Studying the Dynamics of Social Innovation Processes / DYSI

Starting Point

Social innovation, understood as new ideas, products, services and models addressing social needs and resulting in new social relations or cooperation (Murray et al. 2010) are increasingly seen as an important lever to reduce today’s societal problems. This is for example expressed in the European Innovation Union, one of the seven flagship initiatives for implementing the Europe 2020 strategy:
»Social innovation is an important new field which should be nurtured. It is about tapping into the ingenuity of charities, associations and social entrepreneurs to find new ways of meeting social needs which are not adequately met by the market or the public sector. It can also be about tapping into this same ingenuity to bring about the behavioural changes which are needed to tackle the major societal challenges, such as climate change. As well as meeting social needs and tackling societal challenges, social innovations empower people and create new social relationships and models of collaboration. They are thus innovative in themselves and good for society's capacity to innovate« (COM 546 final.
In many aspects, social innovations are different from the technological innovations found e.g. in the biotechnology, ICT and automotive industry: while the profit motive is the driver of many technological innovations, social innovations are to a large extent motivated by the social commitment of the involved actors and their willingness to tackle societal problems.
With respect to the innovation process itself, the involvement of customers and end users has faced increased importance within innovation activities in general. This not at least is reflected in concepts such as Open or Embedded Innovation. However, social innovations even go a step further, by actively involving (different) societal groups as an integral part of the innovation process. Furthermore, they show significant differences with respect to their diffusion channels that may come in very different shapes than those of technological innovations.


Against this background, it is the overall objective of IAT-funded project DYSI to gain new insights into the specific dynamics and developments of social innovation processes. The objective will be underpinned by studying the following research questions:

  • What are the incentives and motivations for the development of ideas and the development of social innovations?
  • What are the drivers and barriers in social innovation processes?
  • Who are the key players and how do networks of actors develop?
  • What is the impact of the surrounding environment on the innovation process?
  • Which are the business and financing models of social innovation (and social enterprises)?
  • Are there any differences between the evaluation standards of banks in lending (business plans, etc.) and the actual needs of social enterprises?
  • What are the mechanisms of implementation and diffusing social innovation?

DYSI is structured into four integrated work packages (WP). Work Packages 1 and 2 analyse social innovation processes from a thematic/sectoral perspective (mobility and inclusive society). Work packages 3 and 4 study social innovation in a cross-sectoral way by particularly focusing on the influ-ence of the geographical and social context of the innovation process, as well as the specific needs and problems of financing and diffusing social innovation.


WP1 Social Innovation in the Mobility Sector


Two central aspects make transport-related mobility a fundamental field for studying social innova-tion. Firstly, there is particular potential to reduce the negative effects of transport (greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, congestions, noise) by implementing new ways of mobility behaviour through social innovations. Secondly, mobility is a key characteristic of a modern society and a cen-tral means to getting access to major components of social life, such as culture and education, work and shopping, public services and health care facilities. To maintain and enable mobility, especially for the people living in rural areas and for people with limited mobility is an important step towards an integrated society. This not at least is one important reason why the German UNESCO Commis-sion has chosen sustainable mobility as the main topic of the UN Decade for Sustainable Develop-ment in 2013.

Methodological Approach

Social innovations in the mobility sector will be studied by innovation biographies, expert interviews and literature research.

WP 2 Social innovation for an Inclusive Society

WP 2.1 Social Innovation through charity work


Many citizens are committed to charity work. Within that activity, a multitude of innovative ideas arise that are aiming at minimizing current local or national societal problems. These innovative ideas and their transformation processes are the focus of the WP. It specifically studies innovative charity work addressing public service topics such as education, infrastructure, health, culture, etc., i.e. charity work leading to an improved quality of life.

Two research questions have been formulated to guide the working package:

  • What are role and reach (in the sense of equivalent living conditions) of social innovations developed through citizen’s charity work for public services of municipalities?
  • What are the attributes of concrete innovation processes happening in the frame of charity work? What are their drivers (e.g. support through public actors), what are their barriers (e.g. funding)?

The untapped potential of disadvantaged groups for the labour market


Future challenges such as a new-European migration, which differs in migration patterns considering time, space and motivation from the traditional migration traces, the demographic change or the scarcity of resources as well as skills shortage and the current high youth unemployment claim for innovative approaches to counteract social exclusion and create EU-wide cohesion. Particularly for people with special needs such as migrants and among them fringe groups such as Roma, early school leavers, people with disabilities and elder people little attention is paid, yet. These groups among others are the untapped potential of the EU and need special consideration. Their skills and knowledge should be better used to assure diverse EU societies and social inclusion, which enrich the EU cohesion idea. On the contrary, practical obstacles such as high entry barriers into VET and labour markets, the non-recognition of their qualification, their exclusion of the societies are consequences of a bad or a missing (re)integration or even inclusive approaches

Methodological Approach

Approaches like learning methods which motivate people to (re)educate and later to work, hand-on participative workshops, mentoring, social networks supported by IT platforms for easy information, cooperation, exchange and collection of best practices in the field of social innovative approaches for integration can contribute to the improvement of the existing situation. Such approaches we call social innovative approaches, as they are generated by the society member’s requirements, engage people and technology to bring new solutions and add resources to challenge social processes. Solutions will be founded in an interactive dialogue among regional actors, civil society and disadvantaged persons considering their special needs, obstacles and uncertainties.

WP3 The embeddedness of social innovation


Entrepreneurial activity and innovation are embedded in socio-spatial contexts. Social innovations too, are created in specific local contexts that influence their development processes. Research focusing on internationally acknowledged social innovations, likely to be combined with the possibilities for social media, could give the impression that social innovation often can occur without having a spatial context.
In the course of the project »spatial entrepreneurs«, we have reconstructed the formation of highly localized companies. Quite a few of these companies can be considered as social enterprises and / or social innovations have been developed by them. They have set up cultural and neighborhood centers, tested innovative financing strategies for social projects and have improved or contributed to the local supply for people with disadvantages (shopping possibilities).
Based on this study, the localization of social innovations will be studied. Our hypothesis is that social innovations often arise due to specific local conditions / problems and are therefore strongly influenced by the local context. Transferring them to other local conditions is not always easy.

Methodological Approach

A secondary analysis of data collected in the project on spatial entrepreneurs, as well as the evalua-tion of the innovation biographies of WPs 1 and 2.

WP4 Financing social innovation


The WP asks for finance mechanisms of social innovations. Starting point is the hypothesis that the majority of social innovations, compared to other types of innovation, are less capital-intensive. However, traditional banks and other financial intermediaries often have difficulties to rate their degree of novelty and social value. This is an important reason why it is often difficult for social innovators to receive external funding of the financial sector for implementing their ideas. Against this background, several interesting questions arise:

  • Is the above assumed interrelation of a lack of rating mechanisms and the difficulty of getting access to funding true?
  • What are the finance mechanisms of social innovation? (Contests, grants, equity, no capital requirement …)
  • Should, and if so how, the financial sector deal with social innovation? Is it possible to develop methods for estimating the risks of social innovations?
  • Does microfinance contribute to financing social innovations?


Closely linked to the above issues is the question of measuring the economic and social impact of social innovations. To what extent is it possible to apply traditional innovation indicators? Or should new sets of indicators be developed, based on both qualitative and quantitative criteria?

Methodological Approach

The questions are studied by a secondary analysis of data obtained from the project on spatial entrepreneurs and innovation biographies of WPs 1 and 2. Moreover, the WP will conduct a comparison of alternative measurement and evaluation procedures, as well as an analysis of projects financed through the micro credit fund in Germany. Results will be complemented with expert interviews carried out in banks and other finance institutes.