Monthly Spotlight: Interview with Matthias Weber, AIT

Why is Research in Social Innovation important for you?

By emphasizing the social shaping and the social impacts of innovation, research in social innovation represents an important complement to prevailing innovation research. It is not only important to better understand how innovations in society come about, but also to provide the foundations for making social innovation happen and for better informing public policies on innovation.

From a scientific perspective, the integrative and multi-disciplinary nature of research in social innovation is particularly appealing. As a process engineer, political scientist and economist, I am very much aware of the difficulties encountered by research approaches that cross traditional boundaries between scientific disciplines in order to propose novel perspectives for tackling real-world problems. This is a fascinating task, but also a major scientific and social challenge.

What is the biggest challenge for Social Innovation Research?

The biggest challenge for research in social innovation is to establish itself as a recognized field in between other, more established fields of research on innovation. This will in particular require demonstrating the added value of social innovation research, as compared to those neighboring fields with their respective scientific trajectories, while building precisely on that already existing body of knowledge on processes, systems and policies on innovation.

A second major challenge consists of delivering on the promises. Too many appealing concepts and approaches have raised major expectations, but either fell into the trap of either over-selling their potential benefits or being too slow in providing the expected guidance for action.

Against this background, the major contributions of research in social innovation then lie in a) raising awareness of those types of innovation that have been largely ignored before by research and policy, but that can make a real difference to the life of people, and b) in offering insights into the approaches, tools and policies for making social innovation happen in practice.

What result can we expect from SI-DRIVE?

Due to the comprehensive nature of SI-DRIVE, the results of this project should first of all raise the awareness that the social dimension of innovation is not just an “add-on”, but rather an integral and core part of any innovative activity. Innovations can come in various forms, but they always have a social dimension, and ultimately they should always contribute to changing our society to the better. The global coverage of SI-DRIVE should also allow demonstrating the diversity of social innovation and its embedding in different cultural contexts. And there is still a lot to learn about and from these different social innovation experiences. The rich empirical material should in particular show how different types of mechanisms and institutions, market as well as non-market, can contribute to the realization and spread of social innovations. This is expected to enhance our ability to tackle what has been termed in policy debates the ‘Grand Societal Challenges’, which can hardly be addressed without the contribution of social innovation. By focusing on a major subset of these challenges, SI-DRIVE shall directly feed into the design of policies and initiatives for addressing them, both within Europe and beyond.

Which book or article about Social Innovation should everybody read? Why?

Robin Murray, Julie Caulier, Geoff Mulgan (2010): The Open Book of Social Innovation, NESTA and Young Foundation

This report represents an excellent mixture of theoretical and practical insights into social innovation, and is a highly recommended reading for everybody who wants to get a good grasp of the different facets of this phenomenon. By combining a good overview of theoretical perspectives with many examples of social innovations, the reader is equipped with a good understanding why social innovation makes a difference, how it happens and how it can be supported at different stages of development.