Can Pay-As-You-Go, Digitally Enabled Business Models Support Sustainability Transformations in Developing Countries? Outstanding Questions and a Theoretical Basis for Future Research
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This paper examines the rapidly emerging and rapidly changing phenomenon of pay-as-you-go (PAYG), digitally enabled business models, which have had significant early success in providing poor people with access to technologies relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (e.g., for electricity access, water and sanitation, and agricultural irrigation). Data are analysed based on literature review, two stakeholder workshops (or “transformation labs”), and stakeholder interviews (engaging 41 stakeholders in total). This demonstrates the existing literature on PAYG is patchy at best, with no comprehensive or longitudinal, and very little theoretically grounded, research to date. The paper contributes to existing research on PAYG, and sustainability transformations more broadly, in two key ways. Firstly, it articulates a range of questions that remain to be answered in order to understand and deliver against the current and potential contribution of PAYG in affecting sustainability transformations (the latter we define as achieving environmental sustainability and social justice). These questions focus at three levels: national contexts for fostering innovation and technology uptake, the daily lives of poor and marginalised women and men, and global political economies and value accumulation. Secondly, the paper articulates three areas of theory (based on emerging critical social science research on sustainable energy access) that have potential to support future research that might answer these questions, namely: socio-technical innovation system-building, social practice, and global political economy and value chain analysis. Whilst recognising existing tensions between these three areas of theory, we argue that rapid sustainability transformations demand a level of epistemic pragmatism. Such pragmatism, we argue, can be achieved by situating research using any of the above areas of theory within the broader context of Leach et al.’s (2010) Pathways Approach. This allows for exactly the kind of interdisciplinary approach, based on a commitment to pluralism and the co-production of knowledge, and firmly rooted commitment to environmental sustainability and social justice that the SDGs demand.
CitationOckwell, D.; Atela, J.; Mbeva, K.; Chengo, V.; Byrne. R.; Durrant. R.; Kasprowicz. V. and Ely. A. (2019) 'Can Pay-As-You-Go, Digitally Enabled Business Models Support Sustainability Transformations in Developing Countries? Outstanding Questions and a Theoretical Basis for Future Research', Sustainability2019,11, 2105
Is part of seriesSustainability;2019,11, 2105
- ESRC STEPS Centre 
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