Comparative Report on Social Innovation across Europe

Alessandro DESERTI, Maria KLEVERBECK, Tamami KOMATSU, Francesca RIZZO & Judith TERSTRIEP

In mid-August the comparative report on social innovation was delivered. It includes the empirical findings of SIMPACT project elicited from the analysis and discussion of the Business Case Studies, the Social Innovation Biographies and the theoretical framework defined in the previous months. More specifically, based on the common understanding of economic principles, objectives & components related to social innovation a first categorisation of factors and concepts affecting social innovation trajectories was firstly elaborated. Subject to an iterative process of theorising and evidence collection, the theoretically deduced categories and related hypotheses required empirical verification.

SIMPACT's overall research programme is directed towards establishing strong synergies between the production of theory, strategy and appropriate methodologies. In this vein, the evolutionary character of social innovations and the dynamics of related policy streams are reflected in the distinct forms and various levels of analysis:

  • Meta-analysis of existing social innovation cases
  • Business Case Studies
  • Social Innovation Biographies

Social Innovation Components - Institutions, Actors & Resources

  1. Political, social, welfare and economic institutions are designed with the purpose of empowering targeted actors as well as providing market and non-market incentives to accelerate social change.
  2. Political institutions at local, regional, national and European level constitute a building block of social innovation and foster/impede its processes.
  3. Organisations in search for legitimacy and justification of their activities, are bound by isomorphic attitude rather than being constrained to act rationally.
  4. Social innovations tend to challenge institutions and thus, require an understanding of institutional order and multilevel governance that direct institutions, which facilitate or impede their implementation.
  5. Tailored support infrastructures and the availability of intermediaries help to successfully establish, diffuse and sustain social innovations.
  6. The relevance of actors' roles as inner core, promoter, supporter, beneficiaries, follower/imitator, and opponents varies largely in the SI Ecosystem.
  7. Actors from civil society are strongly involved in the iteration stage of social innovation, whereby important actors from economic and political field participate later on in the innovation process with regard to funding.
  8. Social Innovations' development paths? within a field, sector and territory are determined by the nature and extent of relationships between distinct actors from public, private sector and civil society
  9. Social innovation actors need to combine economic and social resources to successfully develop and sustain innovative solutions.
  10. In accelerating the innovation process, experiences and competences of innovators play a pivotal role, while direct experience of the problem or of the solution behind the social innovation is one of the strongest motivations of social innovators' engagement.
  11. Broad knowledge in distinct domains appears to be a key success factor in social innovation.

Distribution of Cases

Our Understanding

Components comprise the institutional context plus actors and resources as central production factors.

Social Innovators' Social, Economic & Political Objectives

  1. Social innovators' objectives are influenced by the context within which the social innovation evolves.
  2. Social innovators seldom pursue solely social goals, but follow a dual strategy of economic and social objectives.
  3. Social innovation focusing on social and economic value generation applies hybrid forms of organisation.
  4. Social Innovators use economic resources to support their social mission rather than investing in their economic activities which may impede social innovations from growing.
  5. Empowerment and capacity building are core objectives of social innovations addressing vulnerable and marginalised groups in society.
  6. To achieve set objectives, social innovation is usually configured as a frugal solution, structurally coping with a lack of resources, while social innovators act on the basis of bricoleur attitude.

Our Understanding

Micro and meso-level objectives refer to the goals and underlying motivations of actors or organisations to engage in social innovation. These objectives can be social in nature or cover social and economic goals.

(Rehfeld et al., 2015)

Social Innovation Principles

  1. Social innovation results from the combination of reaction to gaps and enabling conditions.
  2. Context specificity and dependency are stronger in social innovation than in other forms of innovation.
  3. Social innovation relies on relationships based on belonging, cooperation, trust, solidarity, reciprocity and mutuality.
  4. Social innovations' barriers are very context-specific. There is a strict relationship between the configuration of the ecosystem or environment of social innovation and the emergence of obstacles and sources of resistance.
  5. One of the big challenges social innovators are facing is the reliability of funding and an inability to secure risk-taking growth capital.
  6. Social innovation suffers from unfavourable policy: laws, regulations, lack of long-term funding options, all of which impede its development.
  7. Obstacles derive from breakdowns in the social innovation co-design and co-production processes.
  8. Social innovators do not apply New Product Development (NPD) strategies (use of prototypes, feedbacks, etc.).
  9. Intangible barriers to social innovation are associated to the capacities of the human capital.
  10. Scaling up social innovation combines the need to efficiently solve a problem with the need of local enabling conditions within which the social innovation can take shape.
  11. Social innovation most often exhibits mechanisms of scaling out that disseminate the idea behind the SI rather than the solution itself.
  12. Social innovation often shows mechanisms of «indirect scaling up», through which the solution may influence policies or trigger cultural and mindset changes.
  13. Social innovation's sustainability is ensured through a unique/creative system of procuring and allocating resources.
  14. A strong voluntary sector can hence be considered an enabler of social innovation generating valuable resources without heavy costs.
  15. Evaluation and measurement of social and/or economic impact are only seldom conducted by social innovators and social enterprises.
  16. The business models of social enterprises often use product/service sales to fund the social mission and to reduce donation, grant, and subsidy dependency.
  17. Complex business structures and models frequently characterise social innovation.
  18. Social innovation is often characterised by a divergent allocation of cost, use and benefit.
  19. The organisational and legal form is of utmost importance to give social Innovation projects/initiatives structure, while it is context-specific due to national legislation and requirements.
  20. Social innovation usually starts with a strong leadership.
  21. Social innovation manifests open leadership when it develops in not-for-profit enterprises.
  22. Double and triple learning loops characterise social innovations scaling up and out.

Effectiveness & Efficiency, Business Models & Governance

Social innovation principles refer to concepts or strategies for efficient allocation of resources in reference to the set objectives, modes of efficiency and governance.


2nd Stakeholder Experiment
Feedback from the Layer of Practice

Bastian PELKA

SIMPACT held it's second stakeholder involvement workshop on 25th June 2015 at CEPS office, Brussels. 12 external experts representing social entrepreneurs, social policy, welfare institutions and networks of vulnerable people, came together in a one day workshop, facilitated by TUDO researchers Bastian PELKA and Eva WASCHER.

«SIMPACT is building on rich data on social innovation», Bastian PELKA said. «But with our aim of providing practical tools and concepts for underpinning social innovation, we want to undergo our research a continuous 'reality check'», he adds. And this is where the smallscale stakeholder experiments come into play: Once per year TUDO is facilitating a workshop with external stakeholders to discuss SIMPACT's preliminary research findings with the layer of practice. These workshops are facilitated as «experiments», as it is the purpose of the workshops to confront the research findings with external ? and critical ? views. It is the aim of this task «(...) to contrast the modelling exercise with qualitative feedback from policy makers, intermediaries - representing the identified vulnerable groups - and innovators.» (SIMPACT Description of Work, 9).

The smallscale stakeholder experiments aim at qualitative feedback from the perspective of all quadruple helix partners on Social Innovation. These are stakeholders who are either

  • actually working with one or more fields of vulnerable people and can be seen as their stakeholders,
  • responsible for policy in this area,
  • active social innovators or
  • supporting social innovation processes by research, consultation or facilitation.

TUDO collected central theses from all running research activities within SIMPACT and the 2nd stakeholder workshop was experimenting with these theses. The following statements exemplify the feedback received:

  • SI is not always a better solution for every actor. While the academic (and political) discourse on social innovation is widely optimistic on the chances and impact of SI, the stakeholders - representing welfare bodies, marginalised persons or policy and research entities in this field - mark a different position. For them 'being new' is not a value itself, but rather the reason for changing running services. Additionally, the character of ?pilots? is criticized, as people working with people in need strive to provide services for all, which is not possible with 'new' or 'pilot' services. The overall understanding of the notion of SI is rather sceptical in this target group.
  • 'The new' always challenges 'the existing'. Therefore stakeholders of existing large entities see SI challenging established services.
  • SI tends to emerge from and to produce multi-actor constellations. But with the rise of complexity also efforts to construct and maintain these structures raise. 'Silo thinking' and higher investments in complex structures seem to be a barrier for cross-sectoral cooperation.
  • Trust is the condition sine qua non of SI. This strongly links to the complexity and novelty of SI, as both are challenging actors to move 'out of their comfort zone' and trust in partners.
  • Clash of system logics: Social innovators feel suppressed by controlling systems (either in their institutions or by other actors) that are guided by short term impact assessment. This seems to reveal a clash of system logics: While social innovators put 'help' on top of their agenda, many systems apply concepts as 'effective' or 'cost saving'.
  • SI will follow different development pathways in different national states. SI seems to build on civil engagement, a strong and connected civil society, trust between actors and multiple actor networks. All these 'ingredients' seem to dramatically differ between countries. As a consequence a strong influence of the national states on the emergence, spread and impact of SI can be expected.


Personalisation and Social Entrepreneurship

Francesca RIZZO

On 10th July 2015 Simpact European research project organized one full day of the EUROPEAN SUMMER SCHOOL ON SOCIAL ECONOMY (ESSE) held in Bertinoro (FC), Italy, by the University of Bologna and Aiccon association in partnership with EMES Network, Euricse and the Social Economy and Civil Society Integrated Research Team of Bologna University. The summer school focused on «Personalisation and Social Entrepreneurship» and included 23 participants of which 18 students (students, PhDs and researchers) and 5 practitioners mostly coming from Europe (67%) but also from Asia (12%), Middle-East (13%) and America (8%).

The morning session included two lessons on the economic underpinning of social innovation and on SI ecosystems, presenting the two EU projects SIMPACT and SI-Drive. SIMPACT project coordinator Judith TERSTRIEP from IAT opened the session framing the context. She presented the main global challenges that need to find new responses, such as health related issues, demographic change and wellbeing, climate change, the liberalization of the economic systems and the ways societies are reacting to them. She completed the introduction by providing the participants with concrete numbers on poverty, unemployment and especially youth current condition across Europe, that appears to be one of the main challenges at EU level.

She then explained social innovation using already existing definitions from different authors and highlighted the changing perspective to get to the Simpact project definition focusing on «empowering and (re-)engaging vulnerable groups in society either through the innovation process or as a result of it». Indeed SIMPACT proposes a mind-shift from «vulnerable as burden of society» towards «vulnerable as untapped potential for society».

Judith deeply presented SIMPACT explaining the concept, from roots to results, and focusing on the work already done regarding Middle Range Theorising and Evidence-based Knowledge. A significant part of the talk was dedicated to the methodology used for collecting the evidences through the Business Case Studies and the Social Innovation Biographies including desk and field research and the process of triangulation of the achieved insights. She then concluded presenting the results from the comparative analysis and an extract of the findings related to the theoretical model:


Components, Objectives & Principles

SI components, objectives, principles

Christoph KALETKA from TU Dortmund University presented some reflections on SI ecosystems driven from SI-Drive. He started by defining SI ecosystems as the interplay of resources, environmental conditions and «... a set of complex, interdependent relationships that function best through effective networks and communities» (Pulford 2011, 113). Then he introduced the three project main objectives:

  • Integrating theories and research methodologies to advance understanding of SI leading to a comprehensive new paradigm of innovation.
  • Undertaking European and global mapping of SI, thereby addressing different social, economic, cultural, historical and religious contexts in Europe and eight major world regions.
  • Ensuring relevance for policy makers and practitioners through in-depth analyses and case studies in seven policy fields, with cross European and world region comparisons, foresight and policy round tables.

Christoph's lessons focused on the full understanding of the main social innovation intermediaries commonly called SI Labs, Hubs or Centres. He pointed out the existence of four categories of Labs based on the actor they serve.

Other possible classification were taken into account such as the problems addressed, named as complex problems, with different actors, disciplines, sectors involvement; adaptive problems, changing due to actors adjusting their behaviour; problems for which there is no clear responsibility / accountability.

The presentation concluded by presenting two case studies on the Toronto and Tilbourg Centres/Labs to provide a concrete example of such form of SI intermediaries.

In the end of the morning an open discussion on the SIMPACT project evidences was facilitated by Alessandro Deserti from Politecnico di Milano. While the afternoon session was entirely dedicated to the students groups that worked on the reverse engineering of SIMPACT's case studies to draw their business models.


Distinct Labs

  • 1

    SI Labs advancing funder goals of addressing complex social problems, e.g. Stanford ChangeLabs, InSTEDD.

  • 2

    Public Labs serving the public sector, either enabled by or forming part of a government, e.g. MindLab (Danemark), Public Policy Lab (New York), Behavioral Insight Team (UK).

  • 3

    Internal Labs serving the organization they are embedded within, e.g. UNICEF Innovation Labs, World Bank Innovation Labs.

  • 4

    Autonomous Social Labs standalone and often permanent labs built to address a specific problem, e.g. Sustainable Food Lab, Electricity Innovation Lab.

SIMPACT Consortium attends the International Social Innovation Research Conference 2015

Alfonso UNCETA, Javier CASTRO SPILA, Álvaro LUNA

SIMPACT project partners were part of the Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC) 2015, which was held in York from the 6th to the 8th of September. Among these partners were members from the Westphalian University - IAT, the Neoma Business School, TNO, and Sinnergiak. Most presentations were held under the topic «Economic Underpinnings and Social Innovation», which was chaired by SIMPACT coordinator, Judith Terstriep (IAT), Alex Nicholls and Rafael Ziegler (Oxford University, CreSSI project).

This topic was a strategic subject in the conference, aknowledging the importance of the different theoretical approaches towards social innovation, and its social and economic impact. In this sense, the contributions of the mentioned Simpact partners was crucial by pointing out the main challeneges we encounter when we analyse social innovation initiatives and try to measure its processes of development and implementation. This approach towards the study of social innovation was emphasized by the contirbutions of:

  • Sharam Allijani. From economic roots to economic choices: An exploratory study of economic undepinnings of social innovation (NEOMA Business School).
  • Judith Terstriep. From idea to implementation: Dynamics of components, objectives & principles in the social innovation process (IAT).
  • Dieter Rehfeld. The dilema approach: Overcoming static approaches in social and cultural sciences (IAT).
  • David Langley, Iris Blankers & Rita Ziauberyte-Jakstiene. Good first shot: Exante economic impact assesment of social innovations at the European Level (TNO).

Another of the key topics in the conference was focused on Hybridity, Governance, and Organising Social Innovation, where Sinnergiak partners Alfonso, Unceta, Javier Castro, and Álvaro Luna presented their proposal Social Innovation Communities: Hybridity and Governace, stressing out their hybrid nature in the development and managment of their potential capacities, when facing social problems and desinging socio-innovative prototypes.


In Short

The track «Rethinking Business Models for Social Innovation» organised by SIMPACT project within the SI Conference «Pathways to social change» has received a lot of attention from the conference attendees. Due to the high number of requests the organisers have decided to open it to a larger audience.

Short description: Even if quite a few adaptations to social enterprises of schemes and tools meant to design business models for commercial enterprises have been tried, there is a lack of investigation and understanding of the specificity of business models for social innovation. Apart from the seminal work of Smith, Binns and Tushman (2010) and that of Jonker and Dentchev (2013), very little has been said on this topic. The session will present and discuss with participants the results of the extensive empirical research on the economic foundation of social innovation conducted in the SIMPACT project, showing how social innovation is characterised by intrinsic contradictions/dilemmas and other contextual conditions that naturally lead to the creation of complex business models, partially or substantially different from those adopted by commercial enterprises.


Rethinking Business Models for Social Innovation

19 November 2015, 11.00-12.30
Social Innovation 2015 Conference, Vienna

The UBATH team together with Judith Terstriep published a new working paper on the SIMPACTs website: Stimulating, Resourcing and Sustaining Social Innovation - Towards a New Mode of Public Policy Production and Implementation

Abstract: Social innovations «meet social needs», are «good for society» and «enhance society's capacity to act». But what does their rising importance tell us about the current state of public policy in Europe and its effectiveness in achieving social and economic goals? Some might see social innovation as a critique of public intervention, filling the gaps left by years of policy failure. Others emphasise the innovative potential of cross-boundary collaboration between the public sector, the private sector, the third sector and the household. This paper explores the conditions under which the state either enables or constrains effective social innovation by transcending the boundaries between different actors. We argue that social innovation is closely linked to public sector innovation, particularly in relation to new modes of policy production and implementation, and to new forms of organisation within the state that challenge functional demarcations and role definitions.


New SIMPACT Working Paper

Volume 2015 Issue 3


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