Enabling Systemic Innovation

through Experimentation in Real-World Laboratories

End of 2019, the UN announced the Decade for Action on Sustainable Development: to mobilize for local and people action, embedding the needed transitions in local practice and generating an unstoppable movement pushing for systemic innovation. Such innovation processes are of systemic nature and include social and technical innovation, while adhering to interrelated geographical scales, with place-based local solutions reflecting regional and global dynamics, and scalability. The complexity in enabling place-based systemic innovation requires a new set of hybrid methods, since analytical and explanatory tools of science have reached their limitations when it comes to the social complexity of cooperative regeneration and implementation in the real world. MonViso Institute (MVI) contributes to a next generation of tools for enabling systemic innovation and the transition to a more sustainable society. A main goal is to provide scalable Tools for Change (TfC) for enabling local people action through the interplay of science and design in real-world laboratories - transcending the logic boundaries of science and tapping into different types of knowledge through mutual forms of learning, cooperation and creative co-design. MVI is the main experimental site of this research. The last years of developing this lab have provided valuable experiences how place-based systemic innovation (dis)functions, and where further research to fully understand, transcend, upscale and employ derived tools is required. Insights from this lab are being challenged and evaluated against other real-world labs and the body of literature, and scaled through new “glocal” digital and experiential capacity building.

Overarching research questions

1. How to balance local identity and associated fear of/resistance to/support for technical and social change with the requirement for systemic innovation relating to the local implementation of the Global Goals?

2. What Tools for Change (TfC) are most effective to enhance technical innovation together with social innovation for sustainability, and which TfC are generalizable, and how?

3. What are "Seeds for Systemic Innovation" that are derived by the TfC, and how do they create impact across geographic and functional scales - from raw materials to products to buildings, communities, cities, landscapes, regions and trans-national cooperation?

The concept of Resiliency in the graphic below explains how our work addresses societal challenges: All social-ecological systems undergo "waves" of growth, "stable" conservation, until a crisis "releases" the conservation phase to be forced to reorganize and grow. The "reorganization" phase is where innovation happens best, where the systems is open to change and accept transitions. Such reorganization requires innovation that is systemic, including technical and social innovation. In especial the social kind of innovation requires local people action, support of communities; yet, people like habits and often don't change on their own, so they show resistance to change. The "Tools for Change" we experiment with at MVI ideally incubate and nudge "Seeds for Systemic Innovation" with "Systemic Impact" across scales.

Graphic designed by Haley Fitzpatrick and based on Luthe. T. and R. Wyss. 2015.
The Capacity of Social-Ecological Systems for Planning Resilience: Introducing Adaptive Waves.
Sustainability Science 10(4):673-685.  DOI: 10.1007/s11625-015-0316-6."

Tools for Change (TfC)

The TfC we currently experiment with and which are subject to continuous evaluation are the following:
1. Student-driven, low-threshold and inclusive research, such as social network analysis of the community collaboration, mobility experiments, surveys including choice experiments, circularity master planning,….
2. Technical innovation demonstration and experiential illustration, such as the “feeling” to be in a wooden passive house and how this relates to material selection and passive design, skis built from hemp fiber composites, solar roof panels that mimic the traditional stone lose tiles,…
3. Regenerative Design Talks (RDT), a collaborative workshop series focusing on the interconnected relationship of design, nature, our unique built environment and mountain identity in Ostana and beyond.
4. Co-Design: hiring local people to team up and giving them mutual ownership for mutual innovation.
5. Explorative Events, which are the experimentation place for new teaching and training courses, the "lab" for testing how we can reach out to people with experiential learning.
6. Stories of failure. We highlight stories of experiments that did not work out, and why. So to learn from it in a different way than "just" showing what works.
7. Time: trust building and getting used to changes.


The MonViso Institute (MVI) is a real-world laboratory for research on sustainability transitions and design - the transition on various scales is a research process in itself, in real time. While we engage in science of and for sustainability, we showcase practical solutions on the MVI campus that everyone can explore, critically question, experience, and share.


Examples for further systemic research topics and questions of current focus at MVI:
a) What are the systemic relations within a circular, bio- regional, regenerative and resilient economy? How can such an economy function? What are illustrative examples? How do these translate to local people action?

b) What are new community models for a mountain economy, based on sharing and cooperation, on circularity, alpine urbanism and new highlanders, and on limits to growth?

c) How to socially spur such systemic innovation in a community?

d) What are resilient and timely forms of tourism in natural places, within the economic, cultural and ecological boundaries? This relates in especial to sudden influx of tourism and people pressure on mountain places after the Covid lockdown in 2020.

e) How to spur the renewable energy transition int his and other mountain places?

f) How to spur the integrated mobility transition in this and other mountain places?

g) How co we design regenerative buildings of the future? What are circular design solutions, place-based, systemic, that are based on carbon flows, apply low tech and high brain, and that are useful in the long term?

h) How car we embed active solar design into visually and culturally protected buildings, in a harsh mountain environment?

i) What are regenerative building materials based on hemp and mushroom?

j) How do "simple" ventilation systems based on carbon dioxide sensors relate with diffusion oper wall system for moisture control, and overall "bio-aerosol" related indoor air quality?

k) How do we integrate natural free flow water cleaning systems into the water design of a building and a campus?

l) How can industrial hemp and Paulownia trees grow in mountain scapes, and how can they spur a circular mountain economy?

m) What permaculture design solutions can be applied for self-sufficiency in mountain places?

n) How do we observe and monitor social-ecological change as part of a global network of mountain observatories? This relates as well to traffic-born air pollution and valley smog rising to mountain valleys.

o) What can real-word laboratories contribute to sustainability transitions, it addition to the more established practice of transdisciplinary research?

p) What are financing opportunities for this and other RWL?

q) How does MVI relate and integrate and scale within the community of Ostana, and general with their surrounding communities?

r) How to be mindful when integrating systemic innovation into a place? How to be mindful as a visitor, and a host?

s) What are innovative didactive models to inform, motivate arc empower people to engage in becoming greater oar/ of the societal sustainability transition?