The Challenge of Path Dependency and the Need for Anticipatory Governance

Many experts argue that we need to change a number of our large technological systems in order to adapt to the increasing number of challenges our society faces. There are questions about the sustainability of everything from our energy systems to transportation networks. But changing such things is never an easy task. This is partially a result of a phenomenon known as “path dependence,” a situation in which initial conditions establish a trajectory, making changes or reversal increasingly difficult.

Research on path dependence is critical for understanding how institutions can be adapted to address global change, both in the sense of understanding why change is so difficult in some situations-and what can be done about it-and understanding how negative trajectories can be avoided. This presentation will explore how the existence of path dependent processes increases considerably the need for anticipatory governance. It will analyze a few historical examples to demonstrate how early and broad assessment of technologies and situations can help promote more beneficial path dependence.