Social innovation

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Under Social Innovation is understood in sociology and innovation management the process of formation, implementation and dissemination of new social practices in various areas of society. While ' innovation ' literally means 'new' or 'renewal', 'social' means either the interaction of people or - if it is used normatively - 'good for society and its members'. In innovation research, social innovations are thematized either as a prerequisite, accompanying phenomenon or as a consequence of technical innovations. The questions of what makes an innovation a social innovation, whether the social benefit is the decisive criterion and how this can be determined, are controversial. On the other hand, there is broad consensus that the term refers to innovations that are directly related to the search for solutions to social problems and challenges. These solutions are often new ways of communication and cooperation. Dealing with social innovations as a central socio-theoretical and political concept is becoming increasingly important.

Origin of the term

The mention of social innovations goes back to the origins of innovation research, whose founder Joseph Schumpeter is considered to be with his "Theory of Economic Development" published in 1912. As an independent phenomenon, social innovation in the German-speaking area is systematically treated for the first time in a contribution by Wolfgang Zapf from 1989. Zapf defined social innovations as "new ways to achieve goals, in particular new forms of organization, new regulations, new lifestyles that change the direction of social change , solve problems better than previous practices, and which are therefore worth imitating and institutionalizing" . In order for social innovations to come about, scientific progress and practical experience are necessary - as with technical ones - according to Zapf. The article by Gillwald (2000) based on Zapf contains a similar definition: “In short, social innovations are regulations of activities and procedures that deviate from the previously accustomed scheme and have societal consequences. They are possible everywhere in social systems, resulting in changes in behavior and related but not immediately to technical innovations ”.

Starting with the thematization of the "limits of growth" and an increasingly critical perspective on technological developments and their problem-solving potential in the 1970s, there is increasing talk of the need for comprehensive social innovations. This tendency is being reinforced in response to an innovation policy that is still technically fixated. Although the term has received widespread use and attention in recent years, its content has remained extremely vague and is mostly used in the sense of a purely descriptive metaphor for all possible phenomena in the area of ​​social change.

Theoretical background

In Schumpeter's understanding of innovation, social innovations had the accompanying function to ensure the economic effectiveness of technical innovations. This applied to the areas of economy , culture, politics and social life. But it was only with the transition from the industrial to the knowledge and service society , which led to an increase in the importance of social innovations compared to technical ones, that social innovation could establish itself as an independent concept in science. This concept plays a central role in an emerging new innovation paradigm that assumes that innovation no longer takes place as a linear process (from science and research to marketable products and services), but rather as a complex social process . A key feature of this new innovation paradigm is the opening of the innovation process to society. In addition to companies, universities and research institutions, citizens and customers also become relevant actors in the innovation process by helping to solve problems when developing new products. Terms and concepts such as ' open innovation ', customer integration, networks reflect individual aspects of this development.

In business management and social science research, however, the focus on technical innovations remains predominant. In the German sociology of technology and industry - primarily active in innovation research within sociology - social innovation as a concept does not yet play a major role. With Werner Rammert a renowned German sociologist technology recognizes social innovation as an independent concept and prompts meanwhile considering a fundamental conceptual reorientation of innovation research. Rammert proposes a two-stage model that identifies innovations according to relationships on the one hand and references to the other. The relations are determined in the temporal (old / new), factual (similar / new) and social (normal / different) dimensions. The references that relate to the innovation goals are e.g. B. economic, political, social or artistic innovation. With this, Rammert also advocates a conceptual differentiation of technical and social innovations, because these - according to his model - are on two completely different logical levels. "Technical or mechanized with regard to innovations refers to the type of constituent relations and is not an independent reference", in complete contrast to 'social'.

However, especially recently, it has hardly been possible to identify important social innovations in developed societies that are not closely linked to technical and, in particular, media technology innovations. If social innovations are always enabled or flanked by new forms of interaction, interaction media such as e. For example, social networks play a significant role in this. The concepts of open innovation , e-commerce or customer integration in product development and configuration without the Internet, databases, search engines etc. cannot be implemented and, conversely, stimulate their further development. The Web 2.0 provides the technical platform for numerous social innovations, conversely, the normative theme of the prosumer promoting the development of Web 2.0. As a medium, the Internet implements so-called “ megatrends ”, such as B. Transparency, and catalyzes this.

Further theoretical-conceptual research questions include the questions of what makes an innovation a social innovation, whether there is a specific subject area of ​​social innovation at all, how social innovation and social change differ, what characterizes the conditions and paths of its genesis and dissemination and which The role the social sciences can and should play in the production or evaluation of social innovations.

At the level of the actors, in addition to questions of motivation, research is carried out on the conditions under which the actors of civil society-motivated social innovations can cooperate with previous decision-makers from the state, politics and business.

Research fields

Social innovations occur in diverse forms in a wide variety of areas of society and thus give rise to a whole range of research fields. The topics that are in the focus of research include innovations in the field of services (with special consideration of social and health-related services), within companies and organizations with new innovation (e.g. corporate social innovation) and management concepts, in local and regional approaches to human resource management and qualification strategies , in the field of sustainability (e.g. regional management of the consequences of climate change ), in social economy and social integration, in the cultural and creative industries , in the use of information and communication technologies.

There have already been several attempts in science to catalog the manifestations of social innovations and the associated research fields. Gillwald, for example, assigns selected examples of social innovations to three major social functional areas - civil society, the economy and the state. In the area of ​​civil society it is, for example, the growing importance of illegitimate partnerships or the environmental movement, in the economic area the introduction of assembly line work , quality management and fast food chains, in the area of ​​state action the introduction of social security and the regional reform introduced in the 1970s .

Moulaert, Martinelli, Swyngedouw and Gonzalez identified the four research fields in which the concept of social innovation is now increasingly applied in social science research. Accordingly, it is used in management and organizational research, in studies on the connection between competitiveness and corporate social responsibility, in creativity research and in connection with processes of local and regional development.

In order to help social innovation achieve a breakthrough in practice, research is increasingly being supported by designated courses such as the Master of Arts in Social Innovation or the BA Management of Social Innovation at the Munich University of Applied Sciences, which impart management knowledge for the design, implementation and support of social innovations . The master’s course “Management of Social Innovations”, carried out by the Academy for Social Management in cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria, is aimed specifically at managers in the social economy.

Social innovation in society and politics

In the civil society discourse, social innovations have been increasingly called for since the turn of the millennium. This is reflected not least in the emergence of non-governmental institutions (e.g. foundations and institutes) in many countries that make a decisive contribution to the spread of social innovations. For example, as part of the “Social Innovation 2015” action program , the Center for Social Innovation founded in Vienna in 1990 is committed to ensuring that by 2015 “concepts for social innovations are effectively anchored in public discourse and in central social sectors such as economy and education and politics, a growing number of effective social innovations will be realized ”and they“ are of a similar importance as only economically usable technical innovations have so far ”.

In contrast to technical innovations, the social sector is less about developing new products, processes or marketing strategies, but more specifically about discovering new roles, relationships, norms and values. A good example is the worldwide distribution of street papers in the 1990s. The concept of the street newspaper found a completely new answer to the challenge of creating low-threshold jobs and providing opportunities for articulation for people on the fringes of society. These magazines have become an integral part of the image of many cities. The spectrum of possible motivations for innovation in organizations of the social economy is broad and often depends on one's own understanding of goals and effects. Impulses for innovation range from the generation of financial resources to cross-finance activities that would not pay off per se, to new approaches to fulfill one's own mission. There may well be contradictions and dilemmas between financial and factual goals , which organizations have to resolve.

At the political level, too, there is an increasing awareness of the importance of social innovations as drivers of innovation in society. In the United States , after President Obama took office, an “Office for Social Innovation and Citizen Participation” was set up in the White House and a “Fund for Social Innovation” was provided with US $ 50 million in the 2010 budget. Contents are education and training, health as well as economic questions and problems. The EU Commission is also in the process of promoting social innovations more strongly and contributing to their dissemination. In 2009, Commission President Barroso said: "Creativity and innovation in general and social innovation in particular are the essential factors for promoting sustainable growth, securing jobs and increasing competitiveness, especially in times of economic and financial crisis". A rethinking of European innovation policy had already begun in the 1990s. In the EU research framework programs, the social was significantly upgraded compared to technology and in the Green Paper on Innovation, which the EU Commission published in 1995, it was said: “Innovation is not just an economic mechanism or a technical process. It is above all a social phenomenon [...]. The purpose, consequences and framework conditions of the innovation are therefore closely linked to the social climate in which it is created. "

Examples of social innovations

Many social innovations arise in the context of the great social challenges:

Social challenge Social innovation Description or slogan
Climate change / sustainable energy Citizens' energy cooperative Citizens produce their own electrical energy
Energy neighborhood Households bet on energy saving with their home city
Fossil Free Germany promotes the end of coal-based power generation
Carrotmob supports shopkeepers to invest in energy-saving shop fittings
Resource efficiency Freecycle Swap instead of buying new
Public bookcase Swap instead of buying new
Repair café repair instead of buying new
Botch no thanks Initiative against planned obsolescence
Free shop make things available to others that you no longer need yourself
Givebox Weatherproof container in which anyone can store objects that are no longer needed
Sewing cafe Sew clothes yourself, with professional support
ReUse computer Functional computers continue to be used (by others)
Art fabrics Association that collects waste materials in Berlin and offers workshops
frents, leihdirwas, fair lending Rental platforms based on the motto: "Borrowing is the new buying"
Lets share Directory of exchange platforms
Leila Leila is a rental shop as a library for things in Berlin
Exchange ring / exchange group Mutual neighborhood help
Vacancy detector Possibility of displaying vacant apartments and properties on the Internet
Healthy nutrition / sustainable agriculture Solidarity agriculture Harvest yourself instead of buying in the supermarket
Food sharing helps to reduce the amount of food thrown away
My harvest Have your own garden where, in addition to weeding, all you have to do is harvest
Urban gardening In addition to vegetables, it also ensures a better microclimate in the city
Mouth robbery Directory of fruit trees ready to be harvested
Gentle mobility Bike rental system Nextbike, Call-a-Bike and others
Critical Mass Cyclists show that roads are there for them too
Parking Day urban space is more than just park space
flinc Internet platform for arranging carpooling
Citizen bus Buses organized by citizens close the gaps in local public transport
Private car sharing shared cars need less parking space
Car-free Sunday you can even do it without a car
Walking bus (/ pedibus) Students walk to school together
Demographic change Multi-generation house organized coexistence of generations

Examples of social innovations that help make the Great Transformation possible and stay within the global guard rails :

  • CouchSurfing - a temporarily vacant apartment is being used
  • Home exchange vacation - making your own apartment or house available to others in exchange
  • Transition Towns - sustainability initiative founded by Rob Hopkins
  • Sustainability Day in Baden-Württemberg - a state-wide fair of examples
  • Real-world laboratories - science undertakes to research together with civil society to master the great social challenges

Examples of social innovations for the benefit of non-profit organizations or for the benefit of those in need:

  • Pfandtastisch help - support non-profit organizations with the bottle deposit
  • Give a deposit - have deposit bottles collected for the benefit of those in need
  • Germany rounds up - action in favor of non-profit organizations


Individual evidence

  1. a b Jürgen Howaldt, Heike Jacobsen (Ed.): Social Innovation. On the way to a post-industrial innovation paradigm. Wiesbaden 2010.
  2. a b c d e Jürgen Howaldt, Michael Schwarz: “Social innovation” in focus. Sketch of a society-inspired research concept. Bielefeld 2010.
  3. Joseph Schumpeter: Theory of Economic Development. Reprint of the 1st edition from 1912, edited by Jochen Röpke and Olaf Stiller. Berlin 2006.
  4. Wolfgang Zapf: About social innovations. In: social world. 40 (1/2), 1989, pp. 170-183.
  5. a b Katrin Gillwald: Concepts of social innovation. WZB paper: Cross-sectional group work and ecology. Berlin 2000. (download)
  6. Dennis Meadows: The Limits to Growth. Report of the Club of Rome on the State of Humanity. Stuttgart 1972.
  7. ^ A b Frank Moulaert, Flavia Martinelli, Erik Swyngedouw, Sara Gonzalez: Towards Alternative Model (s) of Local Innovation. In: Urban Studies. 42 (11), 2005, pp. 1669-1990.
  8. a b Werner Rammert: The innovations of society. In: Jürgen Howaldt, Heike Jacobsen (ed.): Social innovation. On the way to a post-industrial innovation paradigm. Wiesbaden 2010, pp. 21-52.
  9. Joana Breidenbach, Dennis Buchmann, Kathleen Ziemann: betterplace lab - Trend Report 2012 .
  10. ^ Jürgen Howaldt, Ralf Kopp, Michael Schwarz: Shaping innovations (research) - On the new role of the social sciences. In: WSI-Mitteilungen. 2008 (2), pp. 63-69.
  11. Gerald Beck, Cordula Kropp (Ed.): Society Innovative - Who are the actors? Wiesbaden 2012.
  12. ^ Course at Danube University Krems in Austria
  13. BA Management of Social Innovation
  14. Master's course "Management of Social Innovations"
  15. ZSI (Center for Social Innovation): Impulses for social development. ZSI discussion paper. Vienna 2008.
  16. Maria Laura Bono: Innovation in NPOs: Creativity in the service of mission. In: Social work in Austria. 01/2015, ISSN  1019-7729
  17. ^ Maria Laura Bono: Street newspapers. Lambertus, Freiburg in Breisgau 1999, ISBN 3-7841-1159-9 .
  18. Maria Laura Bono: Effect-oriented controlling between legitimation and organizational learning. In: Andreas Strunk (Ed.): Mission statement development and systemic controlling. (= Social Economy Edition. Volume 35). Nomos, Baden-Baden 2013, ISBN 978-3-8329-6473-3 .
  19. ^ Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation:
  20. What Is the Social Innovation Fund?
  21. ^ Jose Manuel Barroso: Promoting Social Innovation - Dialogue with President Barroso. Europa Press Releases Rapid, Reference: IP / 09/81 of January 20, 2009. (online at: )
  22. European Commission: Green Paper on Innovation. December 1995. (online at: )
  23. Energy Neighborhood ( Memento of the original from March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  24. ^ Fossil Free Germany
  25. botch no thanks
  26. “Givebox” gift booth - an idea makes many happy , Der Westen, February 8, 2012, for further sources see discussion
  27. List of Givebox locations
  28. frents
  29. leihdirwas
  30. Fair lending
  31. Lending is the new buying , by Andreas Nefzger, FAZ, April 3, 2013
  32. Lets share
  33. Leila's range , Leila, Germany's first rental shop
  34. My harvest
  35. Almost like at home , by Birgit-Cathrin Duval, Die Zeit, February 25, 2009
  36. Sustainability Day in Baden-Württemberg
  37. Pfandastic help
  38. Give a deposit
  39. Germany rounds up
  40. Harald Fasching, Reingard Lange Ed .; with a follow-up by Carlo Knöpfel: Social management: Basics and positions of social management between preservation and radical change . 1st edition Haupt, Bern 2005, ISBN 3-258-06814-3 .