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Social Frontiers - The next edge of social innovation research

14 - 15 November 2013

The challenge

The global field of social innovation was gathering momentum. At the time of the event, there was an Office for Social Innovation in the US, the UK Government recently appointed an Advisor to the Prime Minister on Social Innovation and the European Commission had already made significant investments in both research and practical projects which aimed to support and enable social innovation. All over the world there were organisations and institutions incorporating social innovation into strategies to combat societal problems such as ageing and poverty, for example the Centro de Innovation Social in Colombia.

Yet despite thriving practitioner networks and a real commitment from policymakers and foundations to support social innovation, empirical and theoretical knowledge of social innovation remained uneven. Even though there were many organisations working in this field, much more could be done to bring these networks, organisations and individuals together.

SIX’s contribution

SIX worked with the partners listed below to organise the first Social Frontiers Research Conference at Glasgow Caledonian University London campus in Shoreditch, East London on the 14 and 15 of November 2013. Over the two days, Social Frontiers brought together 120 individuals from across the world with the aim of strengthening the community of social innovation researchers.

The aim of Social Frontiers, was to build and strengthen the community of social innovation researchers. By bringing together a multiplicity of voices and perspectives on social innovation we wanted to strengthen and extend existing networks, share learning, promote collaboration, identify gaps in knowledge and work together to build a common research agenda for the next decade. Our goal for Social Frontiers was to begin to develop a more robust empirical and theoretical foundation for social innovation, understood as the generation, experimentation and application of new practices for addressing societal challenges.


150 participants from over 30 countries attended the event over two days. 


When scaling out is not enough: Strategies for system change, Westley and Antadze

Enhancing Social Innovation by Rethinking Collaboration, Leadership and Public Governance, Sorensen and Torfing

The potential of mass collaboration to produce social innovation, Tjornbo

From engaging to empowering people, a set of co-design experiments with a service design perspective, Cantu and Selloni

At the root of change: The history of social innovation, McGowan and Westley

Design for the Ingenuity of Ageing: New Roles of Designers in Democratic Innovation, Lee, Ho and Tsang

Evaluation of social innovations - their characteristics and impacts, cross county comparisons and implications for policy support, Kaderabkova and Saman

Social innovations as drivers of social change – Tarde’s disregarded contribution to social innovation theory building, Howaldt, Kopp and Schwarz

Transformative social innovations: A sustainability transition perspective on social innovation, Haxeltine, Wittmayer and Avelino

Collaborative services in informal settlements. A social innovation case in a pacified favela in Rio de Janeiro, Cipolla, Melo and Manzini

Barriers and incentives for social innovation in Colombia. Towards the construction of a public policy, Frias, Aparicio and Borda

Enabling social innovation – opportunities for sustainable local and regional development, McNeill

The usefulness of networks: A study of social innovation in India, Sonne

- Seoul City’s social innovation strategy: A model of multi-channel communication to strengthen governance and citizen engagement, Han, Kim, Rim and Park

- Design for social innovation as a form of designing activism. An action format, Meroni, Fassi and Simeone 

Innovating places: A new role for ‘Place difference’, Woodcraft and Bacon

-Healing nature, transforming culture: A story of social innovation in Egypt, Papageorgiou

Inscaping: Exploring the Connection Between Experiential Surfacing and Social Innovation, Nilsson and Paddock

Process of social innovation in mutual organisations: The case of social enterprises leaving the public sector, Lyon, Sepulveda and Vickers

Social innovation: redesigning the welfare diamond, Jenson

- Social innovation for social cohesion. Findings on communalities of innovation from a new transnational study, Evers and Ewert

How empowering is social innovation? Identifying barriers to participation in community driven innovation, Edwards-Schachter and Tams

- Exploring the conceptual universe of social innovation: A relational database for a better understanding of its effects on social transformation, Bouchard and Trudelle

Microproduction everywhere. Social, local, open and connected manufacturing, Maffei and Bianchini

Resourcing social innovation in Germany: An empirically based concept of matching social innovators with social investors, Bjorn Schmitz and Gunnar Glanzel, Zentrum für soziale


The conference itself was organised through a collaboration of Nesta, TEPSIE (The Young Foundation), The Rockefeller Foundation and Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). The conference also had support from SIX, DESIS Network and the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford.