP) from transition studies and the Multiple Streams Framework (MSF) from the policy theory to study this co-evolution.

The knowledge gap that this research aims to bridge is the systematic understanding of how socio-technical transitions (resulting from the pressure of landscape and niches on the regime) and policy change (resulting from the intersection of the problem, policy, and politics streams of the MSF) combined affect each other and consequently influence sustainability transitions. Given the strong technical dimension and the significant contribution of national policies, the Dutch transition to electric cars is chosen as a case study to bridge the knowledge gap.

Bridging the knowledge gap answered the following main research question:

How can a study of socio-technical transitions using MLP and policy changes using MSF applied to the Dutch transition to electric cars help create insights into how to synthesise the two aforementioned theoretical frameworks?

Answering this research question resulted in 13 propositions that relate to the commonalities, differences, and (causal) relations between the two frameworks. The findings proved that certain concepts relating to the socio-technical challenges and niche developments of the MLP and the problem and policy streams of the MSF overlap between the two frameworks.

The findings also showed that certain concepts that form an inherent part of the MLP are missing from the MSF. The missing concepts in the MSF namely relate to technological innovation. It is foreseeable that a policy change framework is not expected to include the technical dimensions of its targeting socio-technical change. However, it is still important for such a framework to incorporate the implications that such technological developments have on the general course of events leading to policy change. This is where the potential of the MLP comes in to compensate for this limitation.

At last, the research proved the existence of certain causal relations between the two frameworks. Examples of such relations exist between regime barriers of the MLP and the policy entrepreneurs of the MSF as well as relations between regime actors of the MLP and the national mood and political ideology of the MSF.

To further unleash the full explanatory power of the MLP and MSF, it is recommended to synthesise the two frameworks together. This research offers the possibility of a future synthesis of the two frameworks by using the propositions that this research has developed. Such a new framework, combining both concepts of transition studies and policy literature, would be of great added value to both transition scholars as well as policy analysts aiming to understand how sustainability transitions come about.