Involving citizens and public sector is key for social innovation, say Johanna Mair, Thomas Gegenhuber and co-authors

Hertie School Professor of Organisation, Strategy and Leadership and co-researchers explore how to promote collective action and drive social impact in new study.

Including citizens and the public sector as active participants in the social innovation process is key to solving complex societal challenges, say Johanna Mair, Professor of Organisation, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School, and Thomas Gegenhuber, Professor for Managing Socio-Technical Transitions at Johannes Kepler University Linz in a new study. "Such participatory processes might take longer, but they pay off in the end because they enhance the impact potential of all stakeholders and help build capacity for social innovatoin that can be used in future projects," Mair says. The paper was published together with research associates Laura Thäter and René Lührsen and will appear in the June 2023 issue of the Journal of Business Venturing Insights.

UpdateDeutschland: An open social innovation project

Back in 2021, the researchers began observing the UpdateDeutschland initiative, a collaborative digital project implemented by social enterprise ProjectTogether, endorsed by the German Chancellery and based on the concept of open social innovation (OSI) – the idea that encouraging multiple stakeholders in society to address societal challenges will help cultivate innovative new solutions to today’s problems. The UpdateDeutschland project was active from March to August 2021 and brought 4,400 participants from organised civil society, public administration and the public together to develop new solutions or improve existing ones in the areas of a climate-neutral future, education, city and rural life, health, democracy and civic engagement, and digital government.

In their new open access paper “Pathways and mechanisms for catalyzing social impact through Orchestration: Insights from an open social innovation project”, Mair and her co-authors examine how to bring together public administrations, citizens and organised civil society to develop ideas and solutions for society collaboratively. They explore new forms of collective entrepreneurship aimed at improving, solving or preventing social problems.

How to drive social impact through collective action

Mair and Gegenhuber first presented their observations in 2022, where they identified four key ways that OSI helps innovation in public administration. In the newly published study, the researchers expand on these to provide strategies that drive social impact through far-reaching collaboration:

First, create new initiatives out of many perspectives. Second, strengthen existing initiatives where people from different fields have already contributed their knowledge. Third, promote exchange between citizens and the state to build alliances and bring attention to a particular problem. Fourth, strengthen local ecosystems and the effectiveness of political solutions on the ground.

The full paper on open social innovation is available online.


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More about our expert

  • Johanna Mair, Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership