Working paper Open Access
Holtgrewe, Ursula; Lindorfer, Martina; Schwarz-Wölzl, Maria
This paper outlines a roadmap for research in social innovation (SI) on behalf of the European H2020-funded SIC project. It argues that social innovation research develops in two directions:
Firstly, the development of a distinct, interdisciplinary research field of "social innovation studies", and secondly, the development of social innovation research to support and enhance both SI practice and SI policy in the direction of solving social problems, addressing societal challenges and bringing about favourable social change. The development of the research field takes place within social science or the "inside" of the SI research domain. The development of its connectivity with social innovation practice and policy looks at the networked "outside", at interfaces, networks and boundary-spanning capabilities.
The central aim of developing SI as a research field in the short term is to publish and sustain the research and scientific outcomes of SIC and its neighbouring projects. In the mid-term perspective, ensuring continuity and sustainability of SI research will be the key objective. This means overcoming the high dependency of the field on a sequence of EU-funded projects with limited timespans and challenges in keeping results current and alive (such as the databases and datasets of social innovations in the SI-DRIVE project or the case studies and toolkits for practice and policy developed by the SIC project). Projects need to be complemented by other forms of funding and investment into research infrastructures, both by dedicated longer-term programmes and the "mainstreaming" of SI contributions and research into socially and ecologically aware studies of innovation. Universities' and other research institutes' role in SI should expand in all dimensions: research and teaching, the "third mission" of engaging with society, consultancy, exchange, lobbying, and fostering the careers of young researchers. This also means creating centres and labs in the less equipped regions and countries. In the long term, that is, the next ten years, all these initiatives will ideally converge into a professionalised and connective research infrastructure and ecosystem that offers knowledge, skills and reflexive and critical capacities to social innovators, actual and potential social innovators, stakeholders and end-users, and society at large. The overall aims will be to create a critical mass of research infrastructures that connect the global, European, and the local level and move SI studies into the mainstream of socially and ecologically aware innovation studies.
The overall objective for bridging of social innovation research, practice and policy in the short term is to sustain and continue current activities, bring them into the new Multi-Annual Financial Framework and ensure the best possible use and exploitation of current research results by a wide range of users that are on the way to becoming co-creators. The mid-term overall objectives are focused on further outreach and deepening and integration of research-practice-policy networks and communities. In particular, local and trans-local levels will need to be more connected, new actors and intermediaries included, and the necessary skills and competences recognised. In the long term, the overall objective of SI research is likely to be a wider diffusion or indeed, "mainstreaming" of SI practices, processes and modes of thinking in policy, societal practice and also innovation at large that increases the capabilities of societies to take their development into their own hands, address their challenges, disentangle "wicked problems" and invigorate social progress.
If the development of SI research in both the directions of specialisation and connectivity with SI practice and policy is successful, this may socially innovate the relationship of SI research and various practice fields itself, into a genuinely co-creative two-way street. In this vision, the experience of SI would feed into research in multiple ways that may be more interactive and self-reflexive and also more responsive to change than conventional empirical social science research with its clear distinctions of the roles of researchers, research subjects, and users of research. Social science and theory would become more directly useful for SI practice through an array of exchange formats, labs, knowledge bases, and opportunities for consulting and co-creation.