The interplay of institutions, actors and technologies in socio-technical systems – An analysis of transformations in the Australian urban water sector. Technological Forecasting and Social Change (103), 298-312.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Literature on socio-technical transitions has primarily emphasized the co-determination of institutions and technologies. In this paper, we want to focus on how actors play a mediating role between these two pillars of a socio-technical system. By introducing the theoretical concept of institutional work, we contribute to the conceptualization and empirical assessment of agency processes in socio-technical systems. We illustrate this approach by analyzing recent developments in the Australian urban water sector, where seawater desalination technology has experienced an unexpected, but rapid diffusion to all major cities, often interpreted as a reaction to a major multi-year drought. However, the drought broke and left all but one plant unused. This has led many commentators wonder how such a massive investment – which is likely to limit alternative development trajectories in the sector for the coming decades – could have happened so quickly and why other, potentially more sustainable technologies, have not been able to use the momentum of the crisis to break through. A comparative analysis between seawater desalination and its main rival wastewater recycling in regard to processes of institutional work provides valuable insight into how technology, actors and institutions mutually shaped each other.


External organisations
  • Eawag: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology
  • University of Basel
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences
  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • Sustainability Transitions, Embedded agency, Institutional Work
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298
Number of pages312
JournalTechnological Forecasting & Social Change
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Publication categoryResearch