Monthly Spotlight: Interview with Frank Pot, Emeritus Professor of Social Innovation of work and employment, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Why is research in Social Innovation important for you?

It is important to prove that social innovation is complementary to technological innovation and that the two approaches should be integrated to achieve the best results. In my area of research – being ‘social innovation of work and employment’ or ‘workplace innovation’ as it is called nowadays – this means achieving sustainable jobs and organisational performance simultaneously. This can be done by building bridges between the strategic knowledge of the leadership, the professional and tacit knowledge of frontline employees and the organisational design knowledge of experts. But it doesn’t always work, so we have to investigate what the conditions and barriers are to substantiate our theory. This approach does not only contribute to a more competitive economy, but to a more democratic society as well.

What is the biggest challenge for Social Innovation Research?

In my opinion the biggest challenge is to develop appropriate research designs, new combinations of surveys and case studies, quantitative and qualitative measurements, opinions of managers and employees. All social innovations are unique, so it’s not obvious to use traditional methodologies for replicable phenomena and not easy to produce generalisable evidence and as a result, it is not easy to convince more fellow researchers, policy makers and practitioners.

What result can we expect from SI-DRIVE?

We may expect a growing awareness in society of the importance of social innovation. Furthermore better knowledge of conditions and barriers may be expected. Social innovation is supported by a number of theories which can be found in the first reports of SI-DRIVE. The activities in the programme will lead to adjustments and to a better foundation of those theories. In particular the good examples which are going to be collected will help to disseminate programmes and practices of social innovation.

Which book or article about Social Innovation should everybody read?

Well, in my area of research, I think the best recent book is ‘The second machine age. Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies’, written by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (New York/London: W.W.Norton & Company, 2014). These authors analyse “the coinvention of organization and technology” and how this leads to increased productivity and the need for more educated workers. They connect individual, organisational and societal level (“beyond GDP”: e.g. wellbeing, income distribution), using perspectives from different scientific disciplines.