Social capacity for innovation

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

Menschen auf Rolltreppe; © Thinkstock/danielvfung


Human needs, such as the desire for security, quality of life and prosperity, have always been the drivers of innovation. Add to this openness, curiosity, a willingness to take risks, and courage, coupled with a critical view of one's own situation and of everything beyond that – and many of the basic preconditions for problem-solving and innovation have already been met.

Whether societies are capable of innovation or even willing to innovate depends on their ability to exploit the technological, economic, social and cultural potential of both their own society and other societies. There is no argument that education, a wealth of perspectives and experience, as well as cultural diversity, are essential sources of innovation, inspiration, and life-enhancing change.

The prerequisite for this is a research policy framework that enables and promotes social innovations. This include networks and ecosystems, promoting social innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as government programmes and financial support for research and start-ups.

Social innovations

Social innovations revolve around new ideas that address social needs and societal challenges, as well as creating and fostering cooperation and social relationships. In this way, they strengthen society's ability to act. Social innovations are social not only in that their objective is to solve societal challenges for the benefit of society, but also in the way they achieve this goal.


Social and technological innovations are also frequently linked in a direct way. The best example of this is digitisation. It provides new opportunities for information and participation, for cooperation and innovation, for individual and global learning. But are these opportunities also being exploited? And what risks to society are inherent in this?

Research on social innovations is firmly anchored in both German and EU funding programmes. For example, within the framework of the projects supported in "Horizon 2020" of the "6th Social Challenge", different forms of innovation are explored, as well as their development and their potential to bring about societal change, including in terms of the EU-wide effectiveness of social innovation and the transferability of best practice examples to other areas and regions of society.