The core for this research proposal in bold:

“The whole system change”, not just focusing on innovation itself, to make a transition of the whole system (product, business model, governance, social) to enable a sustainable transition.  And to investigate multi actor groups cooperation, collaborations and influences during the transition. With focus in China or the USA.

And below is the official guidance and introduction:

The PhD topic: Governing sustainable energy-mobility transitions in 1) UK with Scotland, 2) USA with California or 3) China with Guangdong

The EMPOCI PhD students will be enrolled for a PhD in Science and Technology Policy Studies and are expected to produce a cumulative PhD thesis (based on three peer-reviewed journal articles). The PhD topic will contribute to answering the overarching research question of the EMPOCI project on how to accelerate the low-carbon transition in the increasingly interconnected energy and mobility systems on a regional and national level. For this, the PhD students will be involved in all work packages of the EMPOCI project (except WP5), with each student focussing on a different country (UK, US or China) including a pioneering region within that country (Scotland, California or Guangdong).

Conceptually, each PhD will seek to enrich the interdisciplinary field of socio-technical innovation/transition studies (Koehler et al., 2019; Zolfagharian et al., 2019) with theories, concepts, and approaches from the field of policy studies to enable a better understanding of the governance of politically contested and complex multi-sectoral sustainability transitions (Kern and Rogge, 2018; Kern et al., 2019). For this, the PhD could, for example, draw on the advocacy coalition framework (Weible et al., 2011), discourse analysis (Hajer and Versteeg, 2005) or governance network theory (Klijn and Koppenjan, 2012), but other suggestions are also very welcome (Sabatier and Weible, 2014).

The proposed interdisciplinary framework shall foreground the causal interplay between actors (business, policy, academia, society), multi-level policy mixes and low-carbon innovations (technological, organisational, business model, social, institutional and/or policy innovation), and the role of transformative capacity and exogenous conditions for the unfolding co-evolutionary transition processes (Wolfram, 2016; Edmondson et al., 2019). By adopting a socio-political transitions perspective the PhD will recognize the existence of barriers arising from lock-in, vested interests and resistance to change, and will pay dedicated attention to the politics and power involved in transition processes (Geels, 2014; Stirling, 2014; Smink et al., 2015). This implies that acceleration not only calls for the coordination of efforts on different governance levels (e.g. national vs regional) and policy fields (climate vs industrial policy), but also for implementing policy mixes for creative destruction (Kivimaa and Kern, 2016; Rogge and Reichardt, 2016).

Empirically, each PhD student will focus on conducting one country/region case study, combining qualitative and quantitative analysis. Interested candidates should indicate whether they intend to study 1) the UK with Scotland, 2) the USA with California or 3) China with Guangdong.

The PhD topics shall follow EMPOCI in acknowledging that deep decarbonization requires simultaneous low-carbon transitions in multiple sectors (Geels et al., 2017; Schot and Kanger, 2018), such as across the electricity-mobility-ICT systems, reflecting trends in electrification, digitization and decentralisation (Canzler et al., 2017; Di Silvestre et al., 2018). PhD proposals can assume a broad perspective on energy-mobility transitions, but are also welcome to suggest (a) key area(s) for in-depth investigation, such as electricity storage/grid innovation or novel ICT/digitalization solutions at the interface of energy-mobility systems. In addition, PhD topics can give an equal weight on studying business, policy, academia and society as relevant actor groups, but may also suggest conducting in-depth investigations on (a) particular actor group(s), such as media, trade unions or NGOs.

Data will be collected through desktop analysis, expert interviews, multi-actor case studies and surveys, much of which will be undertaken in the country/region in question (incl. one year in the field). In particular, the qualitative case studies shall seek to investigate which role actors and their networks play for the interplay between policy mixes and low-carbon inno­vations, and how this is influenced by transformative capacity and exogenous conditions. In contrast, the quantitative survey analysis shall aim at investigating to what extent multi-level policy mixes explain the innovation activities of actors involved in multi-sectoral transition processes, and vice versa, and what is the role of transformative capacity for this interplay. The PhD topics may also propose to draw on big data analytics (e.g. social media analysis) and other novel methods (particularly from the field of policy studies) – thereby enhancing our understanding of the interplay between policy mixes and socio-technical change.


EMPOCI Project

In its 1.5°C report the IPCC stressed that global efforts to promote low-carbon transitions need to be accelerated to meet the Paris Agreement. This raises a number of questions for the emerging field of policy mixes for sustainability transitions, such as on the role of actors and multi-level governance in interconnected and politically contested socio-technical transition processes. The EMPOCI project, funded by the ERC, aims at addressing these knowledge gaps through its three objectives:

  1. To provide a novel conceptual and empirical understanding of the global interplay between multi-level policy mixes and low-carbon innovations in socio-technical transitions which foregrounds the role of actors and transformative capacity.
  • By bridging the innovation/transition and policy studies literatures and comparatively analyzing the increasingly interconnected electricity-mobility-ICT systems in four key countries (Germany, UK, China, USA), EMPOCI will advance the research frontier on transformative policy mixes for low-carbon transitions.
  1. To develop and test widely applicable novel methodological tools enabling both deep and broad insights into the drivers and barriers in unfolding multi-sectoral transition processes towards sustainability.
  • Drawing on a multi-method research design EMPOCI will provide novel standards for assessing policy, agency and innovation dynamics in politically contested low-carbon transition processes (e.g. surveys, big data, foresight).
  1. 3To co-design practically relevant multi-actor strategies for accelerating sustainable energy-mobility transitions, thereby supporting the Paris Agreement in combating climate change.
  • Based on EMPOCI’s findings a transformative foresight process is organized with stakeholders from business, policy, academia and society to jointly derive implications for transformative policy mixes.

EMPOCI is a 5-year project that starts on June 1, 2020 and is led by Prof Karoline Rogge. Her project team will be composed of one research fellow (for 5 years) and two PhD students (for 3.5 years). The successful PhD candidates will be expected to start on June 15, 2020 or on September 15, 2020. For more information please see:

Further Information on the School / Department

was formed in 2009 and comprises the Department of Accounting and Finance, the Department of Strategy and Marketing, the Department of Management, the Department of Economics and the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU). With a new home in the Jubilee Building, a state-of-the-art academic building at the heart of the campus, the Business School is a vibrant, ambitious and dynamic School with a strong research focus.

SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit)

Founded in 1966 by Christopher Freeman,  was one of the first interdisciplinary research centres in the field of science and technology policy and management. Today, with over 60 faculty members, SPRU remains at the forefront of new ideas, problem-orientated research, inspiring teaching, and creative, high impact engagement with decision makers across government, business and civil society. Our research addresses pressing global policy agendas, including innovation challenges posed by the digital economy, the future of industrial policy, inclusive economic growth, the politics of scientific expertise, energy policy, security issues, entrepreneurship, and pathways to a more sustainable future.

SPRU researchers are driven by a desire to tackle real-world questions, whilst also contributing to a deeper theoretical understanding of how science, technology and innovation is shaping today’s world. A 2012 study published in the journal ‘Research Policy’ ranked SPRU second only to Harvard University in terms of its research impact in innovation studies.

With a community of over 140 MSc and doctoral students from all over the world, SPRU is also well known for its high quality, research-led teaching programmes.

The Sussex Energy Group (SEG)

The Sussex Energy Group (SEG) aims to understand and foster transitions towards sustainable, low carbon energy systems. Drawing from SPRU’s tradition, researchers in the Sussex Energy Group undertake academically rigorous, interdisciplinary and world-leading research that is relevant to contemporary policy challenges. SEG also educates the next generation of energy policy professionals through our MSc and PhD programmes.

SEG’s research interests are in the prospects for a more sustainable energy future. The group’s expertise covers a wide range of areas, including energy innovation and transitions, economics and finance, energy justice, energy demand and behaviour, smart infrastructure, and energy supply technologies.

Brighton, January 6, 2020


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