Experimentation as a modality of collective action

As a mode of action stemming from scientific practice, experimentation is spreading today in a variety of situations: industrial innovation, the universe of regulation, urban policies, crisis management, etc. In all these areas, it contributes to the renewal of the formats of organized action, beyond the oppositions between planning and improvisation, centralized action and local initiative, administrative regime and market-based coordination.

CSI’s research analyzes the emergence of experimental modes of action through the prism of pragmatism and Science and Technology Studies. Its focus is on the emergence of the publics targeted by these experimentations, the forms of participation on which they are based, as well as on the metrologies they build, in particular for evaluation purposes. Because they are an opportunity to break away from the frameworks that usually constrain action, experimentations produce new agencements which need to be analyzed.

CSI research focuses on several areas in which the “experimentation” form unfolds. The field of urban experimentation, which is the focus of a program developed for several years in partnership with Renault and the Institut de la mobilité durable [Sustainable Mobility Institute], questions the changes in the modes of governance at work in a large number of cities throughout the world. This program also explores the changes in the experimental form itself within this movement, from the material conditions for the production of results, to the nature of the knowledge thus generated, to the diversity of the actors involved.

Another area concerns is the design and evaluation of public policies. Two recent researches illustrate how experimentation is approached here. The first one relates to randomized trials in anti-poverty policies. It questions how these trials produce a certain description of the causes of poverty and circumscribe specific forms of treatment. The second one concentrates on “regulatory sandbox” approaches in innovation policies. It examines the circulation of the experimental device (“sandbox”) across different counties and fields of activity, the debates it raises, and how it reconfigures public action by transforming the regulator into a guarantor of innovation.

Research projects

SCALINGS – Scaling up Co-creation. Pathways and challenges for socially robust innovation in Europe

Résumé / Summary
Co-creation practice – and co-creation research – are at a crossroads: More than ever, initiatives to boost innovation through collaboration among diverse actors are flourishing across Europe. Yet, this mainstreaming poses new challenges to better understand “co-creation processes and outcomes under various cultural, societal and regulatory backgrounds to allow better-targeted policy support” (SwafS-13-17). To date, no systematic studies exist that detail how co-creation instruments operate under different socio-cultural conditions, i.e. if “best practices” will be effective elsewhere or if the resulting products and services are compatible with new markets. SCALINGS addresses the challenge of mainstreaming co-creation across a diverse Europe head-on: In the first ever rigorous comparative study, we will investigate the implementation, uptake, and outcomes of three co-creation instruments (public procurement of innovation, co-creation facilities, and living labs) in two technical domains (robotics and urban energy) across 10 countries. Using comparative case studies and coordinated cross-country experiments, we explore if and how these instruments can be generalized, transferred, or scaled up to new socio-cultural, economic, or institutional conditions to unleash their innovative power. Based on this unique data set, we will develop two new transformative frameworks – “situated co-creation” and “socially robust scaling” – to guide the wider dissemination of co-creation. We will synthesize our findings into an “EU Policy Roadmap” to support ongoing EU innovation policy efforts. Empirically, SCALINGS is closely integrated with over two dozen European co creation initiatives that deal with cross-cultural transferability on a daily basis. Together with these partners, we will co-create enhanced practices that feed directly back into their work and strategy. Finally, we will launch a training program (“boot camp”) on co-creation in diverse settings for other EU consortia.

Funded by EU Horizon 2020 (2018-2021), SCALINGS is a research project conducted by a consortium of 10 leading institutions from 9 countries, coordinated by the Technische Universität München, Germany.


Contact : Brice Laurent

CitEx – City Experiment with urban mobility practices

Résumé / Summary
Launched in 2009, Las Vegas’ Downtown Project aims to radically transform the urban environment. An urban experiment initially endowed with $350 million, the Downtown Project’s self-defined objective is to build “the most community-focused large city in the world” in downtown Las Vegas . The project was initiated by a private investor, Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh, who directly intervened in the evolution of local urban policies, while focusing on the development of a business-friendly environment taking sustainability concerns into account. One of the components of the Downtown Project, Project 100, is devoted to new mobility practices. The Downtown Project is a case of experimental intervention at the level of the city. This project focuses on the Downtown Project and on similar and contrasting cases in order to study city experiments potentially impacting the automotive industry. The project defines “city experiments” as planned interventions meant to put urban organizations to the test. City experiments comprise various initiatives dedicated to innovative mobility practices and demonstrations addressed to public or private audiences. They are designed as components of wider public or private development strategies. Our aim is to develop an analytical framework through which such experimental situations can be accounted for. Eventually, the project offers insights for car manufacturers to locate potential involvement in current urban transformations, and understand the opportunities of intervention within product and/or service markets. Analyzing city experiments is a way of exploring a diversity of empirical cases (in terms of types of public and private interventions and demonstration processes), and the connections among them (as, for instance, “best practices”, business plans or technical systems circulate from one place to another). It offers an entry point to study the current evolutions toward eco-districts, and the redefinition of practices this evolution entails.


Contact : Madeleine Akrich, Jérôme Denis, David Pontille

IMD expérimentation –  Quelle(s) place(s) pour les infrastructures dans la mobilité durable ? [Where do infrastructures come into play in sustainable mobility?]

Résumé / Summary
En cours de rédaction / In progress

Contact : Brice Laurent, David Pontille

Observatory for Responsible Innovation

Résumé / Summary
The Observatory for Responsible Innovation (“Observatoire pour l’innovation responsable” in French), a 10-years think tank project (2011-2021) created at Mines ParisTech with the purpose of debating responsibility in innovation.
We are part of the Interdisciplinary Institute on Innovation (i3), a social sciences CNRS unit established jointly at Mines ParisTech, Télécom Paris and the École Polytechnique, in Paris, France, and part of the PSL Université and Institut Polytechnique de Paris communities. We’re headquartered at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, a research center at Mines ParisTech.
Our view, in a nutshell: innovation develops today at a way too rapid pace and generates unforeseen, sometimes deeply problematic consequences that need to be taken into account democratically. The value of innovation is a complex, controversial and collective issue. It demands that we remain attentive to externalities, anticipations, compromises, controversies and responsibilities. We strive to accompany a move towards a culture of responsibility in innovation, focusing on specific issues for which the challenges of responsible innovation are pressing.


Contact : Fabian Muniesa


Economic expertise and environmental actions

This joint seminar of the Center for the Study of Social Movements (EHESS, IFRIS) and the Center for the Sociology of Innovation (Mines Paris-PSL, i3), brings together researchers who are interested in understanding how economic knowledge is produced, mobilized and contested when it comes to environmental action. Organizers: Nassima Abdelghafour, Béatrice Cointe, Kewan Mertens and Alexandre Violle. More about »

PhD theses

Theses in progress

Jean Goizauskas, Bâtir en terre crue et en pierre sèche : une innovation de rupture ? Expérimentations sociotechniques autour de pratiques constructives en voie de stabilisation / Building in raw earth and dry stone: a breakthrough innovation? Sociotechnical experiments around construction practices in the process of stabilization

Léone-Alix Mazaud, Quelles données pour la biodiversité urbaine ? Outiller la conception architecturale et urbaine dans la perspective d’une plus grande sensibilité au vivant / What data for urban biodiversity ? Equiping architectural and urban design practice for more sensitivity to living beings

Carole-Anne Tisserand, Comment l’organisation d’instances de participation sur le territoire « du futur » performe-t-elle son public ? La construction d’un smart territoire et territoire du « futur », Île-de-France / How does the organization of participation bodies in the territory « of the future ” perform its public? The construction of a smart territory and of a territory « of the future », Île-de-France

Defended theses

Nassima Abdelghafour, 2020, Micropolitique de la pauvreté : la fragmentation épistémique et politique du monde par les essais randomisés contrôlés / Micropolitics of poverty : how randomized controlled trials address global poverty through the epistemic and political fragmentation of the world

Émilie Perault, 2020, Habiter ensemble les milieux. Explorations inachevées du faire-avec / Co-housing in the living environment. Unfinished explorations of the making with

Marie Alauzen, 2019, Plis et replis de l’État plateforme. Enquête sur la modernisation des services publics en France / Unfolding the Platform State. An inquiry into the modernisation of French public services


Kristin Asdal, Béatrice Cointe, 2022, Writing good economics: how texts ’on the move’ perform the lab and discipline of experimental economics. Social Studies of Science, 1 –23.

Sebastian Pfotenhauer, Brice Laurent, Kyriaki Papageorgiou, Jack Stilgoe, 2021, The politics of scaling. Social Studies of Science, 1-32.

Brice Laurent, David Pontille, Félix Talvard, 2019, La politique des expérimentations urbaines. Innovation technologique et transformations des villes à Singapour et San Francisco, in Antoine Courmont, Patrick Le Galès (dir.), Gouverner la ville numérique, PUF, 47-67.

Nassima Abdhelgafour, 2017, Randomized Controlled Experiments to End Poverty ? A Sociotechnical analysis, Anthropologie et développement, 46-47.

Brice Laurent, 2017, Democratic experiments: Problematizing Nanotechnology and Democracy in Europe and the United States, MIT Press.