Social Innovation Impact / ISI


»Social innovation« is not a new term in innovation research. It has gained importance, and attention as many hopes rest on its capacity to deal with society's major challenges. The research field is characterized by conceptual ambiguity and understands Social Innovation (SI) i.e. as a mechanism for problem-solving or a more general change in social practices. The impact of Social Innovation is also difficult to grasp: Even at the level of individual organizations, current research shows significant blind spots.

Indicators and metrics in the field of social innovation are only emerging. Although there have been attempts to systematically develop a social innovation metric (IndiSi, IndiSiPlus), these are currently still in an exploratory phase and primarily relate to measuring social innovations and less to assessing their effects and added social value. On the other hand, the research field of (technology) impact assessment offers valuable and well-tried approaches to measuring innovation impact.


The central goal of the project »Impact of Social Innovations« (ISI), which is co-financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), is to create significant theoretical and empirical advances in uncovering the impact of social innovations by linking the research fields of social innovation and impact measurement.


ISI develops a broad conceptual understanding of Social Innovation and aggregates experience in SI measurement at an organizational level to develop an instrument for impact monitoring of social innovations. The project will result in a concept for a dynamic panel to allow for long-term monitoring of the effects of SI, which includes diverse types of actors, fields and impacts, which can consider effects ex-post and ex-ante and which can be adapted flexibly to facilitate SI impact assessment in the field.

Four fields of social innovation are examined as application examples in the project:


The project will develop individual impact models in these four fields and combine them within a new dynamic model. Additionally, a survey instrument will be developed that covers the broadest possible spectrum of impacts. This includes, for example, the assessment of effects at the level of social discourse. Such an approach will conceptually address the research gaps presented on the three levels (definition, impact measurement, and impact-related innovation metrics) and create an empirical basis for long-term monitoring of social innovations, both in terms of activities and actors and in terms of monitoring and assessing consequences.

Bild für ISI Projektinfo EN
Fig. 1. ISI – Project structure

Project partners

Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg
Centre for Social Investment (CSI)
Dr. Georg Mildenberger (Project coordinator) & Dr. Filip Zieliński
Westphalian University of Applied Sciences Gelsenkirchen
IAT, Research department »Innovation, Space & Culture«
Dr. Judith Terstriep & Maria Rabadjieva
University Mannheim
Institute for SME Research at the University of Mannheim (ifm)
Prof. Dr. Dominika Wruk & Prof. Dr. Achim Oberg