Most of my research considers the politics and governance of innovation for sustainability. My work draws upon theories and methodologies from political science, innovation studies, and science and technology studies. My research is funded by a variety of academic, government and civil society organisations in the UK and overseas; and it invovles empirical studies in both developed and developing country contexts, covering local through national to international scales in a variety of sectors.

I am currently developing research into grassroots digital fabrication, and which falls under a broader body of work on grassroots innovation for sustainability. With Cian O'Donovan, for example, we are using Q method to understand the varied experiences with digital fabrication in non-industrial settings amongst coders and crafters. I am also involved in a new European project studying the knowledge politics involved in smart urbanism. It compares how grassroots groups are appropriating 'smart' techniques and tools for knowing and acting in their city, with corporate and public authority development of smilar tools. How is each influencing urban developments; and where does that leave more conventional community development approaches? And, looking forwards, I am currently trying to raise money to research how these varied experiences might inform what I am calling (for now) 'post-automation theory': an attempt to recover and recentre human agency in debate and activity in technology, livelihoods, and sustainability.

Grassroots innovation is one of three themes to my research over the years.These themes are:

1. Grassroots innovations for sustainable development

2. The transformation of large sociotechnical systems and transitions to sustainability

3. Critical policy analysis for sustainability

Each of these themes is explained below, and where I list some relevant publications, where you can learn more (email me for pdfs). I also try to write more accessible blogposts from time to time. These are also listed below after the themes.

1. Grassroots innovations for sustainable development

This research seeks to understand the processes by which groups in civil society create and support innovations that seek to transform or become autonomous from dominant social, economic and technological systems.

Smith, A. (2017) Social innovation, democracy and makerspaces, SPRU Working Paper 2017-10, University of Sussex, Brighton.

Smith, A. and A. Light (2017) Cultivating sustainable developments with makerspaces, Liinc em revista, 13, 1.

Smith, A. and A. Stirling (2016) Grassroots innovation and democracy. STEPS Centre Working Paper 89, University of Sussex, Brighton.

Smith, A. (2016) Alternative technology niches and sustainable development: 12 years on, Innovation: management, policy and practice 18, 4: 485-488.

Smith, A., Fressoli, M., Abrol, D., Arond, E. and A. Ely (2017) Grassroots innovation movements. London: Routledge.

Smith, A., Hargeaves, T., Hielscher, S., Martiskainen, M. and G. Seyfang (2015) Making the most of community energies: three perspectives on grassroots innovation, Environment and Planning A, 48, 2: 407-432.

Smith, A. and A. Ely (2015) Green transformations from below? The politics of grassroots innovation, in Scoones, I., Leach, M. and P. Newell (eds.) The Politics of Green Transformations, Earthscan, London, chapter 7.

Fressoli, M. et al (2014) When grassroots innovation movements encounter mainstream institutions, Innovation and Development 4, 2: 277-292

Smith, A. (2014) 'Technology networks for socially useful production' Journal of Peer Production, issue 5.

Smith, A. and M. Fressoli (2013) 'Grassroots innovations movements: contributions and challenges' Journal of Cleaner Production 63: 114-124.

Smith, A. (2012) Civil society in sustainable energy transitions, in Verbong, G. and D. Loorbach (eds), Governing the energy transition: reality, illusion or necessity. Routledge, New York.

Smith, A. (2007) 'Translating sustainabilities between green niches and socio-technical regimes' Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 19, 4: 427-450

Seyfang, G. and A. Smith (2007) 'Grassroots innovations for sustainable development: towards a new research and policy agenda' Environmental Politics, 16, 4: 584-603

2. The transformation of large sociotechnical systems and transitions to sustainability

Research under this theme analyses the way complex, large-scale social technological systems change over time, such as for food or energy. The aim is to understand how 'niche' spaces permit experimentation with more sustainable configurations, and assess the conditions under which these alternatives may play a role in larger scale transformations.

Fressoli, M. and A. Smith (2015) Impresión 3D y fabricación digital: una nueva revolución tecnológica? Integración y Comercio, 39, INTAL. 

Raven, R., Kern, F., Verhees, B. and A. Smith (2016) Niche construction and empowerment through socio-political work. A meta-analysis of six low-carbon technology cases, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, in press. 

Smith, A. et al (2013) Spaces for sustainable innovation: solar photovoltaic electricity in the UK, Technological Forecasing & Social Change 81: 115-130.

Smith, A. and R. Raven (2012) What is protective space? Reconsidering niches in transitions to sustainability, Research Policy 41, 6, pp.1025-1036

Smith, A., Voβ, J.P. and J. Grin (2010) Innovation studies and sustainability transitions: the allure of the multi-level perspective, and its challenges Research Policy 39: 435-448

Smith, A., Stirling, A. and F. berkhout (2005) The governance of sustainable sociotechnical transitions, Research Policy, 2005, 34, pp.1491-1510

Smith, A. and A. Stirling (2007) Moving outside or inside? Objectification and reflexivity in the governance of socio-technical systems Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning 9, 3-4: 351-373

3. Critical policy analysis for sustainability

Here I try to provide critical insights into the realities of policy making and implementation as well as broader governance processes aimed at sustainable innovation. This work provides a helpful underpinning to policy-oriented recommendations coming from work under the other two research themes.

Ely, A., Smith, A. et al (2014) Innovation politics post-Rio+20: hybrid pathways to sustainability? Environment and Planning C 31: 1063-1081.

Leach, M., Rockstrom, J., Raskin, P., Scoones, I., Stirling, A.C., Smith, A., Thompson, J., Millstone, E., Ely, A. Folke, C. and P. Olsson (2012) Transforming Innovation for Sustainability Ecology & Society 17 (2): 11

van Zwanenberg, P, Ely, A. and A. Smith (2011) Regulating technology: international harmonization and local realities London: Routledge

Voβ, J-P., Smith, A. And J. Grin (2009) Designing long-term policy: re-thinking transition management Policy Sciences 42, 4: 275-302

Smith, A. and F. Kern (2009) The transitions storyline in Dutch environmental policy Environmental Politics, 18, 1: 78-98

Scrase, J.I. and A. Smith (2009) The (non-)politics of managing low carbon socio-technical transitions Environmental Politics 18, 5: 707-726

Smith, A. (2009) Emerging in between: the multilevel governance of renewable energy in the English regions, Energy Policy, 35: 6266-6280


It is always a privilege to collaborate with many fantastic people. Within SPRU, I am a member of the STEPS Centre (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability).

In keeping with the SPRU tradition of publicly engaged research, I participate in a number of policy and civil society fora where I hope my research contributes to the principles of social justice and environmental responsibility that lie at the heart of sustainable development.



I occasionally contribute blogposts to different websites. Here are links to some:

How can open and collaborative knowledge help to build communities? (written with Patrick van Zwanenberg and posted 7th June 2017 on the STEPS Centre website)

Nuevas relaciones productivas, sociales y culturales (written with Patrick van Zwanenberg and posted 22 May 2017 on the STEPS America Latina website)

Power to the people: making and politics at the Science Museum (written with Cian O'Donovan and posted 21 December 2016 on the STEPS Centre website)

What can we learn from digital transformations? (written with Nathan Oxley and posted 7 October 2016 on the STEPS Centre website)

Can the open hardware revloution help to democratise technology? (posted 7 September 2016 on The Guardian website)

Digital fabrication - whose industrial revolution? (posted 3 August 2016 on 4S Backchannels website, written with Johan Södeberg and maxigas)

What are we doing when we do open science and inclusive innovation? (posted 12 September 2015 on STEPS Centre site)

Prototyping or debating sustainable developments in makerspaces? (posted 22 September on Sussex Energy Group website)

Why should we seek sustainable developments in makerspaces? (posted 22 September 2015 on Sussex Energy Group site)

Tooling Up: Civic visions, FabLabs, and grassroots activism (posted 4 April 2015 on the Guardian newspaper site)

Mind your (innovation) language (written with Saurabh Arora and posted 12 March on the STEPS Centre site)

'Thousands of models': Planetary boundaries, values and power (posted 16 January 2015 on STEPS Centre site)

Innovación desde abajo? (posted 28 October 2014 on the itdUPM website)

¿Revolución tecnológica? Los nuevos senderos que se abre la impresion 3D (posted 27 October 2014 al sitio de Pagina 12, al fondo de la pagina)

Considering social innovation from a social movement perspective (posted 14 October 2014 on the Transformative Social Innovation Theory (TRANSIT) website)

A day with Argentina's 'street engineers' (posted 22 August 2014 on the STEPS Centre site)

Why STEPS is creating a new research hub in Latin America (posted 18 August 2014 on the STEPS Centre site)

Makers, fixers and circular economies (posted 25 June 2014 on the Sussex Energy Group site)

Building and nurturing a community: the importance of material and emotional dimensions in grassroots innovation (posted 23 April 2014 on the Sussex ENergy Group site)

Recordando el Plan de Lucas: que nos puede decir el movimiento de producción socialmente utíl sobre la innovación inclusive hoy? (posted 14 August 2014 on the STEPS Centre website)

Inclusive innovation: learning to listen to the excluded (posted 24 March 2014 on the STEPS Centre site)

Scaling-up inclusive innovation: asking the right questions? (posted 20 March 2014 on the STEPS Centre site)

Every case is its own study? Every movement has its own goals? (posted 11 February on the STEPS Centre site)

The Lucas Plan: what can it tell us about democratising technology today? (posted January 2014 on The Guardian newspaper site)

What the new Ahmedabad Declaration means for grassroots innovation (posted January 2013 on the STEPS Centre site)

Rio plus 20 must make inclusive innovation a stepping stone to a sustainable future (posted June 2012 on The Guardian newspaper site)

Supporting grassroots innovation (posted May 2012 on the STEPS Centre site)

Dilemmas in the search for appropriate technologies (posted February 2011 on the STEPS Centre site)