Incumbents' enabling role in niche-innovation: Power dynamics in a wastewater project

Kasper Ampe*, Erik Paredis, Lotte Asveld, Patricia Osseweijer, Thomas Block

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
42 Downloads (Pure)


More pluralised understandings of incumbencies are often overlooked in transitions research, which may lead to underestimating the enabling roles of incumbents in niche projects. This study explores these roles by applying a power framework to five struggles revolving around a path-breaking decentralised wastewater treatment project in the city of Ghent (Belgium). Remarkably, incumbents from multiple regimes use power to enable the niche project. The study identifies and discusses four patterns in the enabling role of incumbents in niche projects. These patterns are clarified by focussing on incumbents from multiple regimes, belonging to local authorities, neighbouring and more distant regimes, as well as on the power of structural trends related to the urgency of sustainability challenges. As such, the study contributes to the understanding of multiple incumbencies and the conditions under which these may reinforce niche projects. For practitioners, the study underscores the role of power dynamics in the water/wastewater sector.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-85
JournalEnvironmental Innovation and Societal Transitions
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Circular economy
  • Incumbents
  • Niche-innovation
  • Power dynamics
  • Sustainability transitions
  • Wastewater


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