Grassroots innovations

Spatial patterns of grassroots innovation for sustainability in Great Britain and Italy

Anisa Butt

Grassroots innovations (GI) are “networks of activists and organizations generating novel bottom-up solutions for sustainable development” (Seyfang and Smith, 2007). Such innovations are progressive movements encouraging practices towards widespread sustainability. In light of the deepening environmental and financial crisis primarily climate change, shrinking supplies of cheap fossil fuels (Peak oil), unsustainable endless economic expansion, and the apparent downfalls of the current economic model made visible by the 2008 financial crisis, GIs have attracted much attention.

For my UROP placement I have been working alongside Dr Giuseppe Feola in the department of Geography and Human science. My study was based on conducting “A Comparative analysis of the spatial patterns of diffusion of grassroots innovations in the United Kingdom and Italy.” Although there has been a considerable amount of research regarding grassroots innovation, none which investigates the spatial pattern of GI diffusion, i.e in which geographical locations do grassroots innovations diffuse the most, do different grassroots innovations diffuse differently in the same region, and is geographical proximity important when determining the success and failures of the initiatives. The purpose of this study is to investigate whether rapidly emerging grassroots innovations in The United Kingdom and Italy follow patterned or clustered spatial diffusion. The study aimed to answer our hypothesis and will create some direction towards the successful implementation of grassroots innovations.

Throughout the study I was primarily working with two types of grassroots movements, the Transition Movement (TI) and GAS. My first task was to familiarize myself with the topic and movements, which I found to be very interesting as this was something outside my usual course discipline (Economics), and sustained throughout the course of my placement. I then moved on to a data collecting exercise regarding the two GIs, I was encouraged to explore the data and create graphs to document my findings, some of which will be documented within the publication of the study. I was also introduced to Geoda, software which enabled me to test and create maps which highlighted significant diffusion, clustering and spatial patterns found in the data, which will contribute to the journal article that will present the results of this study. I was also given the opportunity to contribute written work towards the journal article in the form of description of the GI, something which I thoroughly enjoyed doing.

Throughout my placement I was in regular contact with my supervisor and frequently given the opportunity to voice my opinions and findings despite being new to the topic area, which I very much appreciated and allowed to be fully involved in the project as a colleague. I was also invited to meet other staff members alongside drinks and attend departmental events. Although my placement is now complete, I am still involved and kept up to date with the research, I very much look forward to viewing the end result and the paper published.

I found my placement very rewarding and would very much recommend the opportunity to undergo a UROP placement, even if the project is not related to your usual course discipline.