The TRANSIT Project developed a theory of transformative social innovation, grounded in knowledge and insights from empirical research on 20 translocal social innovation networks and more than 100 related social innovation initiatives.
In 2013, the European Union invited the scientific community to more systematically study the role of social innovation in addressing societal challenges. This call was linked to an increasing interest in the ways that social innovation could contribute to solutions to many of the problems associated with government budget cuts, stagnating economies, high unemployment, and other pressing social needs and environmental concerns. Starting from a contention that ‘business as usual’ approaches were not enough, a group of researchers joined forces to better understand the relation between social innovation and transformative social change. Under the banner of the TRANSIT project, our aim was to develop a theory of transformative social innovation, based on learning from empirical cases.
We embarked on a journey of theorising transformative social innovation, informed by previous work in transition research, social psychology, political theory, institutional theory, and several other fields, and grounded in the data obtained from new empirical research on some 20 translocal social innovation networks and 100+ related social innovation initiatives; we studied for example the Global Ecovillage Network, as well as individual ecovillages in Germany, Portugal, Scotland and The Netherlands.
Transformative Social Innovation
TRANSIT approached social innovation as a process of introducing new social relations, involving the spread of new knowledge and new practices (where the newness is a matter of degree and perspective). Examples are: the trading of services against hours through a TimeBank, the influencing of local government budgets through participatory budgeting, or the practice of social entrepreneurs sharing a physical space and working towards collective social goals through Impact Hubs. Transformative social innovation is then defined as a process of changing social relations, involving challenging, altering or replacing the dominant institutions in a specific context. Participatory Budgeting redefines the relations between citizens and local government by challenging who decides on the spending of public money – in cities such as Porto Alegre in Brazil it is not the local government but the citizens who are taking budget decisions.
The questions that guided our research were as follows:
- How do we conceptualize and study transformative social innovation?
- How, to what extent and under which conditions does social innovation contribute to transformative change?
- How are people empowered (or disempowered) to contribute to such processes?
For an overview of the complete project, its main outcomes as well as hints for further reading, please consult our TRANSIT Brief #6: Transformative Social Innovation: What have we learned in four years of research.
Manifesto for Transformative Social Innovation
In these times of transition and uncertainty people long for new positive futures. They often look to established institutions and traditional leaders but these seem to be unable to break away from existing power structures, an unsustainable economic model and ineffective policy approaches. With the Manifesto for Transformative Social Innovation we want to redirect attention to the emerging movement of transformative social innovation: communities and individuals across the world that are making change on the ground
The TRANSIT website provides a full overview of all resources developed in the project. It also harbours an overview of the social innovation networks that we have studied and worked with during the project period.
DRIFTERs Flor Avelino and Julia Wittmayer have been leading two open access special issues and one edited book volume:
- Wittmayer, J.M., Pel, B., Bauler, T. & F. Avelino (2017) Editorial Synthesis: Methodological challenges in social innovation research. European Public and Social Innovation Review. 2(1): 1-16.
- Avelino, F., Wittmayer, J.M., Kemp, R. and A. Haxeltine (2017) Game changers and Transformative Social Innovation. Ecology & Society, 22(4): 41
- Backhaus, J., Genus, A., Lorek, S., Vadovics, E., J.M. Wittmayer (eds.) (2018) Social Innovation and Sustainable Consumption: Research and Action for Societal Transformation. Routledge: London
Duration of the project
The TRANSIT project started in 2014 and was completed in 2017.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 613169.
- DRIFT (Coordinator) – Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the Netherlands
- 3S-group – University of East Anglia, United Kingdom
- ICIS – University of Maastricht, the Netherlands
- IHS – Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the Netherlands
- ULB-CEDD – Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
- AAU – Aalborg University, Denmark
- SPRU – University of Sussex, United Kingdom
- IEC-UNQ – Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Argentina
- COPPE – Rio de Janeiro Federal University, Brasil
- People-Environment Research Group – Universidade da Coruña, Spain
- BOKU – University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, Austria
- ESSRG – research and development SME, Hungary
DRIFT Team (Project Coordinator)
Flor Avelino, Julia Wittmayer, Sarah Rach, Matthew Bach, Nilufar Bulut