Grassroots innovation: historical and comparative perspectives

PIcture of a grassroots innovation.

Project dates: 2011 to 2016

This project examined grassroots innovation and the present-day programmes and social movements which promote it. It looked at possible strategies and approaches to support and harness grassroots innovation. The project ran from 2011 to 2016 and is linked to a research programme on Grassroots Innovations.


What is “inclusive innovation”?

Grassroots innovation is a diverse set of activities in which networks of neighbours, community groups, and activists work with people to generate bottom-up solutions for sustainable developments; novel solutions that respond to the local situation and the interests and values of the communities involved; and where those communities have control over the process and outcomes.

Throughout the history of modern environmentalism and development there has always existed an undercurrent of grassroots activists working directly on sustainable local solutions. Whether in the global north or south, in urban or rural settings, and across all sorts of domains, such as food, energy, housing, manufacturing, leisure, health, communications, education, and more.

Project activities

We analysed six case studies:

  • The movement for socially useful production (UK: 1976–1986).
  • The appropriate technology movement (South America: 1970s and 1980s).
  • The People’s Science Movement (India: 1960s to present).
  • Hackerspaces, fablabs and makerspaces (international: 2000s to present).
  • The Social Technology Network (Brazil: 2000s to present).
  • The Honey Bee Network (India: 1990s to present).

We also organised workshops with practitioners in Delhi, Buenos Aires and London.

Book: Grassroots Innovation Movements

grassroots book coverAdrian Smith, Mariano Fressoli, Dinesh Abrol, Elisa Arond and Adrian Ely
Routledge, 2016

Grassroots Innovation Movements examines six diverse grassroots innovation movements in India, South America and Europe, situated in their historical contexts, and looks at how each movement frames innovation and development differently, resulting in a variety of strategies. The book explores the spaces where each of these movements have grown, or attempted to do so. It critically examines the pathways they have developed for grassroots innovation and the challenges and limitations confronting their approaches.

Download the Accepted Manuscript of Chapter 1 (pdf, Open Access)

Buy the book from Routledge (20% off with code FLR40)


STEPS members working on this project:

Project partners:

  • Mariano Fressoli, Fundación Cenit and STEPS America Latina, Buenos Aires
  • Dinesh Abrol, JNU, Delhi
  • Elisa Arond – Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts.


Working Paper: Socially Useful Production

STEPS Working Paper 58
by Adrian Smith

A history and analysis is provided of the movement for socially useful production, which flourished for a brief period in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. Swimming against the rising tide of neo-liberalism, activists provided both a critique of the existing institutions for innovation in society, and developed a set of practical initiatives that explored and anticipated more directly democratic processes for socially shaping technologies.

View abstract
Download the paper (pdf, 980 kb)


26 October 2015: How can makerspaces, fablabs and hackerspaces help cultivate sustainable developments?
Machines Room, London, 9am – 5pm

8 Feb 2014: Delhi workshop on Grassroots Innovations movements

5 Feb 2014: Seminar: Adrian Smith on the Lucas Plan SPRU, University of Sussex.

Lucas Plan documentary

This film documents the story of the 1976 Lucas Plan, an unusual episode in British corporate history. Shop stewards from Lucas Aerospace, facing massive redundancies, developed their own plan to safeguard their jobs by moving the business into alternative technologies that would meet social needs, as well as new methods of production.

It was unearthed from the Open University’s archive by the academic consultant on the film, Dr. David Elliott. It has been posted to coincide with STEPS Working Paper 58, Socially Useful Production, which examines the movement for socially useful production which flourished briefly in the UK in the 1970s and 80s.

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