What do you think is social innovation

What is a social innovation?

Smartphones, electric cars or artificial intelligence - technological innovations are changing our everyday lives more and more and faster. Technological change promises social progress, but it is also clear that technological innovations alone cannot solve current social challenges. Rather, they sometimes also create problematic (side) effects that affect many people both professionally and privately.

An example of this is the current debate about the term “Work 4.0”: Future prognoses about the possible number of jobs threatened by automation processes can arouse fear and rejection in people if the societal design of change and its inherent opportunities are not discussed at the same time. Sit here social innovations an: You are pursuing the goal of establishing new forms of work and life that can respond to negative effects of technological change - such as automation - in such a way that social welfare is also secured in the future. We therefore believe that technological and social innovations must go hand in hand in shaping our future.


At the beginning of every social innovation there is a real social problem that is public and for which new solutions are sought. Technological advances can - as in the example above - be the starting point for social innovations. But they also have the potential to function as part of your solution strategy: digital 'apps' can already help to organize our lives more easily and efficiently.

Some social innovations, on the other hand, arise independently of technological change. One such example can be 'multifunctional houses' that have the potential to guarantee or restore services of general interest in rural areas in new ways. The idea of ​​a multifunctional house only becomes an innovation if the concept is accepted by the target group and thus brings about a lasting change in social practice.


A social innovation is characterized by its novelty. This means new ideas and methods that solve a social problem more effectively than existing approaches. According to our understanding, one can speak of a social innovation even if this approach is already being practiced elsewhere. The relative novelty and the better effectiveness in coping with the problem are decisive. This means that a social innovation can already exist elsewhere, but not yet in Saxony-Anhalt, not yet in a particular municipality or not yet have been transferred to a particular target group. So it's about the context-dependent, perceived novelty for a region or a target group.

The above example of the multifunctional houses shows exactly that: The concept already exists in some municipalities across Germany. Nevertheless, a multifunctional house can be described as a local social innovation if it represents a novel answer to existing problems in another municipality. The second multifunctional house in Ummendorf (Börde district) would therefore no longer be a local social innovation; but the basic concept of a multifunctional house is a social innovation. Successful (or potential) transferability in particular turns an idea into an innovation and thus represents an essential characteristic of social innovations.


In the Competence Center for Social Innovation, we identify precisely such projects and initiatives in order to be able to transfer functioning problem-solving approaches to other regions of the state. Our work focuses on problems in the areas of work, health, age and social cohesion.





Criteria for identifying social innovations


  • The aim is to solve a social problem to increase collective and individual welfare.
  • A social innovation represents a relative novelty in terms of space, time or context.
  • Social innovations provide more effective solutions than existing approaches.
  • Social innovations contribute to permanent social change in that they are accepted by the target group and are thus sustainably anchored.
  • The concept of a social innovation must be potentially transferable to other contexts.


Further, potential Features:


  • Social innovations can interface with technological innovations.
  • Social innovations often come about through new forms of cooperation between politics, administration, civil society and business.
  • Social innovations can be scalable.
  • New ideas are preferably created in open innovation processes (for example with methods of design thinking).
  • Consumers become producers by establishing a new culture of participation and encouraging civil society to take a bottom-up initiative (empowerment).
  • The moment of creativity, which is anchored in the concept of innovation, implies the possibility of unexpected, negative consequences that social counter-forces can evoke.