Social capacity for innovation

Social innovations focus on technological and social innovations that involve society as an essential actor.

Menschen auf Rolltreppe; © Thinkstock/danielvfung


A changing understanding of innovation

For a long time, it was believed that innovation was related to the continuous improvement of the economic and social situation of large parts of the society. In view of the increasing number of social problems (environmental, climate and financial crises as well as the current crisis situation of a global pandemic), the definition of a society's ability to innovate is changing. In addition to the goal of increasing growth and prosperity, the goal is also to overcome the so-called "major social challenges". The High-Tech Strategy 2025 of the Federal Republic of Germany entitled "Research and innovation for people", takes this change into account in a prominent way. In addition to the strengthening of future competencies and the establishment of an open innovation and risk culture in Germany, the handling of major social challenges is named as one of the three major fields of action to which the High-Tech Strategy is geared.

The social science community is directly addressed and called upon to contribute its potential, among other things to work towards an opportunity-oriented and responsible approach to scientific and technological progress. To this end, spaces are to be created for critical reflection on technological as well as societal changes. The humanities and social sciences contribute to the development of an open and sustainable society that is capable of innovation.

The (new) role of the social sciences in innovation research

With the framework programme "Understanding society - shaping the future", the BMBF will strengthen research on the social capacity for innovation by initiating research to explore the social, political, cultural and economic foundations of the 'innovation society’ of tomorrow.

It is assumed that the innovation society of tomorrow will or must look different from that of today. The decision on the exact course or direction of transformation and on the paths that should be taken is associated with enormous challenges. This raises, to take just one example, the question of how to deal with the contradictions of the steadily accelerating innovation process. Today, it is undisputed that the tremendous innovation performances of our industrialised societies have played a pivotal role in achieving historically unique growth and prosperity. But it is equally true that these innovations have led to climate change and an increase in socio-economic inequality.

In recent years, the social sciences have become hugely involved in research on "social innovations", which have great potential for solving social challenges (departmental concept on social innovations). In an extension of this approach, which focuses on concrete innovation measures, the question of "social capacity for innovation" looks at the innovation system itself and its role in sustainable societal development. Of course, this will be done in close cooperation with stakeholders from practice and on the basis of concrete case studies.

Funding measures in the focus area of "Strengthening the social capacity for innovation”

The funding guideline "Exploring regional factors for innovation and change - strengthening the social capacity for innovation" was published in August 2021. The funding measure is carried out in cooperation with the BMBF programme "REGION.innovativ". Comprehensive information on this programme as well as FAQs on the current funding guideline can be found here.

The funding guideline focuses on the question of how complex innovation contexts present themselves at the regional level and how structurally weak regions in particular can initiate and successfully shape change through innovation. Some of the points of interest here are: how the approach of social capacity for innovation 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 the social capacity for innovation.

To answer these questions, application-oriented research projects from the fields of social sciences, humanities and economics are funded, where the integration of natural science and engineering research perspectives is possible. Cooperation with practice partners in the selected structurally weak regions is required and can be organised in line with the content-related and methodological orientations of the respective research project.