Social Innovation Policy: Concepts, Methods and Policy Practices
Between 21 and 23 September, 16 international early career researchers (PhD candidates and Postdocs) and 8 senior social innovation scholars gathered at the Social Research Centre of TU Dortmund University to discuss the importance of social innovation policy. The Eu-SPRI Early Career Conference (ECC) was organized by the Social Research Centre, in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (Fraunhofer ISI). Participants from Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway found their way to Dortmund to discuss a plurality of current issues, questioning, for instance the need for social innovation ecosystems and regional or local innovation policy, as well as their current state of affairs in Europe and beyond.
Although social innovations need not necessarily be ‘good’, expectations on their role to combat 21st century challenges are quite high, creating a demand for targeted policy making. However, as argued by several participants, effective policy-making for social innovations requires theoretical clarity of the concept and a better understanding of the dynamics of diffusion of social innovations. Impact (measurement) is a major challenge in this regard, as the impact of social innovations is difficult to capture, but crucial for policy making.
Social innovation can be seen as a boundary concept that brings together different fields of research, as underlined by the different disciplinary backgrounds of the participants, ranging from transition studies to management and feminist philosophy. One particular research challenge identified in the ECC is the relationship between social innovations and technological, digital and sustainable innovations and how these interconnections need to be addressed. Also the role of universities as one actor with potential to further social innovations was touched upon. However, social innovation is not merely an academic endeavour, it is above all a social phenomenon that not only needs to be studied, but that also needs space for practical application. The organisers were therefore happy to welcome Mike Asquith of the European Environment Agency to shed his light on the role of social innovation in sustainability transitions. To learn more about the importance of social innovation within the city of Dortmund, participants were invited by the Social Innovation Center Dortmund for an informal evening get-together. Participants got some insights into how social innovation is lived in the city of Dortmund and learned how social innovation played a role in Dortmund’s winning bid for the iCapital Award in 2021 with the slogan ‘Innovation Next Door.’
We look back at a successful and interesting Early Career Conference with lots of learning opportunities and network building with young scholars eager to further our knowledge on social innovations. We thank all presenters, seniors and juniors alike, for their engagement with the conference and look forward to continuing the discussions started in Dortmund.