Social Frontiers – The next edge of social innovation research

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.

The conference

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 150 individuals from across 30 countries 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.

Insights and resources

We’ve put together a collection of different resources related to the conference below. To download the full Social Frontiers book available here.

Key note speakers:

Frances Westley on ‘The History of Social Innovation’

Geoff Mulgan on ‘Setting a future research agenda for social innovation’

Roberto Magabeira Unger in conversation with Geoff Mulgan on ‘The task of the social movement’

Marianna Mazzucato on ‘The Entrepreneurial State’


The conference itself was organised through a collaboration of NestaTEPSIE (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.