Knowledge initiative

Knowledge Initiative on Organisations and Society (KIOS)

Ambition and Objective

The Knowledge Initiative on Organizations and Society (KIOS) strives to become a leading European hub for research on how different types of organisations tackle societal challenges.

Our objective is to document and analyse organisational strategies and the role of innovation in pursuing societal progress and institutional change by developing European-based and globally-relevant research anchored in the social sciences. We facilitate research-based interactions with stakeholders across sectors to improve the practice of social innovation, inform policymaking, and inspire a next generation of decision makers.

Path to impact

The ambition of the initiative is to develop knowledge on social innovation and organisational strategies that is portable across geographies, sectors and issue domains.

  • We develop knowledge that is relevant and at the same time has the potential to advance or recast existing theory and practice.
  • We convene scholarly events and exchanges between research and practice to seed and disseminate knowledge.
  • We interact with strategic partners to define and refine relevant areas for research.
  • We include, support and empower the next generation of scholars and educators to carry the torch further (master’s students, PhD students and postdocs).
  • We leverage institutional ties to the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, the Global Innovation for Impact Lab and the Social Innovation and Change Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School and various institutions in Europe to conduct research in a collaborative spirit.

We are impactful when the knowledge we develop enables more robust and integrated approaches to tackle societal challenges.

Articulating the problem

Despite increasing attention to social innovation in Europe by organisations within the public, social and business sector we lack a solid basis of evidence and knowledge that allows us to probe well-intended solutions and adapt approaches to local institutional contexts.

Latest insights

Capturing the dynamics of the sharing economy: Institutional research on the plural forms and practices of sharing economy organizations | Article by Johanna Mair and Georg Reischauer in Technological Forecast and Social Change

Innovation and Scaling for Social Impact: How effective Social Enterprises do it | Book by Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair published by Stanford University Press. Winner of the Terry Mc Adam Book Award 2017 for most inspirational and useful new book contributing to nonprofit management.

Scaffolding: How to tackle deeply entrenched patterns of Inequality | Article by Johanna Mair, Miriam Wolf and Christian Seelos in the Academy of Management Journal. Nominated for Best AMJ Paper Award 2016.

When innovation goes wrong | Article by Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair in Stanford Social Innovation Review

Johanna Mair and Stanford Social Innovation Review: Chronicling social entrepreneurship's evolution | innovate podcast

Social enterprises, a manifestation of ethical capitalism? | An interview with Alexandra Ioan

HKS conference on social innovation across sectors

Click here to see the programme.

The inaugural research conference Rethinking Cross-Sector Social Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School took place April 6-7, 2018. In this conference the Harvard’s Social Innovation and Change Initiative aimed at rekindling academic attention to the phenomenon of cross-sector efforts and creating knowledge upon which policymakers can base their decisions.

The agenda of “Rethinking Cross-Sector Social Innovation” showcased how research on cross-sector work can be scientifically rigorous and still be applied in practice. Areas of exploration as found in the selected papers included:

  • Enabling conditions for cross-sector work
  • Processes and structures underlying cross-sector work
  • Development of novel organisational forms to address social problems that transcend sectors
  • Performance and impact of cross-sector work
  • Role of policymaking and struggles of implementing reforms at state and global level
  • Other elements of cross-sector social innovation, more generally.

“The research demonstrates methodological and theoretical diversity, including quantitative and qualitative studies, as well as studies that take a multi-level approach connecting organizational processes with the broader institutional environment.” (HKS)

We are proud to have had two Hertie School PhD students from KIOS attend the Harvard Kennedy School conference on social innovation across sectors. See their comments here:

“This was a unique and inspiring event that brought together a range of scholars with similar empirical interest in social change. It affirmed the possibility that research can be both theoretically and empirically meaningful, which was particularly invigorating for young scholars driven by phenomenological interests. It was a remarkable opportunity to exchange ideas and listen to renowned scholars' work.” Ashley Metz, final year PhD student. Chair for “Financing and Boundaries” session at conference.

“Attending the Social Innovation and Change Initiative’s inaugural conference was an exceptional experience that provoked a series of epiphanies in terms of not only my own perspective of social innovation and entrepreneurship but also my understanding of academia as a profession and the questions that scholars ought to broach. Having the privilege of receiving feedback on my own work from a more senior academic during one of the sessions at the pre-conference has improved my conception of what constitutes a good research paper; and, likewise, being exposed to current research trends and the perspectives of an eclectic and diverse group of scholars from across the globe, traversing the American, European, Asian, and African academic traditions and the many paths of social entrepreneurship research, has imparted upon me a more thorough appreciation of the field and its dynamism. Importantly, as a direct corollary, attending the conference furnished me with the opportunity to rub noses with pioneers at the frontiers of social entrepreneurship research, which has given me new impetus in conducting my own research and also the resolve to experiment with various research designs and methods. I can say with firm conviction that attending the Social Innovation and Change Initiative’s inaugural conference will have been, looking back someday, one of the most prominent and defining milestones of my hopefully successful PhD journey.” Casper Claassen, first-year PhD candidate.

i-share: Fifth International Workshop on the Sharing Economy (IWSE)

The fifth IWSE held in Mannheim, organised in a collaborative effort between Mannheim University and Georg-August-University in Göttingen, took place June 27-29, 2018. Researchers from 15 countries presented their current work on the sharing economy for discussion to a broad audience of researchers, PhD students and students interested in the sharing economy.

To find out which interesting topics were being discussed, click here.

Frontiers at Stanford

The promise of systems change

May 21, 2018, Stanford: In a session at Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) Frontiers, moderated by Christian Seelos, distinguished fellow and director of the Global Innovation for Impact Lab at Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, Sara Farley, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of The Global Knowledge Initiative, Lisa Carpenter, Head of Strategy, Learning and Impact of Humanity United, and Heather Grady, Vice President of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors discuss questions around systems change.

Further information can be found here.

A human-centred approach to AI: What it means for individuals and society

May 22, 2018, Stanford: In an armchair session at Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) Frontiers, SSIR’s Academic Editor Johanna Mair discusses the impact of AI for social good with Fei-Fei Li, Chief Scientist of AI at Google Cloud.

Further information can be found here.

Summer schools

The Medici Summer School in Management Studies, sponsored by Bologna Business School, Paris HEC School of Management, and MIT Sloan School of Management was held in Bologna, Italy June11-15, 2018. Johanna Mair was a lead faculty member there in the programme Organisations as vehicles and settings for social change. For further information, please click here.

The summer school on Responsible Capitalism is an initiative of Venice International University in cooperation with the two member universities Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and University of Lausanne.
Johanna Mair held a course there June 25-28, 2018 on Responsible capitalism: Micro and macro-institutional conditions of transformation. For further information, please click here.

Initiative director

  • Johanna Mair, Professor for Organization, Strategy and Leadership

Faculty and researchers

  • Christian Seelos, Visiting Scholar at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS) at Stanford University and the Leo Tindemans Chair of Business Model Innovation at KU Leuven

  • Georg Reischauer, Local Project Manager and Research Associate for i-share

  • Julia Kristin Göhringer, Postdoctoral Researcher, i-share Project

  • Sebastian Seidel, Doctoral Programme in Governance

  • Nikolas Rathert, Postdoctoral Researcher for Organizational Capacity for Continuous Innovation (OCCI) 3.0