Evaluating the role of enterprise policies in purposive sustainability transitions: a case-based comparison

Blundel, Richard; Monaghan, Adrian and Thomas, Christine (2011). Evaluating the role of enterprise policies in purposive sustainability transitions: a case-based comparison. In: Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) 2011 Conference, 9-10 Nov 2011, Sheffield, England.

URL: http://www.isbe.org.uk/ISBE2011


• To review the literature on enterprise policy and purposive sustainability transitions
• To present comparative case-based analyses of entrepreneurial activity in different transitions
• To draw out the implications for research, policy and practice

Prior Work
Our paper is framed around the socio-technical transitions literature, with a particular focus on entrepreneurship and enterprise policy. It builds on previous work, in which we challenged pre-conceptions about the role of entrepreneurial actors in purposive sustainability transitions. In this paper, we build on these themes and draw out the implications for SME and entrepreneurship policies in Europe.

We conduct a critical review of recent policy developments, with selected case-based illustrations that involve various kinds of purposive sustainability transition. This concludes with a brief reflection on the main similarities and differences in terms of governance mechanisms and entrepreneurship infrastructures. We note that, while cross-national agreements, such as EU-ETS and the European Small Business Act, provide overarching frameworks, there is considerable variety in enterprise policies at a national level (e.g. goals, approaches, target audiences, performance), which overlay, and interact with, pre-existing geographic variations in entrepreneurial activity.

Our argument is based around the following observations: (i) there is a groundswell of entrepreneurial activity oriented towards environmental sustainability; (ii) many governments have recognised that entrepreneurs can be key actors in the design and delivery of sustainability initiatives; (iii) transitions scholars have already highlighted many specific instances of entrepreneurial agency; (iv) there is now an urgent requirement to consolidate and build on this evidence base, in order to draw out practical implications for enterprise policy conception and implementation.

Traditionally, enterprise policies have been framed and evaluated with a primary focus on economic criteria, such as job creation and economic growth. A new set of challenges arises when governments seek to reorient policy around more ambitious and multi-faceted sustainability goals. For example: evidence on the long-term outcomes of previous policy initiatives are mixed, whether at firm-level or across geographic regions; there are difficulties in isolating the impact of particular policies even when relevant statistical measures and datasets (e.g. for unemployment and GDP) are generally available; and policies are now being developed in a much wider range of contexts, including newly-industrialised and developing countries.

The study is designed to inform future research and policy-making. It makes connections between the socio-technical transitions literature and relevant research on entrepreneurship and enterprise policy, in pursuit of entrepreneurial activities that contribute to more effective and equitable sustainability transitions.

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