The Role of Universities in Social Innovation
Panel discussion in the course of the XIV. International Triple Helix Conference
In the course of the XIV. International Triple Helix Conference, Heidelberg, Germany, September 25th-27th, 2016 a panel discussion titled “Social Innovation: On the Roles of Universities” was organized by Doris Schartinger and Matthias Weber from the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology.
The panel discussion took as particular point of departure SI DRIVE results on the role of universities in social innovation initiatives from the SI Drive report Mapping the World of Social Innovation: A Global Comparative Analysis Across Sectors and World Regions by Howaldt, Schröder, Kaletka, Rehfeld, and Terstriep (2016) (see http://www.si-drive.eu/?p=2210). This report presents results from the mapping of 1000 social innovation cases, where we can see that most partners involved in the mapped initiatives are from non-profit/non-governmental organisations (46 per cent), followed by public bodies (45 per cent) and private companies (37 per cent). In 15 per cent of initiatives we see universities in a partnering role. Partnering role means that it is an individual, group, organisation/institution or network directly supporting the project and the implementation of the solution.
The Triple Helix thesis is that the potential for innovation and economic development in a Knowledge Society lies in a more prominent role for the university and in the hybridisation of elements from university, industry and government to generate new institutional and social formats for the production, transfer and application of knowledge (see http://triplehelix.stanford.edu/3helix_concept).
Panellists invited to the session “Social Innovation: On the Roles of Universities” were:
Effie Amanatidou / Innovation Policy Analyst at Manchester Institute of Innovation Research (MIoIR), University of Manchester (UK)
Attila Havas / Senior research fellow at Institute of Economics at Institute of Economics, Hungarian Academy of Science (HU)
Michael Hölscher / Professor of Higher Education and Science Management at German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer (DE)
Adriano La Vopa / Business Process Expert at Innoventually, Philips (NL)
Paul Windrum / Deputy Director of Centre for Health Innovation, Leadership & Learning at University of Nottingham (UK)
The inputs and discussion points during this panel session gave a multi-faceted and diverse picture of the different roles of universities and the various angle points of how to view and evaluate these roles.
In most of the contributions the distinction was made between different levels of analysis of universities, thus appreciating the different avenues and roles of universities for the development and diffusion of social innovations. On the level of university researchers in social innovation initiatives, contributions of individuals and/or groups can be the analysis social issues (problems), provision of expertise and/or ‘counter-expertise’, and the co-production of knowledge with other (non-academic) SI actors. On the organizational level, universities furthermore contribute as financiers (investors in SI), landlords (provider of facilities for SI processes), advisors (on other relevant knowledge sources, potential partners, etc.), and mentors (persuade third parties to adopt SI and/or invest in it) (please see also Cunha & Benneworth, 2013).
Another viewpoint is that universities themselves can be forms of social innovation. Here, the Barefoot college claimed a lot of attention (https://www.barefootcollege.org/), which acted as real world changer in one of the poorest areas in India (Tilonia), built from 1980-1985 by a Tilonian community, and now operates in 1,300 villages in 80 countries worldwide. But also, the Open University was introduced as an example, as from its inception, the goal of the Open University has been to extend Higher Education to working people, and to others who would otherwise not be able to access higher education.
Concerning the expertises and citizens’ involvement in social innovation it was stated that there is much yet to address of how best to develop citizens’ competences. This requires a better understanding of what is feasible, and what are reasonable limits of expertise – otherwise we risk to develop a ‘blame the citizen’ culture. And this is a key issue, to which universities and other Higher Education organisations can contribute.
Knowledge produced by academics adds to the breeding ground that social innovations build on. Often this can be traced specifically, in other cases it adds to a general reservoir of knowledge that social innovations are nourished from. Universities train some of the social innovators, and in various examples also set up course and training programmes that specifically address social innovation and social entrepreneurs.
Cunha, J., & Benneworth, P. 2013. Universities’ contributions to social innovation: towards a theoretical framework. Paper preseneted at the EURA Conference 2013, 3-6 July, Enschede, The Netherlands.
Howaldt, J., Schröder, A., Kaletka, C., Rehfeld, D., & Terstriep, J. 2016. Mapping the World of Social Innovation: A Global Comparative Analysis Across Sectors and World Regions. In S. DRIVE (Ed.), Social Innovation: Driving Force of Social Change.
Peter Oeij, Steven Dhondt & colleagues published an article on workplace innovation in the journal of the Russian Academy of Science from SI Drive partner ISEDT RAS. Based on a 51-case study research in 10 EU Member States this article demonstrates the implementation of workplace innovation. Why do companies apply workplace innovation and what different strategies can be discerned? How do these companies implement workplace innovation interventions and who are involved in that process? Finally, what types of workplace innovation interventions are being implemented, and what is known about the (expected) effects.
English version: http://esc.vscc.ac.ru/article/2031/full?_lang=en; Russian version: http://esc.vscc.ac.ru/article/2031/full
Social innovation in areas of weak horizontal competition: insights from case studies
There are aspects of weak horizontal competition in nearly all cases in the policy field, which means that at least at the beginning of the initiatives there was rarely a competitor offering a similar solution. Sometimes this changed over the longer course of the initiatives and competition arose and at least elements of the strategy or solution got imitated.
In the practice field of repairing, re-use and extending the life-time of products, (horizontal) competition is weak among independent repair service providers. Actually, firm entries are often welcome in case they provide independent and reliable repair services. Protection of intellectual property hardly occurs. Although names of organizations are trademarked, knowledge and practices are rather spread among the like-minded. However, (vertical) competition is fierce with producers of new goods and large retailers selling these. They are seen as the real competitors because due to differential taxation of labour and energy, new appliances may be supplied at low prices that hinder (labour-intensive) repair services systematically.
In the food practice field, concerning the North-Atlantic Salmon Fund (NASF), at first there was no competition. However, fisheries departments in some government offices see NASF efforts also as a threat to their policies and work effort. As a consequence, some responded to the rise of NASF by starting to come up with their own ideas for how to arrange with salmon conservation. However, as they could not demonstrate any significant results matching those of NASF, there was no real competition.
Concerning Tarimsal Pazalarma (TR), competition between farmers certainly plays a role in their support for Agricultural Marketing. The platform is created to provide concrete advantages to the farmer. However, competition with other projects has not played a role as no one else had been doing anything similar during the initial developmental years of Agricultural Marketing.
Many social innovations attempt to tackle symptoms rather than the root causes of societal challenges
Several potentially interesting theoretical implications of the work of SI-DRIVE’s policy field on “poverty reduction and sustainable development” (PRSD) have arisen from recent workshops and discussions amongst partners. One of these is the realization that many of the PRSD social innovation initiatives studied are, in essence, concerned only to meet immediate social needs without recognising that typically these are merely the symptoms of more structural root causes, which are hardly considered let alone addressed. For example, partners agree that an important characteristic of PRSD social innovation is the attempt to improve the agency of vulnerable people so that they can increasingly address their own social needs in future, whilst tending to ignore the wider societal structures which produce these social needs in the first place. In the former context, capacity building, which also incorporates awareness-raising and advocacy within the poor or vulnerable communities themselves, is an example. In the latter case, an example is recognising that time poverty is often more significant than income poverty given that recent research shows that the poor in any society have precarious structures within which to live and work so that they typically expend all their effort simply surviving from day to day or week to week, and don’t have sufficient time or energy to plan for and invest in their own, their family’s or their community’s future. This is not the traditional ‘poverty trap’, normally thought of as a self-reinforcing mechanism which sees the individual sink further into hopelessness through their own lack of effort to change their lives because of laziness or low intelligence. Instead, it recognizes that poor people more than others in society typically have to contend with a highly complex and unpredictable social and economic environment.
According to this recent research, structural readjustments, laws, regulations, cross-agency and non-government collaborations, etc., are needed, designed to make the poor’s lives as easy and as simple as possible so they can focus on solving their own problems of scarcity rather than grappling with a complex system that is often not contextually embedded. This approach often involves creating a customized ‘cockpit’ of information, controls and supports for the individual. Examples might include the recent employment tribunal ruling in the UK that Uber no longer has the right to classify drivers as self-employed but instead as employees who have the right to receive the national living wage and holiday pay, with likely implications for gig economy. This legal change considerably simplifies drivers’ lives and provides them with more long-term security. An Indian example is the use of ICT to promote the financial inclusion of the poor by simplifying and linking up contextual structures and supports around them through the world’s largest bio-metric ID system. This means that the pre-existing complex system of subsidies and benefits for the poor are now being provided through a one-stop shop with simple identification, both raising awareness of what the poor are entitled to and making it very easy to access their rightful benefits.
Mullainathan, S., Shafir, E. (2013) “Why having too little means so much”, Allen Lane, Penguin Group, London.
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