Social Innovation Community in Retrospect – 1: Bridging science and society

After three exciting years, the Social Innovation Community project, aiming to strengthen, connect and grow existing social innovation communities, came to an end. What did we learn during the project? The DRIFT team shares some main insights and a number of promising resources that resulted from our involvement. In this first part of a series of five blogs, Julia Wittmayer and Sarah Rach explain how the project enhanced connections between science and society.

The Social Innovation Community project provided us with the possibility to further develop a range of activities that bridge science and society and thereby potentially increase the impact of social innovation research and practice.

One of the avenues was to design a format that we called ‘transformative research sessions’ (TRS). These sessions aimed at bringing together researchers and practitioners around a specific topic to exchange knowledge and practices, to network with one another and to discuss how to improve their interaction to increase societal impact and research relevance. Eventually, five Transformative Research Sessions were organised that focused on the ways in which our economy (#1) and the state (#2) works, addressed specific issues around youth unemployment (#3) and refugee inclusion (#4) as well as the transdisciplinary collaboration in a specific Social Innovation Lab in Wuppertal (Germany) (#5). The design of each of these sessions was based on four principles of transformative research: 1) Working in transdisciplinary teams of practitioners and researchers; 2) Valuing different kinds of knowledge; 3) Focusing on ‘real-world’ problems; 4) Aiming for transformative impact/having a transformative ambition.

Transformative Research Sessions
DRIFT organised two of these sessions – a first session on the transformative ambitions of new economy entrepreneurs and a second session on the inclusion of young refugees in the Netherlands. The first one was attended by a group of entrepreneurs, activists and researchers working in the collaborative and sharing economy in the Netherlands. One of the main propositions made during this TRS is that new economic practices require new research practices. The practitioners raised their wish for more research on the go rather than in retrospect and researchers becoming part of the social innovation practice and process.

This participatory approach to research requires a different academic attitude from researchers. At the same time more fundamental questions were asked as well. Why would one want to separate practice and research in the first place and use these labels? A more fruitful path could be to also see that science can be entrepreneurial and that an entrepreneur is also a researcher as s/he investigates the market and societal needs while developing their service. A general agreement concerned the fact that entrepreneurs and researchers ultimately share a common goal that of trying to make life better – although they use different means. Read more.

Summarizing and sharing
Julia summarized our main findings based on these sessions in two posts. The first is directed at researchers to rethink research as being a potentially socially innovative practice – as offering spaces of interaction with other societal stakeholders. Such spaces allow for alternative ways of thinking about and addressing a societal problem, thus opening up the possibility to work on social innovations that provide solutions for real-world problems. A second one is directed at social innovators and provides a number of reasons why collaborating with researchers could be worthwhile – especially if going beyond questionnaire and interview formats.

In addition, we have been encouraging researchers and practitioners to share their transformative ideas and practices of science and research. Many contributed, they discussed amongst others open access, the key developments for academic renewal, design approaches or wise research. If you are interested in this conversation (and in contributing to it), it has found a new home as part of the research forum of the European School of Social Innovation. This Research Forum aims to become “the place to exchange emerging research topics and questions, remarkable theories and innovative research methods”. This online discussion was fuelled by in-person sessions at the Living Knowledge Conference in Budapest (2018) and the International Social Innovation Research Conference in Heidelberg (2018) – for an overview of the insights see here.

Do you want to read more about insights that resulted from the Social Innovation Community project? Read part two of this blog series, offering insights on learning and innovating education on social innovation and written by Marijke de Pous, Marieke Verhagen and Giorgia Silvestri, part three on experimenting with social innovation & evaluation, written by Giorgia Silvestri and Sophie Buchel, the fourth blog on the writing workshop power & empowerment in social innovation, written by Flor Avelino, or blog 5, in which Julia Wittmayer looks forward: how can we apply the lessons learned?

And do you want to learn more about the Social Innovation Community? Visit our project page.

The research leading to the results mentioned in this blog has received funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 693883, Social Innovation Community.

June 24, 2019