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Review of Regional Research - Call for Papers - Special Issue on Structural and transformative change as central challenges for regional development

Guest editors:

Knut Koschatzky, Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, Karlsruhe, Germany

Hendrik Hansmeier, Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, Karlsruhe, Germany

Transformative and structural change describe processes of change and realignment in the context of the socioeconomic development of regions that go beyond small economic restructuring (Grillitsch et al. 2018). However, the two phenomena are not the very same. While regional structural change is a permanent, usually path-dependent, process of technological, industrial and sectoral shifts, systemic transitions involve radical changes of production and consumption patterns in order to achieve certain societal goals, such as combating climate change (Martin 2020).

Structural change, i.e. the decline of formerly successful regions and the rise of new ones, has been an empirical fact at different times and in different spatial contexts. Structural change is also a political concept that aims at regaining, maintaining or upgrading locational advantages with the goal of economic efficiency, innovation, employment, income and social cohesion (Lintz et al. 2012) Regional structural change can be understood as a continuous process of path development and path renewal, changed potentials, competences and skills, as well as infrastructural adjustments. At the same time, depending on external shocks, it can also be understood more broadly in terms of far-reaching structural changes and structural breaks (Trippl et al. 2020).

The need for systemic transformations of non-sustainable structures in production and consumption (Köhler et al. 2019) is closely linked to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (Loorbach et al. 2017). This is the basis for new transformative policy paradigms that are spreading both at the supranational and the national level, but increasingly at the regional level as well (Uyarra et al. 2023; Wanzenböck and Frenken 2020). Although a directionality towards sustainable structures is on the political agenda, transformation is a long-term process and ultimately a result of a series of interrelated disruptions. Therefore, it is ex-ante not known which configurations will be decisive and which combinations become institutionalised (Bergek et al. 2015). This is especially relevant at the regional level (Grillitsch et al. 2023).

Although structural change, transformation and innovation are closely linked, integrative perspectives between structural and systemic change have been largely absent from the geographical literature so far. Little attention has been paid to the extent to which structural change in regions - which is characterised by demographic, economic and social challenges - affects transformative changes and vice versa. Only recently have there been first research efforts in this direction (e.g. Miedzinski et al. 2021; Santos et al. 2023).

This Special Issue aims to bring together different contributions in the context of regional structural and transformation processes as well as respective policy and governance approaches. We welcome conceptual, empirical and policy-related papers with a regional focus that address the thematic spectrum on structural and transformative change and ideally touch upon one of the following questions:

  • What are the differences at the conceptual-theoretical level between structural and transformative change processes?
  • How do regions’ structural and transformative adaptations differ with regard to prevalent modes of innovation (e.g. DUI / STI)? Which types of innovations (e.g. technological, social etc.) are particularly helpful?
  • How does regional embitterment, discontent with democratic institutions and populism - often as a result of long-term structural decline - affect sustainability efforts and transformative change?
  • What new measurement concepts are needed to comprehensively analyse structural and transformative change at the regional level?
  • What interactions of stability and change (path dependencies vs. path renewal through radical, sustainable innovations) can be observed?
  • Who are the agents of change? Who defines how the regional innovation system should be shaped and in what way (directionality)? What is the importance of intermediaries, civil society, founders, maker spaces? What role do existing power relations play in the relationship between change/emergence and stability?
  • How can regional structural and transformative policies be combined? Is there a need for entirely new policy approaches or can/should newer transformative approaches be integrated into prevailing structural policies at various spatial levels?
  • Which governance structures need to be created for policies targeting both structural and transformative change in regions (e.g. new actors vs. expanding the mandates of existing institutions)?


30 April 2024 for the submission of full papers

Learn more about our Submission guidelines (this opens in a new tab)

All papers submitted will be subject to double-anonymous peer-reviewing. 

Submitted papers must not be under review at any other journal.


Bergek A, Hekkert M, Jacobsson S, Markard J, Sandén B, Truffer B (2015) Technological innovation systems in contexts: Conceptualizing contextual structures and interaction dynamics. Environ. Innov. Soc. Transitions 16: 51-64.

Grillitsch M, Asheim B, Trippl, M (2018) Unrelated knowledge combinations: the unexplored potential for regional industrial path development. Cambridge J. Reg. Econ. Soc. 11: 257-274.

Grillitsch M, Coenen L, Morgan K (2023) Directionality and Subsidiarity: A Regional Policy for People and Planet. CIRCLE Centre for Innovation Research. Lund: Papers in innovation studies, 2023/01.

Köhler J, Geels FW, Kern F, Markard J, Onsongo E, Wieczorek, A et al. (2019) An agenda for sustainability transitions research: State of the art and future directions. Environ. Innov. Soc. Transitions 31: 1-32. 10.1016/j.eist.2019.01.004.

Lintz G, Wirth P, Harfst J (2012) Regional Structural Change and Resilience. Raumforsch. Raumordn. 70: 363-375.

Loorbach D, Frantzeskaki N, Avelino F (2017) Sustainability Transitions Research: Transforming Science and Practice for Societal Change. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 42: 599-626.

Martin H (2020) The scope of regional innovation policy to realize transformative change - a case study of the chemicals industry in western Sweden. Eur. Plan. Stud. 28: 2409-2427.

Miedzinski M, Ciampi Stancova K, Matusiak M, Coenen L (2021) Addressing sustainability challenges and sustainable development goals via smart specialisation. Towards a theoretical and conceptual framework. European Commission. Luxembourg (EUR, JRC126448).

Santos A, Barbero J, Salotti S, Diukanova, O, Pontikakis D (2023) On the road to regional ‘Competitive Environmental Sustainability’: the role of the European structural funds. Ind. Innov. 30: 801-823.

Trippl M, Baumgartinger-Seiringer S, Frangenheim A, Isaksen A, Rypestøl JO (2020) Unravelling green regional industrial path development: Regional preconditions, asset modification and agency. Geoforum: 111: 189-197.

Uyarra E, Flanagan K, Wanzenböck I (2023) The spatial and scalar implications of missions. Manchester Institute of Innovation Research. Manchester: MIOIR Working Paper Series, 2023/04.

Wanzenböck I, Frenken K (2020) The subsidiarity principle in innovation policy for societal challenges. Glob. Transitions 2: 51-59.