Diffusing social innovation in the energy sector: Waste-to-energy strategies in poor urban areas

This research analyses key factors that facilitate, or hinder, sustainable energy transitions in poor urban areas.


Drawing on institutional theory, entrepreneurship and the innovation dynamics literature, we critically explore social innovation theorization. Using the case of novel biomethane waste-to-energy production technologies, we adopt a multidisciplinary analytical approach to examine a social innovation initiative that can provide greater access to renewable energy in impoverished communities. We show that societal uncertainties, which include institutional factors and social concerns of those affected by the technology, play a crucial role in improving the technology’s potential for positive social impact.

Our study enhances our understanding of social innovation that cannot be addressed by other innovation theories that typically fail to address unanticipated outcomes. We also challenge the notion that social innovation is a panacea, where rectifying previous institutional failures will automatically result in social improvement. Policy-makers and practitioners need to identify key technological, commercial, organizational, and societal uncertainties during the early phases of the technology’s development, allowing them to shape the waste-to-energy production for more efficient social innovation diffusion.