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By Stine Pernille Hauge Kjos

University of Oslo and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Table of Contents

Working Title *

Aims and objectives *

Identification of key literature and debates *

Methods *

Interviewing guidelines *

Suggested structure for final thesis *

Bibliography *

Timetable *


Working Title

Local Agenda 21: Socio-technological change, participation in decision-making and participation mechanisms.


Aims and objectives

  • Question 1: What has happened during the process of Local Agenda 21 (LA21).
  • Question 2: Has the process of LA21 contributed to changes in the social and technological spheres? If so, how and what kind of changes?

The object of study in the masterthesis will be the process of LA21 with special emphasis on socio-technical change. The process will be studied through interviews with people on different levels in the process. In that way, it is possible to make a picture of the process from different angles. LA21 encourage local societies to elaborate an agenda for the 21st century. Participation in decision-making processes is not a new phenomenon, though. In that sense is LA21 not a novelty. During the history of mankind, several different and varying actions have been done to engage people and to make society more democratic. But there are new and interesting perspectives about LA21 that made me interested in the process. The novelties are that local authorities, together with their inhabitants shall make a plan together for how they are going to contribute in making the development more sustainable. So primarily there is a broadly open approach. The intention is that change will be imposed from the bottom. Still the top-down frame remains, because the decision to start with LA21 lies within the political sphere. Secondary this process is multisectoral, which will say that citizens, (local) non-governmental organisations (NGO), business and others have a voice and have, to a certain extent, interest in participation, co-operation and negotiation. Thirdly, the process is built on a participatory strategic plan and not traditional environmental policy initiative. Traditionally, local and central authorities have tried to implement environmental policy through taxes or restrictions, like "command or control instruments". The effects of this politics were quite predictable, but could also be a hindrance to local initiative because problems were to be solved top-down by experts. The purely technical perspective lacks a wider view of the environmental problems, like that changes also happens in other spheres (social, economical, politically). (Aall et al. 1999)

It seems, as it is a broad consensus of the statement from Rio, that participation in decision-making is the only way to go when it comes to solving serious environmental problems. But as often in public planning and politics there are a lot of talk and less action. Therefore I want to see if the process of LA21 has contributed to changes in the technical and social spheres. More specifically: changes in attitude, and because of that, change in habits and use of technology, to more sustainable or green technology.


Identification of key literature and debates

1. Participation

What is democracy? This is one of the overall questions in implementing LA21. It depends on the democratic theory or view of e.g. local and national authorities, how the implementation work is carried out. Pluralism versus direct participation is two different ways of regarding what democracy is (Laird 1993). Another determinant can be the structure of the local democracy. This structure will be reflected in the local institutions and the administration of the local authorities. And what is regarded as participation and what participatory mechanism(s) preferred will depend on the view taken and the existing structure.

What is participation? It depends on which democracy theory one uses and on the structure of the local democracy, how the different participation mechanisms will be selected and assessed. Participation mechanisms cover activities like hearings and referendum, consensus conferences and negotiating rule making etc. Different participation mechanisms can suite different projects or aims.

Why participation? Participation can be used as an end (learning) or as a mean, or both (the purpose of participation). It is important that the different participants are aware of why they participate, so the participation becomes meaningful, they need to have an interest in participating. Participation is not meaningful as long as the actors do not see that they have a reason to participate. Willingness to participate can depend on the issue at stake. And it is not a matter of course that all relevant social groups or act ors want to participate.

When one is aware of these questions and a standpoint is made up, one can decide what participatory mechanisms one will use. It will be necessary to identify which participatory mechanisms the different municipalities used, and who decided that. It is also important to find out how they worked: from the point of view of different actors.

LA21 can be an action plan, a project or something else that is created through negotiation between participants. What can be substantial are the different social groups or actors’ interests and their power relationship. Identification of power structures between different groups or actors can say something about the outcome of the LA21 process. Is it possible to empower citizens and let the people "rule"? This is the question of governance. Participation means power to the people, this means that someone might loose power. The power structure before and after LA21 may not be entirely the same. LA21 have perhaps opened up for empowerment and responsibility of citizens. Power relations are also at stake in the relationship between citizens (or participants in general) and experts. Bijker ask, "who are the experts?" and he states that everybody is an expert to a certain degree. This statement is not generally agreed upon.

As mention above, LA21 represent decentralisation of decision-making, of power and of responsibility. The transition towards a more sustainable society is carried on at different levels, even though the local level has got a special task to perform. There are of importance to identify what kind of issues that can be solved local and what is better solved on a higher level (regional, national or international). It is of significance to remember that local authorities will always work within the frames given by the national authorities or created on a supranational level. This will say that international or other kinds of agreements still has got a strong position. According to Aall et al. the majority of the project municipalities saw central framework conditions and internationalisation as the main obstacle. These obstacles keept sometimes the municipality or local business from using greener technology. The problem is not lack of environmental innovation, but of diffusion. Here, local authorities can play a significant role by giving incentives to small and medium sized companies. But of course there are limits for what can be done on the local level, some large systems will more or less stay out of the scope of the local community.

It exists a divided view on what can be characterised as real LA21 initiatives. The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) has, on the basis of "Local Agenda 21 survey" in 1995, excluded some cases and labelled them as not-LA21 initiatives. The reasons for this were that the initiatives were either top-down initiatives, or not based on an ongoing participatory process, or that the process did not engage a diversity of local actors, or that the process did not integrate environmental, social and economic issues in the sustainable development concept." (Lafferty and Eckerberg 1997). Lafferty and Eckerberg are critical to national (especially Norwegian) authorities use of LA21, they state that some of the projects or processes that is said to be in the spirit of LA21 can not be characterised as it. In Norway the Idéabank for LA21 has made guidelines to what characterise LA21: 1) Global responsibility. 2) Long-term perspective. 3) Holistic, multisectoral work. 4) Knowledge about ecosystems. 5) Participation from the local society. The intention is that these five points should help the municipalities on the right track. Not all the criterions must be fulfilled, but there must not be any contrast between the criterions and practice.

2. Socio-technical changes to a more sustainable society.

Has the process of LA21 contributed to changes in the social and technological spheres? The thesis should identify what kind of technological changes happened during the process of LA21 and how and to what extent the participants changed their use of technology, to a newer more sustainable technology (green technology).

What is technological change? Evolutionary economists and interactive innovation theorists interpret technological changes as a learning process. Individuals learn in institutional settings. The learning again, fosters invention and/or innovation. This makes the information flow create a feedback loop, so the individuals learn something. According to this view, technological change is an endogenous change with cumulative character. This stands in contrast to the neo-classical economic theory that regards technological change as something exogenous, outside of the economy.

There is a discussion between different views on technology and its’ role in making the development more sustainable. On the one hand you have those, for instance Beder, who claims that economic growth can be made sustainable by technological change. On the other hand you have environmentalists that regards economists, technical- and business people as a part of the problem. According to the latter, it is important to change peoples' attitude and consumption. Bijker and other researchers in the STS field state that the transition to more sustainable (green) technology and changes in peoples' attitude, are two sides of the same coin. According to them one have to understand that technological changes reveals social changes as well.

3. Indicators

There is not one standardised way to measure if the society is closer to environmental sustainability. And there are not one way to develop indicators. It exists many different methods for making a set of indicators. Some indicators can be more useful or are better in measuring than other indicators. ICLEI has developed one set of indicators, the same has GRIP-center (Green Management Programme) and many other organisations or institutions. Some local authorities have developed their own indicator set on the background of existing set or totally independent. Some local authorities use an eco-budget to measure their improvements. It’s important to find out how and who developed the indicators in the different municipalities, how the different interests have been weighted. Anyway, the main goal for everybody is to discover where the development to a more sustainable society is functioning and where one needs to improve.



To analyse the process and changes, the theory Social Constructivism of Technology (SCOT) and the concept of boundary objects will be used, together with the interactive learning model and evolutionary economic theory.


Social constructivisms identification mark is that they view society and technology as something constructed through negotiation between different social actors, groups or worlds. It exists different social constructivist approaches or perspectives, but all of them regards technology as an integral part of society, and they study the impacts of technology and science on society as well as the other way around. (Harvey, F: and Chrisman, N. 1998)

Bijker (and Pinch) has developed one theory within this constructivist family and it is called SCOT. This theory emphasises how relevant social actors or groups share the view on a technical artefact. This process emerges from a condition of interpretative flexibility to stabilisation and finally closure. When a technology is selected and used in a society it becomes a black box. It can be fruitful to look at what influences this black box have on the social sphere, the economical sphere, the political sphere and the environment. Every social group is different, and each group has a technological frame they work within. In the process of constructing a technical artefact the technological frames will be melted into one, and a socio-technical ensemble is developed.

I want to use SCOT to analyse the process of LA21. First to identify relevant social groups in each "story", through interviews find out what position they had during the process. I suppose that the whole process not has reached a closure, but parts of it will probably have, and some kind of socio-technical change has occurred. Second, the technology chosen could already be a black box, and it can be interesting to see if and how they unwrap it during the process. For actors that are not technical experts, an already black boxed artefact could be a hindrance for participation. If an actor lack knowledge, he or she will not know how to influence it and this can create apathy.

Boundary objects

A boundary object "is an object which lives in multiple social worlds and which has different identities in each." (Star and Griesemer 1989) The concept of boundary objects is used to describe a process in which actors from different social worlds are trying to solve scientific problems through negotiation. They negotiate and co-operate to find a common ground, in this sense it goes with interpretative flexibility. The concept is built on ecological analysis and has also elements of Actor Network Theory (ANT).

Meaning is not embedded in the boundary object, every social world or actor has his or her own interpretation, understanding and practice attached to the object. Multiple interpretation leads to multiple translations. It means that every social world tries to translate their interpretation of the object into other social worlds. At the same time, the translator must maintain integrity. The translation link different social worlds into a network and even though the worlds have changed in one way, during the negotiation, they maintain their uniqueness and character.

I want to try to use the concept of boundary objects in my thesis, to see how different social worlds within a municipality shape a basis they can agree upon through negotiation. I have to identify the boundary object(s) in the process of LA21.

The interactive learning model and evolutionary economy

The interactive learning model place innovation and learning in the focus. There are two kinds of innovations. One type is incremental innovation these are minor changes, e.g. something new for a company. Another type is radical innovations these are major changes, which can be something new for a whole line of business. An innovation is never totally new, because it is always based on old innovations; this is why technology is cumulative. To quote Edquist (1997): "Innovations are new creations of economic significance...often new combinations of existing elements". Learning is something collectively shaped by institutions. Learning is then a social activity with interaction and co-operation between actors. Context, culture, language and history play a vital part in the interaction. As a result, technological changes mean social changes on different levels.

I think innovation is an essential part of LA21. Lundvall (1992) states that innovations happen everywhere in the economy, any time and it can happen fast, slowly or gradually. It is an ongoing process of learning, searching and research, which result in new products, new techniques, new forms of organising and new markets. Schumpeter calls this for creative destruction. The municipality as a community have to innovate to make their development more sustainable. Innovation can happen in the field of organising, technology, new participatory methods, new places, and spaces for communication etc. It will be interesting to find out where innovation and change occurred and how it happened. As learning is in focus in the interactive learning model, the learning process that is happening with actors participating in LA21 is vital. But there can also be experienced resistance against LA21 or changes in general, because someone might have a certain interest in staying within the existing technological frame.

Collection material for analysis.

In the first instance, a letter will be sent to potentially interesting municipalities. On the basis of the responses and information from the municipalities, three or four places will be selected for additional fieldwork. Interviews by telephone and face-to-face, will be the method used to collect further material for the analysis. If it appears to be difficult to interview all the relevant actors this way, a solution is to send out a questionnaire.


Interviewing guidelines

The following questions is suggestions for the interviews:

To citizens, NGOs, business people and academicians:

  1. Participation: Why do you participate, and why do you think others don’t? What is your role in the process? What kind of influence do you have in the decision-making (equality / inequality)? How is LA21 organised and who took the initiative to start the process?
  2. Socio-technical change: What problems have you faced during the process? What kinds of changes have occurred after the process of LA21 was started? Did you receive any incentives to change behaviour or technology, if so of what kind? Do you use more sustainable technology than before?
  3. Indicators: How were the indicators developed, and who developed them? What do they say?

To officials and politicians:

  1. Participation: What is participation? How far have you come in the process with LA21 (action-plan)? How do you work to implement it? What kind of information is given and in what way? Who are involved and how?
  2. Socio-technical change: What problems have you faced during the process? What kinds of changes (in general) have occurred after the process of LA21 was started? What incentives have been given to companies and/or private people to change to a more sustainable technology? What consequences have this process within the municipality administration and organisation? Do the municipality organisation use more sustainable technology than before?
  3. Indicators: How were the indicators developed, and who developed them? What do the indicators say? How do you use the indicators?


Suggested structure for final thesis


  1. Introduction

2. LA21, what is that? From Rio de Janeiro 1992 until today.

2.1. History

2.2. Aims and goals

3. The challenges of LA21.

3.1. Democracy, participation and different participation mechanisms.

3.2. Power structures, interests and problems.

4. Analytical tools

4.1. Social Constructivism of Society by Bijker (and Pinch)

4.2. Boundary objects by Leigh Star (and Griesemer)

4.3. Interactive learning model and evolutionary economy.

5. Results: "stories" and analysis.

5.1. "The story about XX (a municipality)".

- Presentation of the municipality: natural environment, social factors, industry and trade, how the work with LA21 is organised.

- Identification of relevant social groups / actors

- Participatory mechanisms used, problems met.

- Socio-technological changes.

- Indicators. How they were developed and by whom.

5.2. "The story about XX (a municipality)" Etc.

6. Summing up and conclusive remarks.



Primary sources:

Aall, C., Lafferty, W. and Bjørnæs, T. (1999) Kartlegging av hindringer i prosjekt Bærekraftig lokalsamfunn. Hovedrapport. (Survey of obstacles in the project Sustainable communities. Main report) SFT, Oslo.

Bijker, B. (1995) Chapter 11 "Sociohistorical Technology Studies" in Jasanoff et al. Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Bijker, B. (1991) "Democratization of Technology. Who are the Experts?" University of Limburg, Technology and Society Studies.

Fujimura, J.H. (1992) Chapter 6 "Crafting Science: Standardized Packages, Boundary Objects, and "Translation" in Pickering (ed.) Science as Practice and Culture. The University of Chicago Press.

Grubb, M. et al. (1993) The Earth Summit Agreements. A guide and assessment. The Royal Institute of International Affairs, London.

Harvey, F. and Chrisman, N. (1998) "Boundary objects and the social constructions of GIS technology" in Environment and Planning A, vol. 30, pp. 1683-1694.

Hille, J. (1997) Rein velstand – om bærekraftig produksjon og forbruk i Lokal Agenda 21. Idèhefte nr. 2. Stiftelsen Idèbanken, Oslo.

Kasin, O. (1997) Flere forslag – medvirkning i Lokal Agenda 21. Idèhefte nr. 1. ProSus, Oslo.

Lafferty M. W: and Eckerberg, K. (1997) From Earth Summit to Local Forum. Studies of Local Agenda 21 in Europe. ProSus, Oslo.

Star, S. L. and Griesemer, J. R. (1989) "Institutional Ecology, "Translations," and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39" in Social Studies of Science 19, pp. 387-420.

Thompson, R. (ed. 1993) Learning and Technological Change. The Macmillan Press Ltd, London.

Secondary sources:

Dahlin, C. E. (1998) Sustainable Development in a Large Technical System. Perceptions of the water supply system in Oslo. MAESST-thesis, Lausanne and Oslo.

Edquist, C. (ed. 1997) Chapter 1 "Introduction" in Systems of Innovation: technologies, institutions and organizations. Pinter Publishers, London.

Eliaspoh, N. (1998) Avoiding Politics. How Americans produce apathy in everyday life. Cambridge University Press.

Fiorino, D.J. (1990) "Citizen Participation and Environmental Risk: A Survey of Institutional Mechanisms" in Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp.226-243.

Galvis, G., Garcia, M., Quironga, E., Visscher, J. T. (1996) "Capacity Building through Holistic Joint Learning Projects." 2nd UNDP Symposium on Water Sector Capacity Building at IHE, Delft.

Laird, F.N. (1993) "Participatory Analysis, Democracy, and Technological Decision Making" in Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol 18 No. 3, pp. 341-361.

Lundvall, B.Å. (ed. 1992) National systems of innovation: towards a theory of innovation and interactive learning. Pinter Publishers, London.

Nelkin, D. and Pollak, M. (1979) "Public Participation in Technological Decisions: Reality or Grand Illusion?" in Technology Review August/September, pp. 55-63.

Nelson, N. and Wright, S. (ed. 1995) Power and Participatory Development. Theory and Practice. Intermediate Technology Publications, London.

Schot, J.W. (1992) "Constructive Technology Assessment and Technology Dynamics: The Case of Clean Technologies" in Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol.17 No. 1, pp.36-56.

Ulian, A. (1998) Good practice database for the Italian Local Agenda 21 in comparison with the European reality. EAEME (European postgraduate programme in environmental management), Lausanne.

Whittaker, S. (ed. 1995) First Steps. Local Agenda 21 in practice. Municipal Strategies for Sustainability as Presented to Global Forum Manchester 1994. HMOSO, London.

Yearly, S. (1995) Chapter 20 "The Environmental Challenge to Science Studies" in Jasanoff et al. Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.



May Literature review and data collection

June Literature review, data collection and analysis

July Analysis

August First draft

September Last draft

October Handing-in