18. Social Innovation – Is there a Role for Universities?

Track conveners – Matthias Weber, Doris Schartinger, Austrian Institute of Technology doris.schartinger@ait.ac.at


Social innovation: Is there a role for universities?

There is little doubt that social innovations will be widely necessary to address ecosystem challenges. However, there are a variety of definitions that emphasize differentiated aspects of social innovation. The Stanford Social Innovation Review (Phills, Deiglmeier, & Miller, 2008) defines social innovation as ‘a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals.

Considering that universities are a key component in the Triple Helix model (Etzkowitz 2008) this leads us now to the question if universities are equally important for the category of social innovations that focusses on the intent to solve social needs and ecosystem problems. It may be that we can expect different roles of universities in different types of social innovations. First, social innovations that try to exploit the benefits of technologies in connecting people, organisations, resources and services in a new way to may be more likely to involve active roles of universities in the course of the innovation processes, whereas social innovations that respond to local social demands and are oragnised by change agents like NGOs, association etc. do not incorporate active roles for universities in the first row. However, their strategic view of the social problem and possible solutions they address may also build on university research findings (among others).

So we invite contributions that address the qualitatively different roles for universities in different social innovation undertakings. Furthermore, we invite theoretical and empirical perspectives from different areas, as well as experimental research and case studies of social innovations addressing ecosystem challenges.



Etzkowitz, H. 2008. The triple helix: university-industry-government innovation in action. New York:


Phills, J. A. J., Deiglmeier, K., & Miller, D. T. 2008. Rediscovering Social Innovation. Social Innovation

Review (Stanford: Stanford Graduate School of Business, Fall).