Socio-technical policy with the adoption of an innovation,

Socio-technical systems refer to the interaction of social actors, within organizational structures and technological artifacts or processes they are involved with. These interactions can take place within technical structures of a society or a collaborative process. A socio-technical system perspective can be valuable when the relationships between social actors and technological innovations are of importance. Borrás et al. (2014, p.11) define the socio-technical systems as “complex systems with social and technical elements, interacting within a chosen boundary, serving a specific purpose or function while being clearly distinguishable from their environment”. The central aim of a socio-technical system description is to get a deeper understanding of the interdependence of technical structures and social actors involved, as well as actor behavior within these structures and processes and the different relevant influence factors. In the implementation of the German deposit system, the main elements of the socio-technical system consist of the technological artefacts, meaning the Reverse Supply Chain technology such as the Reverse Vending Machines (RVM) and the cooperation under the new security label DPG. However, Borrás and Edler (2014) emphasize that isolated technological artefacts cannot bring change in a society by itself; the evolution requires the presence of the social actors who produce, consume, organize, adopt and diffuse the new technological artefact, such as the infrastructures linked to the mentioned activities. To create the DPG, various actors from different industries had to be involved in the process. The role of macro actors who can shape and govern a policy with the adoption of an innovation, is an important aspect of development in a socio-technical system. This was the case in Germany, with the government pushing the deposit policy and making it compulsory. Furthermore, socio-technical systems are based on three main pillars. The first pillar is “the relation between opportunity structures and capable agents” (Borrás et al., 2014, p.3). The capable agents are the actors who implement in concrete the opportunity structures and the latter are the physical infrastructures linked to a specific goal such as a collection center. In the German deposit system, the capable agents are the different retailers, the industries, the associations and the RVM producers. These are the actors who eventually introduced the physical system with collection centers and recycling loops, and enabled customers to return their single-use beverage packaging. A second pillar is “the instrumentation of governance of change” (Borrás et al., 2014, p.3). This step considers how an official authority like a council or a government uses its power, and in which way, to implement a new (or adapted) system. In the beverage case, this is represented by the German government and the PO. However, as the authors recall, a growing number of empirical examples from the 1980s proved that governments are limited in steering change in a country’s environment. This situation is explained by the great amount of interactions within all kind of political, economic, social and cultural actors. All these dynamics may hamper or enhance change. The latter case may not be viable by political institutions alone. Their limits are clearly showcased by the policy resistance from retailers and industries in the case of the deposit system for single use beverage, as described in the Public policy problems section below. However, the implementation of standards by the government allowed the creation of a uniform reverse supply chain system, including RVMs and the use of labels for recycling, effectively creating a market. The government also facilitated the shift from island solutions to a nationwide system, as well as the implementation of informal rules beyond laws in the society.The third pillar is constituted by the  “sources and hindrances of legitimacy in the process of governing change”(Borrás et al., 2014, p. 3). Indeed all process of change need legitimacy and justification. The (forced) implementation of the deposit system receives legitimacy through the studies on waste and ecological impacts. As explained in section 3.2 unexpected evolution from the consumers’ behaviour may occur, such as the quick adaption of the customers to the deposit system and the resulting lack of long-lasting steering effects. This may prove the importance to include all societal actors in a socio-technical system. The description of the case as a socio-technical system emphasizes the importance of considering social and cultural factors in any technological change implementation. In the following section, the methodology used for the analysis of the case-study will be described.