Social innovations

– Perspectives from six countries

Social innovation includes, in a wide sense, innovative solutions to meet social problems in society – from how a village society takes care of its children to new health and care processes. While the term "social innovation" has become more commonly used in the innovation and care debate in recent years, it is not a new concept in itself. However, social innovation has during the last years been highlighted in a number of countries as a possibility to better utilize the innate innovation capacity and engagement of the society as a whole, something that cannot always be accomplished through the traditional funding channels for research and innovation alone. By taking the starting point in international experiences this report discusses what Swedish organizations could do to create an increased awareness and better infrastructures in order for society to better use social innovations.

Social innovations are often motivated by other factors than economic gain which, in turn, results in specific demands on funders and others that are part of the support structures. Public authorities, charities and foundations are likely to play important roles and a large number of actors including individuals, associations, charities, universities, companies and authorities may be involved.

Innovation processes for social purposes are often of a social nature themselves and may be anything from local to international. Social innovation initiatives may include organizations and individuals that are less used to seeking funds from public or private funders. Therefore matchmaking processes between innovators and funders may be of special importance. In some cases, non-profit organizations, knowledgeable about social innovations, act as intermediaries to identify, follow-up and evaluate different initiatives. Not least are assessments about the possibilities to scale up and generalize social innovations important to assess their potential.

A number of local, national and international initiatives that relate directly or indirectly to social innovations have been started during recent years. Social innovations are not always mentioned explicitly in these initiatives, as the area is heterogeneous and as many initiatives are multidisciplinary. One area in which authorities can contribute is in the build-up of platforms, partnerships and networks with many actors and stakeholders such as funders, non-governmental organizations, municipalities, government and universities. Such networks are important not least to identify potential collaborations between innovators, for funding and for support. A system to facilitate the creation and utilization of social innovations needs to take into account that such innovation activities take place in many constellations and in many areas. Therefore, a substantial flexibility in the mechanisms is probably necessary as well as an open and accessible infrastructure on regional and national levels that also is able to link to the international networks. Interesting examples include for example NESTA:s Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund and the global network Social Innovation Exchange (SIX). Some of the areas that are likely to be important for the support of social innovation activities in Sweden are:

  • Networks and meeting places need to be developed in order to match innovators and support in the best way. In this, virtual meeting places on the Internet as well as physical meeting places and conferences should be of interest. The use of intermediaries to identify and follow-up promising initiatives is interesting and could be used also in Sweden.
  • An increase awareness that the driving forces for social innovations partly are different from those for commercially oriented innovations is needed, as is a continued analysis of the measures needed to stimulate social innovations and increase the participation in connected activities. Of the countries studied in this project the United Kingdom may have developed furthest in this respect.
  • The ability to evaluate, generalize, scale-up and disseminate innovations is of special importance for social innovations. Swedish research- and innovation funding organizations could, by the introduction of specific calls, take a leading role in the production of evidence concerning which methods that work and for which types of innovations this applies.

Social innovations – Perspectives from six countries

Serial number: PM 2014:12

Reference number: 2011/350

Download Swedish report Pdf, 1.6 MB.


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