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Exnovation, an emerging concept

Exnovation refers to processes of destabilization, decline and phasing-out of carbon-intensive industries, technologies, business models et practices or that raise other systemic sustainability issues (environnemental, socioeconomic, related to urban-planning, etc.).


This is our definition: the exnovation concept within Sustainability Transitions Studies is only recently emerging and its precise meaning has not yet been settled.

Its origin in the beginning of the 80’s

Originally, the exnovation term was used to describe phenomena at the level of organisations, such as the phasing-out of obsolete bureaucratic practices in public administrations (Yin 1979) and the replacing of medical equipment to allow the use of new treatments (Kimberley 1981). The concept is sometimes used in that perspective in studies on innovation management. GOSETE moves away from this conception. It develops the concept through a more systemic approach and opts for a meso-economic level of analysis, as it is used in Transitions Studies.

Its recent emergence within Sustainability Transitions Studies

More recently, the exnovation concept emerged within Sustainability Transitions Studies. This follows the growing awareness of a certain innovation bias, according to which innovation would almost systematically be associated with the idea of progress. While environmental threats appear as more severe, non-reversible and urgent than expected, we have to acknowledge that the transformation pace of our economies is too slow. Climate objectives are far from being achieved. Until now, transition policies have focused mainly on the direct support to technological and social innovations, such as ‘clean’ technologies or the various forms of circular economy (in the framework of what is called Strategic Niche Management). The mere support to innovations, while being necessary, does not seem to be sufficient to realize the required socio-technical transformations: on one side, their dissemination is slow, and on the other side, innovations often only add to the existing regime, rather than replacing it. This forms the basic rationale for exploring transitions governance that focuses on the other side of innovation: exnovation.

The exnovation concept has been recently used in Sustainability Transitions Studies to analyze the German strategy of nuclear energy and coal phasing-out, in the framework of the Energiewende. Those can be considered as emblematic cases of exnovation.

A generic concept

Exnovation is sometimes referred to with other terms or notions: ‘flipside of innovation’, ‘creative destruction’, ‘decline management’, ‘discontinuation’, ‘destabilization’, ‘gradual abandonment’, ‘phasing-out’, ‘dismantling’, etc. envisions exnovation as a generic concept, deserving further elaboration to elicit its various facets. This elaboration should enlighten and guide policy makers in addressing the complexity of sustainability transitions processes.

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