Social Innovation as Institutional Innovation

Common understanding of Social Innovation (SI) as an essential component in policy discourses to solve the so-called Grand Challenges of the 21st Century confronts the need to answer the remaining ‘desperate quest for a definition’ (Djellal & Gallouj, 2012: p. 121). SI has become ‘overdetermined’ that is, associated with a variety of meanings and interpretations rooted in a diversity of disciplines and faces the risk of having its validity challenged (Laclau & Mouffe, 1985).
From the theoretical perspectives of science, technology and innovation studies, the EU-SPRI Exploratory study on Social Innovation Futures aspires to open academic debate to overcome current concerns surrounding ‘policy and chaotic’ views on the SI concept. Being the ‘innovation problem’ to understanding what affects innovation processes and how that shapes the change trajectories, the project aims to the nuclear question: How can SI be understood and interpreted as innovation process? (Benneworth et al., 2015).
SI processes take parts of an emergent paradigm that needs to explicitly address the issue of purpose and direction of change where the social and technological components of innovation should not be seen as contradictory, but as inherently connected (Howaldt et al., 2014). This paradigm shift claims for a theory of socio-technological innovation and new answers on the nature and purposes of innovation in society (Edwards-Schachter et al., 2012; Benneworth & Cuhna, 2014). It is also intrinsic to policy orientations to deal with global ‘intractable problems’ or ‘global challenges’ which dates back several decades ago, like in the references in the Club of Rome report Limits to Growth (1972), which likewise explicitly names social innovation, in parallel to technical change, to change political processes and structures to favour a sustainable development.
In this framework, this paper reviews the burgeoning literature that has developed in recent years a diversity of approaches on the role of institutions and institutional dynamic in innovation processes and explores their possible contributions and research avenues to SI1. The critical review attempts to examine important aspects and characteristics, which have so far remained rather latent, like institutional changes and legitimisation of SIs.
Mónica Edwards-Schachter*