Social Innovation – A Global Research Area @ TU Dortmund University

Social Innovation research has become one central area of research at Sozialforschungsstelle Dortmund – Central Scientific Institute of the TU Dortmund University. Social innovations in the sense of new social practices have been emerging in recent years as an object of both research and practice. They are exerting an influence on people’s lives in a variety of ways. They change the way we live together, work, handle crises and make the most of opportunities. Likewise, they are driving different societal sectors and cross-sectoral networks and individuals.

Social Innovation: A New Innovation Paradigm

A growing consensus among practitioners, policy makers and the research community shows that technological or business innovations alone are not capable of overcoming the social, economic and environmental challenges modern societies are facing. A vast and growing number of social innovation initiatives all over the world show the need to understand better what social innovations can achieve and how they can be deployed best. Social Innovation, in our sense, focuses on changing social practices to overcome societal challenges, meeting (local) social demands, and exploiting inherent opportunities in better ways than done before, referring to the different context specificities, being more than social entrepreneurship and different from pure technological or business development. Such a concept of Social Innovation is broad enough to encompass its whole variety and potential, and clear enough to distinguish Social Innovation from other concepts like technological, business or open innovation.


“A social innovation is a new combination and/or new configuration of social practices in certain areas of action or social contexts prompted by certain actors or constellations of actors in an intentional targeted manner with the goal of better satisfying or answering needs and problems than is possible on the basis of established practices. An innovation is therefore social to the extent that it, conveyed by the market or ‘non/without profit’, is socially accepted and diffused widely throughout society or in certain societal sub-areas, transformed depending on circumstances and ultimately institutionalised as new social practice or made routine.“ (Howaldt / Schwarz 2010)

Similar to technological innovations successful social innovations are based on a lot of presuppositions and require appropriate infrastructures and resources. Moreover, social innovations require specific conditions because they aim at activating, fostering and utilizing the innovation potential of the whole society. Support for Social Innovation requires dedicated policy approaches. This is likewise the case at the national and EU-level. From the past, we understand that specific policies were created to support technological innovation. Social Innovation requires better funding and support infrastructures similar to those for technology, and it needs better connecting to technological and business innovation in order to reap the full benefits resulting from the synergies between all three. The SI-DRIVE policy declaration, brought forward by the 25 SI-DRIVE partners under the lead of the Sozialforschungsstelle, summarizes the requirements for a comprehensive innovation policy on a national and European level. However, the establishment of such an innovation policy ultimately rests upon the development of a scientifically grounded concept of Social Innovation and the formation of a community dedicated to research social innovations theoretically and empirically. Against this background, the various projects and activities carried out by Sozialforschungsstelle Dortmund contribute to establish Social Innovation in society, policy and research

Interactive Map of Social Innovation

This link will lead you to the Interactive Map of Social Innovation.


This link will lead you to selected activitites of the sfs in the field of Social Innovation.


This link will lead you to selected (english) publications about Social Innovation.

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