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The who, when and how of social innovation: A QCA across seven Europe social innovation streams

Thu, June 30, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Campus Ersta, Martasalen


This contribution starts by moving beyond the well-known and studied main contributions of the third sector to European society: service provision (Ben-Ner & van Hoomissen, 1991; Weisbrod, 1975, 1998; Young & Steinberg, 1995) & advocacy (Anheier, 2013; James, 1989; Salamon, Hems, & Chinnock, 2000, p. 23). It posits that there is another, potentially more important role the third sector plays, which we suppose lies in its contribution to social innovation. The main claim that this paper pursues is that: Social innovativeness varies by organisational form and actor involvement, in the sense that the properties of third sector organisations and volunteering make its formation particularly likely. This is purported specifically in comparison with public agencies and business firms, both of which we assume the third sector will outperform in this regard.

In order to explore this proposition the paper draws on the separate analyses of seven dominant social innovation streams, one each within the following fields: arts & culture; social services; health care; environmental sustainability; consumer protection; community development; and work integration. The research on which this paper draws furthermore investigates each innovation stream in a comparative fashion across 3-4 countries. The results of two of the fields, namely consumer protection and community development will be presented in the same panel. The level of analysis of the research is the specific social innovation stream. By this approach the individual case studies are able to trace back the organisations, actors and constituents that have contributed to its emergence and development. The cross-national character of the research further allows us to take account of variations in national institutional frameworks in which the social innovation takes place, including aspects such as the size and scope of the third sector and volunteering, or socio-political and socio-economic characteristics of the nation state.

In this paper we use the findings from the above research to isolate combinations of influencing variables that serve as a lever for social innovations and to establish causal conditions if not causal inference in the complex social innovation process. We do so across country cases within the boundaries of the above mentioned activity fields, but also partly across field borders. The method chosen to perform this task is ‘qualitative comparative analysis’ (QCA) (Ragin, 1989, 2000; Rihoux & Ragin, 2009). Its application will link up to a number of hypotheses referring to organisational traits and institutional frameworks that are supposed to enable social innovation and have been explicitly tested in the performed case work referred to above. Examples on the organisational level include for instance the importance of pro-social values, the openness of organisational culture or the effective combination of service provision and advocacy in the organisations’ operations. Institutional frames refer for example to different typologies of national economies or those relating to the welfare state.

The QCA performed in this article will not only help condense and reflect insights from the systematic analysis of a variety of social innovations, but also result in identification of hindering and enabling factors for social innovation more generally―a yet unprecedented task.


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