Center for Law, Energy & the Environment Publications

Publication Title

Environmental Engineering Science


The Innovation Deficit in Urban Water: The Need for an Integrated Perspective on Institutions, Organizations, and Technology

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Interaction between institutional change and technological change poses important constraints on transitions of urban water systems to a state that can meet future needs. Research on urban water and other technology-dependent systems provides insights that are valuable to technology researchers interested in assuring that their efforts will have an impact. In the context of research on institutional change, innovation is the development, application, diffusion, and utilization of new knowledge and technology. This definition is intentionally inclusive: technological innovation will play a key role in reinvention of urban water systems, but is only part of what is necessary. Innovation usually depends on context, such that major changes to infrastructure include not only the technological inventions that drive greater efficiencies and physical transformations of water treatment and delivery systems, but also the political, cultural, social, and economic factors that hinder and enable such changes. On the basis of past and present changes in urban water systems, institutional innovation will be of similar importance to technological innovation in urban water reinvention. To solve current urban water infrastructure challenges, technology-focused researchers need to recognize the intertwined nature of technologies and institutions and the social systems that control change.