Big societal challenges need more than big tech

In government advisory board paper, Anke Hassel says tech solutions won’t work without social innovations.

Reducing plastic waste in the environment, cutting carbon emissions, providing healthcare for an aging population – new technologies can help tackle these problems, but only if people change their behaviour in society. As a member of the German government’s Hightech Forum, Hertie School Professor of Public Policy Anke Hassel has co-authored a paper recommending that policymakers use social innovations to better harness the potential of new technologies in solving big public problems.

"Technological innovations alone will not solve major societal challenges,” Hassel said. “The potential of new technologies can only unfold when combined with behavioural changes and new social practices. Social innovations can make an important contribution to this."

The Hightech Forum is a 21-member advisory council made up of experts from academia, business and society. It offers insights to the Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) on how to more effectively and quickly harness opportunities offered by new technologies.

In their paper, “Social Innovations,” the experts called on the government to take a more strategic approach to promoting social innovation, in particular by coordinating social innovation activities centrally. While funders in Germany are engaging with social innovation in many areas, they said, political approaches are not being implemented strategically.

Hassel took up her new role as chair of the social innovation working group in June. The paper on social innovation was co-authored by group members Manfred Prenzel, Julia Römer, Birgitta Wolff and Christiane Woopen. It was the first result of ongoing workshops to explore possible models for approaching various social issues – for example in mobility (e.g. public infrastructure or car-sharing) and in social integration (e.g multi-generational projects or the integration of migrants).

The Forum meets three to four times a year and is part of the German government’s Hightech Strategy 2025, which aims to achieve tangible progress in the quality of life of all citizens. 

Read the policy paper here.

More about Anke Hassel

  • Anke Hassel , Professor of Public Policy | Co-Director Jacques Delors Centre