Paula Kivimaa (SPRU, University of Sussex)

Bruno Turnheim (Geography, King’s College London)

Frans Berkhout (Geography, King’s College London)

The topic of experimentation in climate governance is timely and relevant, as governments are increasingly turning to experimentation as a governing strategy. They seek to learn about new ways to generate solutions for wicked problems such as climate change as a means to deliver policy objectives and to engage with the groundswell of local and non-state climate action. The issues of why and how to experiment have also become an established focus of research (e.g. Bulkeley et al., 2014; Sabel and Zeitlin, 2014), particularly active in the EU-COST network on Innovations in Climate Governance INOGOV. However, the important question of what happens beyond an initial experimental stage is often left unanswered. Individual experiments are frequently considered in isolation and within the boundaries (spatial and temporal) for which they have been designed.

Looking further afield – beyond individual climate governance experiments – opens up a whole range of issues (and difficulties) that have to do with the lasting impacts of such experiments, and their transformative potential. The search for new governance modes and models can also lead to a whole range of unintended consequences, for which the relatively controlled settings offered by experiments is both valuable and an obstacle to their wider uptake. We broadly cluster these issues under the banner of ‘embedding’ experiments. We suggest that this embedding requires explicit work, calls for specific new governance capacities, and needs attention on evaluating the efforts.

Climate experimentation can lead to new ways of thinking and learning, new types of consumer, citizen or business practices, new governance or policy designs, new forms of networking, novel technologies and business models, or new types of infrastructure or planning in the built environment (Kivimaa et al., 2015). Both the nature of experiments and the type of output influences in which way they can become embedded and taken up in society and policymaking.

The fate of experiments is often associated with the notion of scaling. This is linked to a common assumption according to which, beyond experiments, lies their instrumental expansion into something more widely useful, such as a generic technology or recipe for policy implementation. Of course, scaling up is (politically) a very popular topic – but one that is seldom unpacked, in terms of what aspects of experiments may be more suitable for scaling and under which conditions. Crucially, the dominant focus on scaling tends to obscure alternative mechanisms that are nonetheless essential to the career of climate experiments, and their wider relevance. ‘Beyond experiments’ invites a fruitful discussion of alternatives to scaling.

So, beyond experiments lie more experiments, particularly in terms of developing the ability and capacities to handle said experiments. In relation to this, we want to emphasise four points:

  • Experimentation is a fruitful means to attend to new problems and transform society, but also a contested one that requires engagement with situated interpretation (e.g. of what is meant by ‘success’).
  • In addition to initiating new experiments, we need to start more seriously considering how to move beyond the experimental stage and evaluate the implications of experiments for mitigating and adapting to climate change, and climate governance frameworks.
  • Moving beyond experiments is not just about scaling up but involves a range of equally valuable processes. We have opened up the discussions to alternatives to scaling, which should also be taken into account when evaluating the outcomes of individual and aggregated experiments.
  • Experimentation is also about uncertainty, which means that it is important to focus on learning from and beyond the success (or failure) of individual experiments.

Following the need to explore how climate governance innovations become embedded, we, researchers from the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED) at University of Sussex, and the department of Geography at King’s College London co-organised a workshop “Beyond experiments: Understanding how climate governance innovations become embedded”. The event attracted around 20 scholars from 8 countries to discuss questions related to how experiments in climate governance can benefit society, particularly in terms of lasting impacts, once they have been terminated.

The workshop contributions – academic studies from a range of both senior and junior scholars – highlighted pathways for the embedding of experiments, considering inter alia how experiments can create more lasting contributions to living with climate change. These include among others processes associated with institutionalisation, translation, diffusion and replication, anchoring and mobility, circulation, and emancipation. For example, Katharina Hölscher and Niki Frantzeskaki (DRIFT), drawing on their experiences from the City of Rotterdam, suggested a dual role for urban governance as enabling experiments to shape and transform current activities in response to climate pressures, but also as orchestrating climate experiments to generate more coherent, coordinated and lasting impacts on a city’s overall adaptive capacity. Luis Carvalho (University of Porto) revealed how Community Choice Aggregation, a voluntary yet law-regulated arrangement that allows local jurisdictions (e.g. cities, counties) to aggregate the electric power demand of its constituents and directly procure electricity to meet those demands, has transformed from isolated experiments to more widely diffused governance arrangements in the United States through multiple iterations of local anchoring and mobility. Andrew Karvonen (University of Manchester) discussed what society may look like if experimentation were to become embraced as the new normal mode of governance, with a culture of ‘permanent experiments’ possibly leading to greater engagement with climate change uncertainties but also running the risk of opening further space for precariousness. These are just a few of the many interesting examples presented at the workshop.

Many contributions discussed experimentation and embedding at local and urban levels. However, important examples were also provided of how local or regional experimental activities can be coordinated or evaluated at the national level. The latter is of particular importance to assess the value and implications of experiments more broadly in terms of transforming climate governance, e.g. towards more polycentrism.

Overall, there seems to be a case for governance actors to take on new roles, with a strong emphasis on the ability to learn from and adapt to the new kinds of knowledge that climate governance experiments are generating. However, there is also a need to devise new strategies to overcome the ‘pilot paradox’ whereby successful experiments have a tendency to remain experiments for lack of attention to their becoming. The contributions discussed in this workshop will lead to an edited volume to be issued in early 2017.


Bulkeley, H., Castan Broto, V., Edwards, G., 2014. An urban politics of climate change: experimentation and the governing of socio-technical transitions. Routledge.

Kivimaa, P., Hildén, M., Huitema, D., Jordan, A., Newig, J., 2015. Experiments in Climate Governance. Lessons from a Systematic Review of Case Studies in Transition Research. SPRU Working Paper Series (SWPS), 2015-36: 1-30. ISSN 2057-6668. Available at

Sabel, C., Zeitlin, J., 2010 (eds.). Experimentalist Governance in the European Union. Oxford University Press.


Photo credit: Eric Hossinger/Flickr

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