Setting a future agenda for social innovation
In November 2013, I had the pleasure of helping to organise the Social Frontiers Research Conference held in Shoreditch, East London. The programme included a multitude of interesting and engaging sessions on a broad range of topics within the field of social innovation.
In the final session, we returned to some of the key questions that participants had raised at the beginning of the conference and discussed what a research agenda for the field might look like. Delegates worked in small groups to reflect on questions that stood out for them from the two days and make suggestions for maintaining the momentum of the community and its interactions going forward.
We asked participants to consider three key questions:
- What struck them as most compelling about the discussions they heard?
- Where are the gaps in the field that remain?
- What should be done to take this network forward?
The first question began to draw out what participants had observed about the state of social innovation research from the presentations at the conference. Several groups highlighted the strong relationship with practice and the breadth of methods being used by different researchers; case studies still dominate but we are also seeing the development of research databases and ethnographic approaches.
Regarding the conference format itself, participants appreciated the diversity of speakers and the open nature of discussions to date. But there was an acknowledgment that the social innovation research community tends to be dominated by western universities and groups so it will be important to continue efforts to strengthen global links and encourage broader participation. Delegates also noted the strong representation at the conference from design studies, which was welcomed as a discipline firmly rooted in practice.
The second question highlighted a number of ongoing gaps and questions, including:
- The need to explore instances where social innovation can be harmful
- The need to consider how well research and practice being undertaken under the banner of social innovation is contributing to solving real problems
- The need to better understand processes for sustaining, scaling and diffusion of innovation
- The importance of understanding of systems change
- The importance of better understanding the links between theory and practice
In thinking about next steps, there was enthusiasm for continuing to build the network that began at Social Frontiers. As a first move towards this, participants shared events they are involved in organising in 2014 that will provide opportunities continued discussions. These include:
- Social Entrepreneurs: Have Your Say, 16-17 January 2014, Strasbourg
- Final INNOSERV Conference, Paris, 29 January 2014
- 4th International Symposium CRISES: Social transformation through Social Innovation, 3-4 April 2014, at the University of Quebec at Montreal, Montreal (UQAM), Quebec
- Social Innovation Exchange (SIX) Summer School, last week of May 2014, Vancouver
- 6th International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC) hosted at the University of Northampton, early September 2014
- TEPSIE Final conference, date and venue to be announced, likely to be November 2014
Details of these events will be made available on www.siresearch.eu so do keep an eye on this Events page there.
We also discussed the possibility of running some joint events (for example, between FP7 research conferences and other networks) as a way of gathering the community together for future iterations of Social Frontiers. There was agreement that the community shouldn’t be owned by any one institution and so we expect to see different groups will get involved in taking this conference forward.
Many thanks again to all of our fantastic participants. All the outputs from the conference (including video and the papers presented) are now available.