ISI – Social Innovation Impact

Background

“Social innovation” is not a new term in innovation research and has gained importance and attention as many hopes rest on its capacity to deal with the major challenges that societies are facing. The research field is characterized by conceptual ambiguity and understands Social Innovation (SI) i.a. as a mechanism for problem-solving or a more general change in social practices. The impact of Social Innovation is difficult to grasp as well: 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.

Objective

The central aim 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 assessment.

Approach

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 a 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 in a flexible way to facilitate SI impact assessment in the field.

Four fields of Social Innovation are examined as application examples in the project:

  • Sharing economy – activities with a collaborative, bottom-up character that aim to bring about social change (e.g. urban gardening, sharing and swapping of goods, etc.)
  • Innovations in social services – e.g. in the health and care sector
  • Digital education – with a focus on using technology for social progress (e.g. to increase learner participation, to reduce educational inequalities, etc.)
  • Blockchain technology – where a possible use with social added value (e.g. transparency in supply chains) requires a social discourse and acceptance.

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.

Figure: ISI – Project structure