Social Frontiers: Open Call for Social Innovation Research

31.01.2013 Blog

Announcing a new call for forward-thinking research on social innovation

Today we’ve published a call for proposals for a major research and policy conference on social innovation, to be held in the UK in November 2013. In partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University and the TEPSIE project, with support from the Social Innovation Exchange, the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Oxford, we are looking for research that will push knowledge and practice of social innovation, and set a collective research agenda for the next ten years.

All over the world, interest in social innovation is growing rapidly. The European Commission is making a substantial effort to support social innovation in practice, such as through the EU Social Innovation Prize and funding research. The UK Government are investing in social innovation through initiatives such as Big Society Capital and the Social Action Fund. Obama’s Office of Social Innovation has launched competitions, programmes and pay for success schemes to extend the impact of social innovation in America. Entrepreneur and innovator networks are growing in India, Colombia has founded a Center for Social Innovation, the Arab World Social Innovators Programme is in its fourth year and last year Seoul in South Korea elected a social innovator as Mayor.

Yet despite thriving practitioner networks and a real commitment from policymakers and foundations to support social innovation, empirical and theoretical knowledge of social innovation remains patchy and uneven. Though there are many institutions and individuals engaged in research – such as the fantastic work of the University of Waterloo and Social Innovation Generation in Canada, the EMES Network in Europe, the TSRC and Skoll Centre in the UK and the Stanford Business School in the US – there is more we could do to connect and build upon the existing knowledge base to test a fresh set of hypotheses to inform social innovation practice.

What are the theoretical traditions of social innovation? How much can be grounded in theory? How much is contextual?  What are the associated macro-economic factors? Where are the promising growth sectors for social innovation? Can we measure the social innovation capacity of an organisation, a community or a nation? Do we need to? What are the metrics? How are advances in open data and analytics affecting our understanding of social innovation? What is the role of collective action in addressing major social challenges?  How do frugal and grassroots innovation initiatives enhance our understanding of how innovation addresses social outcomes? Which policy levers are the most appropriate in supporting social innovation, and at what level? 

Of course, there are many people engaged in addressing these sorts of questions already. Our goal in launching this call is to consolidate existing knowledge, identify gaps and chart a way forward for deepening the evidence base.  We hope to deduce a new set of hypotheses to inform the direction of research in social innovation for the next decade, looking to other fields and disciplines for inspiration and guidance. At the conference in November, we hope to bring together social innovation researchers from a wide variety of academic disciplines and backgrounds. By bringing together a multiplicity of voices and perspectives on social innovation we hope to strengthen and extend existing networks and promote collaboration.

We are really excited about this opportunity and hope that you will get involved. Applications are open until March 1st 2013 to anyone involved in researching social innovation or a related field. Please take a look at the call for proposals on Nesta’s website and follow the application process outlined there. Winning submissions will be announced in April and invited to present at a major international conference on November 14th – 15th 2013. If you have any questions or would like more information, please email socialinnovation@nesta.org.uk.