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Sep 08, 2021

The role of social innovation in the oil and gas innovation ecosystem

Social Innovation is one of 19 sectors that contribute to the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN). Within the context of oil and gas innovation, social innovation can be described as an approach focused on enabling 'beyond technology' factors. In other words, if a technology works, what else is required to enable its adoption? This approach to innovation plays an important role in helping to create a system that supports and amplifies innovation in all its shapes and forms.

To further technology development and deployment in the oil and gas industry, we require more than just technology. Social solutions, for example, are equally important and can help highlight the complex systems in which the oil and gas industry is operating. CRIN’s Social Innovation Sector Lead, the Energy Futures Lab, is an organization that offers a collaborative platform to explore how looking beyond technology can support technological advancement.

Who is Energy Futures Lab?

The Energy Futures Lab (EFL) is an Alberta-based coalition of innovators and leading organizations working together to advance solutions aligned with a 2050 vision for Canada’s energy future. The Energy Futures Lab was created to address a growing sense of polarization around energy topics in Canada.

Since its inception in 2015, the EFL has brought together stakeholders from across the energy system to collaboratively develop solutions for a prosperous, inclusive and low-emissions energy future.

The EFL is a program of The Natural Step Canada

What is Social Innovation?  

In the energy transition space, social innovation can be understood in the following context: 

If a technology is viable, what else might be inhibiting its uptake? 

In this sense, social innovation involves looking at our energy system holistically to enable, shift or encourage new ideas, policies and practices conducive to energy system transformation.

While innovation is often considered technological, there are many important social factors underpinning the success of our energy transition. We draw on social innovation approaches to address the complex and often polarizing challenges shaping today’s energy landscape. Together, we are exploring how changes to our social systems can help accelerate the transition to the energy system the future requires of us. We focus on efforts such as:

  • Raising cultural awareness and shifting mindsets
  • Fostering social or political acceptance
  • Surfacing new policy ideas
  • Clearing regulatory barriers
  • Developing new business models
  • Shifting financial resource flows
  • Capturing emerging narratives
  • And more!

What is the Energy Futures Lab working on? 

Drawing on social innovation approaches, the EFL is developing unique solutions and support models within an active portfolio of initiatives that is continuously advanced and supported by its 70+ EFL Fellows and Partners. All EFL Fellows and Partners are dedicated innovators and change agents with diverse perspectives informed by unique backgrounds, including oil and gas, renewable energy, cleantech, information technology, finance, Indigenous communities and businesses, not-for-profits, provincial and municipal governments, etc.

The EFL portfolio of initiatives is curated with six key themes in mind:

  1. People in Transition
  2. Indigenous Leadership
  3. Future-fit Hydrocarbons
  4. Community Resilience
  5. Emerging Energy Industries
  6. Leveraging our Energy Assets

What is EFL’s role within the CRIN network?

Beyond participating as a member of the CRIN Steering Committee, the EFL Fellows are active within CRIN working groups or sub-committees, and attend CRIN events relevant to their work. 

Given the main focus of the EFL and its network is to build the social infrastructure required to support the adoption of new technology, our work aligns with CRIN’s mandate to support both technology development and the growth of Canada’s oil and gas cleantech innovation ecosystem.

Building bridges to the future

How can the traditional oil and gas industry contribute meaningfully to the energy transformation when faced with growing public and investor appetite for low-emission and alternative solutions for Canada’s net-zero targets?

EFL is working on a future-fit hydrocarbons model and use of public policy to attract greater investment in innovation and infrastructure.  

How can CRIN members connect with EFL and the CRIN social innovation sector? 

Visit CRIN's Social Innovation Sector overview page

EFL resources:

  • Sign up for the EFL newsletter
  • Apply to become a Fellow (annual intake)
  • Attend events the EFL hosts or is participating in
  • Reach out to explore the option of becoming a core Partner of the EFL
  • Collaborate around opportunities as they arise (co-authored stories, events, workshops etc.)

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