Social innovation is a topic at Austrian universities

24. Feb 2021

... but it lacks institutional support

In fall 2020, ZSI surveyed the extent to which social innovation has found its way into the academic sphere (teaching & research & third mission) of Austrian universities. For this purpose, a web analysis was conducted and a questionnaire was sent to a total of 163 heads of institutes or departments and their deputies of selected Austrian universities as well as to the heads and deputy heads of relevant research platforms. 56 persons answered all first-order questions.
An overview of the survey results can be found in the attachment.
An article about the complete results is currently in preparation.

Our main conclusions are as follows:

First, we have been able to prove empirically, but limited to Austria, that social innovation plays a role in the consciousness of senior social scientists and has also entered research and teaching. Our findings, however, also indicate that, with few exceptions, terms such as "social innovation" or "social entrepreneurship" appear infrequently in the documented self-image of Austrian academic institutions on their homepages. In this respect, the Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) outperforms all universities with the exception of WU, where social entrepreneurship plays a very important role in the university's self-representation.

Second, we hypothetically assumed that primarily social entrepreneurship found its way into the formal academic field at universities, especially into teaching. Although social entrepreneurship seems to dominate academic courses, it has not necessarily limited social innovation only to its economic dimension. The results of our survey also support that social entrepreneurship has become a door opener for social innovation in the academic world. Thus, we can consider the second hypothesis as largely confirmed, more in an enabling than in a distorting sense as far as the essence of social innovation is concerned.

Thirdly and finally, we put forward the hypothesis that structural and organizational reasons also stand in the way of a further academic breakthrough of social innovation. These include demand-side problems related to the very bottom-up and practical nature of social innovation, but also to a lack of market potential. Moreover, incentive systems and support systems are both lacking to nurture the willingness of social scientists to engage in the development of social innovations with practitioners. The empirical findings from our survey have clearly shown that there is a lack of both tangible and intangible measures that could contribute significantly to anchoring social innovation more firmly in the university sector. Thus, our third hypothesis can be regarded as confirmed.

Our final appeal is therefore directed at science, research and innovation policy as well as the strategic management of universities. A broadly understood third mission of universities beyond the university-industry nexus often exists only in Sunday speeches, but is little structurally operationalized in reality. Our results have shown that social scientists, although of course not all of them, are interested in both the theoretical discussion of social innovation and its practical development but the bridge between universities and social practice must be strengthened by adequate support measures.


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Tags: Austria, social innovation

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