Social innovation advocates challenge us to make the development and improvement of modern society our primary innovation goal. This week IM spoke with Josef Hochgerner, who created the first Centre for Social Innovation world-wide (1990) and introduced a definition of social innovation which increasingly meets approval among innovation experts. Find out more about his experiences and views on innovation management.

What is innovation management to you?

The very core of innovation management is to facilitate and enhance processes aiming to solve problems. The challenge tackled may be old or new, a matter of technology, of economic or social nature. Any such process ranges from the creation of new ideas, followed by identification of dedicated methods and agents to stage interventions in current practices, on to successful implementation and dissemination of the solutions developed.

In the broader sense, management means to provide directions and to guide communication and interaction between those involved in innovation processes, e.g. individual innovators, research groups, customers and other stakeholders. Innovation management requires to consider innovations to accrue from social activities, and to pay attention to the fact that all innovations are socially relevant. This applies to innovative technologies and products as well as to explicit social innovations (e.g. new practices of social inclusion of immigrants or handicapped): Any kind of innovation has roots in socio-economic pre-conditions, it moulds certain social values and meanings beyond economic value added, and it generates ramifications in society.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

At present it is most satisfactory to note that social innovation becomes a topic of high interest world-wide. In Europe it even forms a building block in future innovation strategies on several national and international levels, particularly in the framework of the Innovation Union, one of the seven Flagship Initiatives of the Strategy Europe 2020. Besides it is fun to work with some 60 passionate colleagues in the Centre for Social innovation, and to enjoy collaboration in still mounting local partnerships and global networks.

And the most frustrating parts?

There is still a long way ahead to move from the already relatively high awareness to systematic promotion and implementation of social innovations. While the term ‘social’ occurs more frequently in public research and innovation programmes, most of them nevertheless aim primarily at promoting novel technologies for economic growth – with the side expectation of also supporting social development. Business enterprises mostly seem to be interested in social innovations as an additional means to boost competitiveness, thus considering social innovations secondary if it comes to the crunch. An explicit forcing of specific social innovations with prime focus on stimulating social development and improving quality of life standards still remains comparatively mingy.

What’s your next big challenge?

In order to manage not only staying abreast of further increasing expectations in social innovation, but to provide solid scientific foundations to these developments, two major ventures are in the making: This year development in theory, conceptualisation and measurement of social innovation will become advanced internationally by a three-day conference taking place from Sep. 19 -21, 2011, in Vienna titled “Challenge Social Innovation”. A next major step consists in setting up the “European School of Social Innovation”, of which first components will be launched 2012, including the study programme “Master of Social Innovation” (Danube University, Krems). A doctoral study programme (“PhD of Social Innovation”) is in preparatory stages with the University of Vienna.

About Prof. Dr. Josef Hochgerner

Josef Hochgerner is the Founder (1990) and scientific director of the Centre for Social Innovation in Vienna and introduced a definition of social innovation which increasingly meets approval among innovation experts: “Social innovations are new concepts and measures to resolve societal challenges, adopted and utilised by social groups concerned.” (published 2008 in ‘Stimulating Social development‘, p.2).

Josef completed his vocational training in aeronautical engineering (1965-68), studies in social sciences and economics, Vienna and Freiburg/FRG (1969-74); M.A. 1974, PhD 1978, habilitation (Sociology) 1986.

Dr. Hochgerner’s work experience is in research institutions, social partners‘ organisations, national and European agencies and advisory boards on RTD and innovation (1976-95); lecturing in adult education and at various universities in Austria and Europe since 1976. Participation as coordinator and partner in more than 30 EU (co-) funded RTD projects in a wide range of thematic areas. 1995-98 professor (technology assessment, sociology of technology) at University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (Vienna). 2001-2005 President of the Austrian Sociological Association. 2007 professorship University of Vienna.

Dr. Hochgerner’s main focus is in research, teaching and practice: Innovation and the particularities of social innovations; social use of knowledge and technology; working, learning and living in the global information society.