Social Innovation Futures – Beyond policy panacea and conceptual ambiguity

Can small-scale social experiments lead to the solution of pressing societal problems? The first TIK Seminar of 2015 will explore the processes of social innovation - and what they might lack..


The TIK Seminar series kicks off in 2015 with a look at how Innovation Studies can can help provide insights into social innovation processes. Ultimately, this could promote solutions to the so-calles Grand Challenges.

What are the Grand Challenges?

The European Union is focusing in six Grand Challenges:

  1. Health, demographic change and wellbeing;
  2. Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research and the bio-economy;
  3. Secure, clean and efficient energy;
  4. Smart, green and integrated transport;
  5. Climate action, resource efficiency and raw materials;
  6. Inclusive, innovative and secure societies.

Can social innovation solve the Grand Challenges?

Kuhlman and Rip 's recent report for the European Research Area Innovation board on "The Challenge of addressing Grand Challenges" has highlighted the policy imperatives around ensuring that research policy supports and stimulates innovation activity.  At the same time, there is a growing interest in the potential of social innovation phenomena to contribute to addressing these Grand Challenges, particularly in resolving the thorny multi-disciplinary human dimension of many of these issues.  But this common-sense idea of social innovation is based on a quasi-concept, where processes of innovation are absent.  To restore some academic rigour to this important concept, we argue more attention need be paid to these innovation processes in social innovation, and that there is value in using innovation concepts drawn from other areas of innovation studies (such as disruptive innovation, innovation systems, institutional innovation and socio-technical transitions) in highlighting how small-scale social experiments can ultimately lead to the solution of pressing societal problems.

The critique - and possible solutions

By way of an example, social innovation assumes that ideas can be created in protected spaces and then upscaled to the level of society without addressing the vested interests in the status quo that have created a market for the social innovation; it therefore seems useful to use the multi-level perspective of sustainable socio-technical transitions to better theorise the issues of upscaling involved in social innovation, so there is not just an implicit assumption that good ideas travel deservedly.  Through a subtle critique of the current policy conception of social innovation, it is possible for Innovation Studies to help provide better insights into social innovation processes and ultimately to lead to better support frameworks and interventions for promoting solutions to these Grand Challenges.

This seminar reports work funded by an Eu-SPRI Forum Exploratory grant, and carried out by Paul Benneworth, Effie Amanatidou, Magnus Gulbrandsen and Monica Edwards Schachter.



Speaker: Dr Paul Benneworth

Dr Paul Benneworth is a senior research associate in the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) at the University of Twente.  His research focuses on the relationships between universities and socio-economic development, with a particular emphasis on the role of universities in stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship.  Paul has led and undertaken a wide range of projects for an extensive client group, including Research Councils in the UK, Norway and the Netherlands, Government Ministries across EU member states, the OECD, the European Commission and a range of private and non-governmental organisations.  He was part of the OECD IMHE group involved in reviewing the regional role of universities (2005-07) and was one of the authors of the report Higher education and regions: globally competitive, regionally engaged. He was the special academic adviser to the OECD and European Commission (DG REGIO) in their Review of Regional Innovation Policy (2009-2011) and as special expert to DG RESEARCH in reviewing the development of the smart specialisation strategies for Slovakia (2013).  He is author of a large number of academic monographs, journal articles, research reports and other publications

Published Jan. 7, 2015 12:30 PM - Last modified Jan. 8, 2015 1:15 PM