Staff B. Elzen (Boelie)

Research Associate

Boelie Elzen
PO Box 217
7500 AE Enschede

Telephone: +31 (0)6 4739 0411
Fax: +31 (0)53 489 2159


I have a degree in electrical engineering (1979) and a Ph.D in technology studies (1988). Since 1979 I have had several research and teaching posts at STePS and its predecessors, with intervals at various universities in the Netherlands and abroad. Up until 1990, I worked mainly in the domain of technolgy studies, studying the interaction between technological and societal developments for various empirical domains, thus contributing to the generic approach of social shaping of technology. From the early 1990s until the mid-2000s, I have focused my research on the mobility/transport and energy domains, seeking to make STS insights of relevance to policy. Since the mid-2000s, my research focus has been on the domain of agriculture. Next to doing scientific research, I have acted as a consultant and carried out studies for various parties in the Netherlands and abroad.

The general objective in my current work is to create bridges between academic research and sustainability transitions in practice. Over the years I experienced that it became increasingly difficult to pay sufficient attention to the practical side when only working in an academic environment. For that reason, I established my own company by the name of Alnus that advices, teaches and does research on sustainability transitions, mainly in the domain of agriculture. I combine the work for my company with an affiliation as an associate researcher at the STePS group. In 2016-17 I am also associated as a visiting researcher to LISIS, an interdisciplinary research institute on innovation in Paris. See


My general research interest is in understanding so-called transition processes and to explore ways to induce and stimulate transitions towards sustainability, also called transition policy or governance of transitions. Within this general field I have co-developed the ‘socio-technical scenario’ (STSc) method as a tool in transition policy. This STSc method is rooted in a specific analytical model to analyse transtions (the so-called ‘Multi Level Perspective’) and allows the exploration of possible transition paths for specific domains.

When turning to the agricultural sector in the mid-2000s, two initial projects focused on (1) inducing system innovations using a method called “Reflexive Monitoring in Action” (Van Mierlo et al., 2010) and (2) how to ‘anchor’ the results of learning processes in niches such that they have an impact in an existing system and may form the germs for a transition (Elzen et al., 2012). In this work it appeared that innovation towards sustainability in the agro sector is very different from the fields I worked on earlier. Agriculture largely has an SME-like character with large numbers of farmers trying to develop new farming practices. Seeking to stimulate these innovative processes, I was involved of the development of a so-called “Learning and Experimentation Strategy” (Elzen and Spoelstra 2012) that builds on Strategic Niche Management and Transition Management but is better tuned to the SME-like characteristics of the agro sector. My most recent work seeks to contribute to making the livestock sector more sustainable. For this I am involved in developing a tool by the name of “Portfolio of Promises” (which is part of the “Learning and Experimentation Strategy”) and have been involved in the method of “Reflexive Interactive Design” (RIO). The objective of RIO is to design, in an interactive innovation process with stakeholders, new sustainable animal production systems and stimulate their uptake in practice, using the concept of anchoring (Elzen and Bos 2016).

Key Publications

Elzen, Boelie, and Bram Bos (2016). The RIO approach: Design and anchoring of sustainable animal husbandry systems. Accepted for publication in special issue on “Welfare Transitions” for Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

Elzen, Boelie, Anna Augustyn, Marc Barbier and Barbara van Mierlo (eds.). AgroEcological Transitions: Changes and Breakthroughs in the Making. Proceedings from the SISA-2 Workshop, Paris, 22-23 May 2014. Expected Spring 2016.

Elzen, Boelie, Arni Janssen and Bram Bos. Portfolio of Promises – Designing and testing a new tool to stimulate transition towards sustainable agriculture. In Elzen et al. 2016 (see above).

Barbier, Marc and Boelie Elzen (Eds.), 2012. Proceedings of the first international workshop on System Innovations, Knowledge Regimes, and Design Practices towards Sustainable Agriculture. Paris: INRA. Downloadable from:

Elzen, Boelie, Cees Leeuwis and Barbara van Mierlo, 2012. “Anchoring of Innovations: Assessing Dutch efforts to harvest energy from glasshouses”. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 5, pp.1-18.

Elzen, Boelie and Sierk Spoelstra, 2012. Learning and Experimentation Strategy: Outline of a Method to develop Sustainable Livestock Production Systems. In Ana Alexandra Marta-Costa and Emiliana Silva. Methods and procedures for building sustainable farming systems. Applications in the European context. Dordrecht: Springer, pp.91-105.

Elzen, Boelie, Marc Barbier, Marianne Cerf and John Grin, 2012. Stimulating transitions towards sustainable farming systems. In I. Darnhofer, D. Gibbon and B. Dedieu (Eds.). Farming Systems Research into the 21st century: The new dynamic. Dordrecht: Springer.

Mierlo, B.C. van; Regeer, B.; Amstel, M. van; Arkesteijn, M.C.M.; Beekman, V.; Bunders, J.F.G.; Cock Buning, T. de; Elzen, B.; Hoes, A.C.; Leeuwis, C. (2010). Reflexive Monitoring in Action. A guide for monitoring system innovation projects. Oisterwijk: Boxpress. Downloadable from:

Hofman, Peter S., and Boelie Elzen, 2010. Exploring System Innovation in the Electricity System through Sociotechnical Scenarios. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management. Vol.22, No.6, pp.653-670.

Elzen, Boelie, and Anna Wieczorek (eds.), “Transitions towards sustainability through system innovation”, Special issue of Technological Forcasting and Social Change, Vol. 72 (6), July 2005.

Elzen, Boelie, Frank W. Geels and Ken Green (eds.), System Innovation and the Transition to Sustainability, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd. (2004).


Member of the Sustainability Transitions Research Network (STRN).
Member of the research school WTMC

Other activities

In 2002 I co-organised an international workshop on ‘transitions to sustainability through system innovations’ and I have co-edited a book based on the papers presented at the workshop entitled System Innovation and the Transition to Sustainability (see publications). The following year I organised several sessions on the topic of transitions at the annual conference of the Greening of Industry Network (GIN conference, San Francisco, October) and at the Open Meeting of the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Research Community (IHDP conference, Montreal, October). I acted as guest-editor for a special issue of the journal Technological Forcasting and Social Change (Vol.72, Nr.6, July 2005) that contains several papers presented at the latter conference.

To stimulate international exchange on transition studies in the domain of agriculture I organised an “International workshop on System Innovations, Knowledge Regimes, and Design Practices towards Sustainable Agriculture” in Lelystad, Netherlands (SISA-1, June 2010; Barbier & Elzen 2012) and a stream of sessions on transition studies in the domain of agriculture at the 2nd “International Conference on Sustainability Transitions” (IST, Lund, Sweden, June 2011) and the 4th IST conference in Zürich in 2013. In 2014 I co-organized the SISA-2 workshop, held in Paris (follow-up of the 2010 SISA-1 workshop in Lelystad). I am currently the lead-editor of a volume with the papers presented at this workshop. I was a member of the scientific advisory committee of a recently concluded EU FP7 project by the name of Farmpath.