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Mapping innovation systems for electric cooking: an evolving pre- and mid-Covid methodology

26th February 2021

By Jacob Fodio Todd (SPRU, University of Sussex).

In September 2019, our project team gathered for the first time in a room in Brighton to discuss our various experiences, and consider theoretical approaches and plans for our three-year MECS project Building innovation systems to transform access to modern energy cooking services. An early part of the first-year work would involve developing a participatory innovation system mapping exercise that, along with further interviews and desk-based research, would feed into characterising and understanding the innovation systems around electric cooking (e-cooking) in our project’s focus countries. The results of the first year’s work are reported in two working papers: one each on the e-cooking innovation systems in Kenya and in Tanzania.

In project leads David Ockwell (Geography, University of Sussex) and Rob Byrne (SPRU, University of Sussex) we had principal investigators (PI) with significant experience in analysing innovation systems around clean technologies (e.g. see the working paper on Lighting Africa). They had used participatory methods widely in past projects to good effect (e.g. see the report on an innovation systems history of solar home systems in Kenya). The innovation histories method, designed by Boru Douthwaite and Jacqueline Ashby in 2005, seeks to learn from the experience of those who have been involved in innovation processes, and it has proven to be an especially influential participatory tool. One particular approach of this lineage, the Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis (PIPA), would be central to the methodology we developed for our working papers.

So, when the team – Elsie Onsongo (Nuvoni Research), Victoria Chengo (African Centre for Technology Studies, ACTS), Jacob Fodio Todd (SPRU, University of Sussex) and the PIs – gathered, we decided to first undertake a PIPA exercise internally. It helped us to plan our project and to better understand the process we would later be asking a range of participants or stakeholders to undertake, including policymakers, NGO representatives, academics, financiers, regulating authorities and private sector actors, each with deep knowledge and experience of electric or clean cooking in their country.  

Elsie Onsongo, Victoria Chengo and Rob Byrne during the project’s internal PIPA exercise (photo credit: Jacob Fodio Todd).

Over many further conversations and a final brainstorming session with colleagues in the ACTS office in Nairobi shortly before the Kenya workshop, another PIPA adaptation developed: participatory innovation system mapping, or Pinnsmapping (and credit to Jon Leary, who was involved in this final brainstorming exercise, for suggesting the name Pinnsmap).

Pinnsmapping centres a participatory approach in order to get the active involvement of stakeholders in analysis, reflection and collective decision making. It makes use of their wealth of experience to create a visual representation of actors and their relationships in the e-cooking innovation system. This initial map – later rendered digitally – would be used as a basis to understand e-cooking technologies and processes and look at the distinct sets of interconnected institutions and organisations and the various constituent components (e.g. interactions, networks and actors) that structure the development and diffusion of e-cooking technologies.

About twenty participants, identified through peer networks and online research, and representing a wide range of actors, were involved in each of the day-long workshops in Kenya and Tanzania: one at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies in Nairobi and one at the Ramada Resort Hotel in Dar es Salaam. Both workshops started with the Pinnsmapping exercise, the first stage of which was to briefly and collectively identify the scope of e-cooking devices in use. These ranged from typically long established and commonly available devices (microwaves, kettles, hotplates) to newer energy efficient ones (electric pressure cookers, air fryers) to more specialised or unconventional devices (popcorn or chapati makers). Then the mapping began.

Participants in the Tanzania Pinnsmapping exercise (photo credit: Jacob Fodio Todd).

The overriding objectives of the Pinnsmapping exercise were to identify the current actors in e-cooking innovation systems in Kenya and Tanzania, and to determine their relationships. To do so, names of organisations or programmes were written on cards that were colour-coded to distinguish different groups of actors (e.g. private sector, public institutions, civil society organisations). The cards were first placed with little order on a large (approx. 2m squared) piece of rectangular paper. Then, through animated discussion and fluid reorganisation, clusters began to develop, networks became apparent, and a settled structure (and an initial innovation system map!) emerged. Finally, the nature and character of the interactions between actors were marked on the newly created innovation system map.

The initial e-cooking innovation system map for Tanzania (photo credit: Jacob Fodio Todd).

Throughout the three hours or so it took to finish the Pinnsmapping, discussion ranged from the role and impact of organisations, their power and influence and the potential trajectory of organisations, networks or the e-cooking system as a whole. There was ample talk of opportunity, candid discussion of barriers, and it was apparent too that the scale and diversity of those interested in or working on e-cooking was a welcome surprise to many.

One would hope that the gathering may also have made a small contribution to developing networks, a key component of a well-functioning innovation system. Many of the talking points raised during the day emerged again in the lengthy follow-up interviews carried out with individuals over the course of the following months, and which are reported and analysed in the working papers on e-cooking in Kenya and Tanzania, mentioned above. These papers offer more background to our project, actor-network maps and analyses of nascent socio-technical innovation systems, identify some strengths and weaknesses, and put forward recommendations.

The findings and recommendations will continue to evolve, inform the future research direction of our project, and feedback into the MECS programme. We will also revisit Pinnsmapping for a workshop on e-cooking in Rwanda, originally scheduled for March 2020 but postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This time, as much of our work goes online, we will be evolving the Pinnsmapping methodology further by running the exercise remotely and digitally and, most likely, in several mini workshops rather than one in which all participants are present. Although this brings new challenges, we hope it will also provide some unforeseen benefits.

Participants in the Kenya workshop (photo credit: Marete Selvin).

Opportunity: Women in Modern Energy Cooking (WMEC) initiative launched