Recovery after the disappointment: a policy perspective
Margarida Fontes1, Nuno Bento2,3
1LNEG – National Laboratory of Energy and Geology, Lisboa, Portugal. 2DINÂMIA’CET, ISCTE-IUL, Lisboa, Portugal. 3Universidade Católica Portuguesa, Departamento de Economia, Gestão e Ciências Sociais de Viseu, Viseu, Portugal


This paper addresses the influence of policy in system recovery, after a cycle of hype and disappointment. The processes that lead to hype and disappointment and their impacts on the trajectory of emerging technologies have been studied by several authors, both in the sociology of expectations and in socio-technical transition literatures (Van Lente et al, 2013: Bakker et al, 2012; Geels and Raven, 2007). Research that investigated the conditions that lead to recovery after disappointment found that continuity of policy support was a critical factor (Ruef and Markard, 2010). But support may not always be maintained. Policy makers can also be affected by disappointment and such behaviour result in reduction or withdrawal of policy support. However, both the implications of disappointment at policy level and the conditions for recovery of policy support are not well understood. This is a significant gap, since it is our contention that when policy support is lost, its restoration is a critical step to recovery. Thus the goal of this paper is to understand how policy support can be regained and how this process can equally induce system recovery.

The paper combines contributions from the sociology of expectations, innovation policy studies and socio-technical transitions literature to discuss the factors that enable system actors to regain policy support, as well as how the interplay between actors’ recovery work and policy makers decisions, over time, can induce overall system recovery.

This discussion supports the development of an analytical framework that permits to investigate how these processes unfold. The framework puts together a number of dimensions - at the system level, at the policy level and at their interaction – that are proposed as key elements in the process of recovery. This supports an analysis that considers both the socio-technical system side and the policy side, and puts the emphasis on the agency of actors. In the policy side are examined the motives behind disappointment among policy actors, and how their attitudes - and more generally the political process - influence and are influenced by the recovery work of system actors. In the system side are examined the activities conducted by core system actors, as they attempt to rebuild expectations and engage in new development paths, as well as the conditions that influence their efforts. Particular attention is given to the opportunities that may arise for system actors to attract attention of policy makers to the reconfigured or reframed expectations, and to the strategies they deploy to ensure that these expectations are adopted by policy actors and incorporated in their policy agendas. Finally the co-evolution between these processes, and its effects on system recovery, are examined. It is proposed that the dynamic nature of the process of expectation formulation, voicing and sharing, and the emergent and interactive nature of innovation policy making combine, over time, to give rise to a wider dynamics, along which the efforts to restoring policy support induce a process of system recovery.

An empirical analysis is conducted of the socio-technical system being built around marine renewable energy technologies in Portugal, which can be regarded as an exemplary case of hype followed by deep disappointment that entailed an effective withdrawal of policy support. The disappointment was further aggravated by the effects of an external shock – the financial crisis - that hit the country strongly, leading to major political changes.

The analysis permitted to test the usefulness of the framework and produced some insights that are relevant to gain a better understanding of the interactive processes through which system actors restore policy support after disappointment and bring about recovery. This research adds to the socio-technical transitions literature by contributing to a better understanding of the development trajectories of radically new technologies, and particularly to the comprehension of a less well understood step of these trajectories – the process of recovery after hype and disappointment.

Margarida Fontes is Senior Researcher at the Portuguese National Laboratory for Energy and Geology (LNEG). Her main research fields are knowledge dynamics, sustainability transitions, technological entrepreneurship.

Nuno Bento is Post-doctoral researcher at ISCTE – University Institute of Lisbon. His main research interests include the formative phase of innovations, spatial dynamics of innovation, energy systems analysis