Press release

New report from the Hertie School and the Vodafone Germany Foundation finds that Open Social Innovation initiatives can spark ideas, but need long-term support to realise their potential

One year after the #WirvsVirus hackathon, Johanna Mair and Thomas Gegenhuber present a learning report on their accompanying research, offering key lessons for future projects.

Open Social Innovation (OSI) initiatives, such as hackathons, may aid in finding solutions to complex policy challenges, but they need long-term support to create workable, impactful solutions. These are some of the findings of a learning report by Johanna Mair, Professor of Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School and Thomas Gegenhuber, Assistant Professor of Digital Transformation at Leuphana University Lüneburg. 

Mair and Gegenhuber spent a year following the #WirvsVirus hackathon and implementation programme, an open social innovation initiative aimed at tackling problems created by the COVID-19 crisis, which was sponsored by the German government. 

With support from the Vodafone Germany Foundation, the report promotes the use of OSI as a driver of innovation in civil society and public administration. 

As the pandemic began to spread last year, a consortium of civil society organisations launched #WirvsVirus with the aim of finding solutions for the social, economic and health challenges presented by the unfolding crisis. Social innovation aims at generating new and valuable products, services, and practices to tackle problems in society. In OSI, an open call is issued to all sectors of society (civil society, public sector, private sector) to participate in this process. 

When it comes to organising a successful OSI project, the researchers stress the importance of long-term investment and underscore the need for continued political support. “Social innovation is not a sprint—it’s a marathon,” says Mair, adding that much of the responsibility for ensuring the long-term viability of OSI projects lies with elected officials. “A politician’s commitment needs to extend also to scaling solutions, in order to create the impact that these projects are intended to have.” 

Ultimately, when OSI projects are well organised, they can help inspire better policymaking at all levels of government, Gegenhuber says. “One of the interesting things we learned from #WirvsVirus is that solutions developed by citizen-led teams can encourage us to think about the many ways policy makers can improve government services.”

"The #WirvsVirus hackathon has unleashed enormous engagement and creativity in dealing with the pandemic," says Inger Paus, Chair of the Management Board of Vodafone Foundation Germany. "Long term, we will need new structures and ways for citizens, the state, business and civil society to respond to complex societal challenges. By learning from the #WirvsVirus hackathon, we can strengthen trust in future programmes like UpdateDeutschland and truly empower citizens," Paus continues.

The learning report comes on the one-year anniversary of the #WirvsVirus hackathon. It offers recommendations on the eve of the next hackathon sponsored by the German government, UpdateDeutschland, which takes place from 19 – 21 March, and aims to tackle issues that have been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic this past year.

The full learning report is available (in German) here

A policy brief is also available in English.

Watch Johanna Mair and Thomas Gegenhuber explain their research in these short explainer videos

Press contacts

Jennifer Beckermann, Hertie School
Tel. +49 30 259219246 

Laura Schubert, Vodafone Foundation
Tel: +49 +49 172 1015 700 

The Hertie School in Berlin prepares exceptional students for leadership positions in government, business, and civil society. The school offers master’s programmes, executive education and doctoral programmes, distinguished by interdisciplinary and practice-oriented teaching, as well as outstanding research. Its extensive international network positions it as an ambassador of good governance, characterised by public debate and engagement. The school was founded in 2003 by the Hertie Foundation, which remains its major funder. The Hertie School is accredited by the state and the German Science Council.

The Vodafone Germany Foundation is a non-profit corporate foundation. Our aim is to rethink education for a digital society. Together with leaders in politics, science and civil society, we conduct research, engage in socio-political debates, and create innovative educational programmes.