Current sustainability challenges call for transitions in locked-in socio-technical systems. The governance of transitions often remains limited to the cultivation of sustainable ‘niche’ innovations, however. This paper explores how to handle transitions directionality, i.e. the diversity of possible socio-technical development paths. It reaches beyond hitherto rather abstract and fragmented insights. STS, political-science and systems-evolutionary angles are combined into an integrative framework. Concrete directionality challenges are identified through the analysis of socio-technical multiplicity, divergent normative appraisals and process dynamics. The driverless car transition provides an exemplar case. As highlighted through qualitative evidence from the Dutch Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) sector, common innovation discourses of a ‘race to automation’ misrepresent the pace and direction of the nascent transition. The transition requires much more than the cultivation of driverless vehicles: Next to the commercial development of vehicle automation, it involves governmental traffic management ambitions and public-private collaboration towards ‘cooperative systems’. Other insights on directionality-conscious transitions governance pertain to the sustained synchronization between institutionally diverse actors, and to the changing material conditions for steering. The overall conclusion is that the framework provides a useful lens to explore the governance of directionality in socio-technical transitions. Future studies should explore its usefulness beyond the ITS domain.
- Driverless cars
- Institutional synchronization
- Intelligent Transportation Systems
- Sustainability transitions