Social capacity for innovation

Social innovation capability describes the ability of a society to produce innovations and utilise them in a special way to overcome social challenges and also to initiate social change.

Menschen auf Rolltreppe; © Thinkstock/danielvfung


A changing understanding of innovation

For a long time, innovation was associated with a continuous improvement in the economic and social situation for large sections of society. In view of the environmental and climate crisis, the rise of radical right-wing parties and forces and a war in Europe, the ability of society to innovate has taken on a new urgency. It serves to overcome the major challenges facing society. "We must be a sustainable society that is efficient, crisis-proof and characterised by cohesion. We need to strengthen our ability not only to manage crises with foresight, but also to proactively and innovatively shape transformation processes towards sustainable development and to strengthen and defend an open, liberal and democratic society." This is how the Federal Government's Future Strategy for Research and Innovation puts it.

This means that the social sciences play an important role in the innovation process. They are addressed and called upon to contribute their potential, among other things to work towards an opportunity-orientated and responsible approach to scientific, social and technological progress. To this end, spaces should be created for critical reflection on technological and social changes.

The role of the social sciences in innovation research

With the framework programme "Understanding Society - Shaping the Future", the Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF) is strengthening research into social innovation capability by initiating research that explores the social, political, cultural and economic foundations of tomorrow's innovation society.

In recent years, the social sciences have been heavily involved in research on "social innovations", which have great potential for solving social challenges (departmental concept on social innovations).

Funding measures in the thematic priority "Strengthening social innovation capacity"

In August 2021, the funding guideline "Researching regional factors for innovation and change - strengthening social innovation capacity" was published. The funding measure is being implemented as part of the BMBF's "REGION.innovativ" programme. The funding guideline focusses on the question of how complex innovation interrelationships are represented at regional level and how structurally weak regions in particular can initiate and successfully shape change through innovation. Among other things, we are interested in how the approach of social innovation capability can be operationalised for regional practice, which characteristics of regional innovation ecosystems can be described and which institutional, socio-demographic, political and cultural framework conditions have a favourable or inhibiting effect on social innovation capability.

To answer these questions, application-oriented research projects from the fields of social sciences, humanities and economics are being funded. Between September 2022 and January 2023, 14 projects, including seven collaborative projects, started work.

Research into the social impact of the coronavirus pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a crisis that has resulted in drastic changes in many areas of society. In order to contribute to a better understanding of the coronavirus crisis and its long-term social impact, the BMBF is funding 18 research projects.