Social innovation as an opportunity and challenge for higher education institutions

نوآوری اجتماعی به عنوان یک فرصت و چالش برای مؤسسات آموزش عالی

About the unknown potential of the university in the field of social innovation
Social innovations often develop at the intersection between different sectors of society. The connections between them are mainly established by individual organizations and activities. Many of these institutions see themselves as a link between different parts of society. They jointly develop new methods of research, mentoring, advice, promotion and funding. However, in a knowledge-based society, universities may play a more important role in developing, testing and spreading social innovations. Higher education institutions and research institutions provide important platforms for promoting significant exchange between different specialties, business sectors and cultures.

However, the global mapping results of the SI-DRIVE research project (with about 1,000 cases) show that universities have not yet been systematically activated in the field of social innovation. Universities participated in only 14.9% of the investigated activities, and all organizations from the field of research and education participated in more than 21% of social innovations. Therefore, this sector plays a relatively small role compared to other sectors of society when it comes to the development and spread of social innovations.

This raises questions about the role of universities in the process of social innovation. The limited participation of research and education institutions in contrast to their essential role as providers of knowledge in classic innovation processes, which is one of the pillars of the triple helix model and an essential part of the concept of innovation systems, has a sharp difference. In addition, in natural and technical sciences, there is a combination of supporting innovation with the formation of qualified human resources, in social sciences, many potentials in this field are still unexplored.

In Germany, this was made clear through the Social Innovations for Germany Declaration, which was drawn up by agents from all sectors of society and presented to the federal government in 2014.

Although their potential remains largely untapped, universities are ideal partners to help break down, or at least reduce, the many barriers to social innovation. They can act as mediators between the underground nature of social innovation and its need for a recognized coalitional and political role. They can provide the right R&D for effective empirical evaluations of social innovations and provide an understanding of what can accelerate and scale social innovations. As technical expertise in specialized areas can be effective in supporting commercial businesses and enable them to grow and expand; The same technical expertise can be provided to social innovators. But in addition, universities are the providers of a set of necessary supports to their society that can give real added value to social innovations: by exploiting their tacit and codified knowledge; through capacity building, coaching and training; through the use of special equipment; By providing real and virtual spaces for communication, shared work environments or more formal facilities; through expertise in selection and evaluation; Through lobbying activities.

Implementation of social innovations in higher education institutions: such as LASIN social innovation support units
The LASIN project (Latin American Social Innovation Network) [2] is an activity established under the Erasmus+ Capacity Development Program of the European Committee. In particular, this project tries to manage the issues raised, by creating specialized units in support of social innovation in eight higher education institutions in Latin America (Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Panama) as well as expanding this network to other countries and institutions around the world. It has an area. Each of these Social Innovation Support Units (SISUs) has developed a model for creating social change in their local communities through research, education and knowledge exchange, shaped by the needs of their communities and also leveraging the strengths of their universities. What they share is a common goal: to leverage the facilities, knowledge, and resources available to them to serve their communities in an innovative, effective, and sustainable way.

An essential feature of SISU is that it is a physical space, as much as possible, devoted exclusively to social innovation. It should be a space for dialogue, where different social pillars (such as policy makers, professors and experts, representatives of the organization or local community and the private sector) are invited to discuss with each other, to put forward their ideas and come up with innovative solutions to deal with recognized issues. to it or to create a discussion about topics where there may be different points of view. This means that a SISU operates only when ideas are fully developed, but also engages in active activities to foster new ideas, by encouraging new collaborations and connections, and establishing connections between different stakeholders in the community. It should also be an innovation and co-design space, where new ideas can be developed in a collaborative and co-design approach between universities and society. Due to being in a higher education institution, SISU participates in this process by providing its internal resources (staff) and allowing the community to access the resources available in the university (faculty, students, tacit and codified knowledge, infrastructure, space, networks, etc.), and bringing together different people in society to one place (citizens and communities; public and private sectors, etc.), is involved in this process. In order to help guide partners in creating their own SISU and also as a benchmarking method for their progress, the

Some of the evaluation criteria have been defined: strategic position within the university (especially the level of institutional commitment), pillars and users (both external and internal), physical space (including size and representation), equipment (including makeup of specialized equipment), communication and Advertising, sponsorship process, users (internal and external). A general outline for SISU was jointly developed by the Development University in Santiago de Chile and the University of Brazil. As part of this overall plan, a set of clear goals were defined: increase social innovation, social businesses and new projects; Identify new untapped opportunities, including microcredit sources; Developing new collaborations between university faculty, students, communities, and community programs to grant academic credit; Creating new innovation models (foundations, cooperatives, non-profit companies). In particular, the SISU outline underlines the importance of SISU to the communities with the work they do and provides an applied experience to the learning process, connects learning experiences to the social context, fosters innovative ideas and maximizes contexts, and It equipped students and professors with the ability, motivation and experience to participate with society and create social changes.

The outline also recommended a number of characteristics that SISU should adhere to:

Creativity: SISU is a creative environment created not only by the physical spaces it offers, but also by the people who work there. SISU encourages people to visit its facilities.
SISU encourages people to use available spaces and resources to develop ideas, projects as well as improve and create knowledge.

Collaboration with the community: A SISU should not offer the community a complete solution provided by the university, as experts from the university providing knowledge to passive citizens, but will recognize the creativity disseminated in the community and encourage that social innovation is often through Subordinate activities appear through subordinate activities such as citizenship activities, self-absorbed and without mapping from a specific group of people. A SISU acknowledges and trusts the resources and capacities of individuals and institutions.
Open door policy: A key policy for a SISU should be to have an open door policy to attract social innovators, as well as any type of stakeholder. This is a key factor to support projects, but also to increase internal and external awareness of LASIN institutions. As such, a SISU is a hub that connects different people around community issues.
Mutual learning process: A SISU facilitates the exchange of knowledge between universities and society in a mutual learning process. Universities characterize the knowledge embedded in society (such as traditional knowledge) and at the same time, provide scientific and technological knowledge to society. This determinant defines the state of innovation of SISU by using new strategies and useful resources to deal with societal demands.
Innovative copyright policy: Social innovations are the result of collaboration between different stakeholders in society to address their recognized challenges. Traditional copyright policies may not be appropriate, although it may stop the process, it should stop the process.
Scientific reputation: An active SISU contributes to scientific reputation in the field of social innovation (as universities have done through specialized science and technology institutes and centers).
Perspectives: Social innovation as opportunities and challenges for higher education institutions (HEIs)
The role that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) play in social innovation has evolved in recent years. In addition to research on transformation processes, there are increasingly emerging approaches in which science is presented as an active participant in social innovation processes. Concepts such as Design Thinking or transformative research focusing on the active participation of stakeholders for the work of higher education institutions with their environments [3] are becoming increasingly important. Through transformative research, science tries to solve social problems by activating processes of social change. In this context, the creation of appropriate structures (such as living laboratories and other research and learning spaces) that are designed to create knowledge based on experience to establish new social practices, has attracted more attention and should be further promoted. Only by making people aware of social problems and possible solutions can higher education institutions promote the development of social innovation with community members. Through concepts such as service learning or exploratory learning, the knowledge and experience of students are put to use and the connections between the university and the community are developed, where the community joins as an important partner in addition to the economy. It also includes the issue of how to produce knowledge and scientific co-creation of the university, which aims to integrate developers and social innovators in innovation processes.

However, there are several challenges that higher education institutions must face in order to advance in the field of social innovation. First, they need to better understand what social innovation is; While higher education institutions more and more acknowledge the importance of social innovation for the development of society and the need to participate in this field, they necessarily do not understand what exactly social innovation means (for example, they often confuse it with the field of university social responsibility, which does not necessarily refer to innovations). On the one hand, the lack of ablution in this context

There is a concept, it is not valid. But from

Further, while there is less robust scientific knowledge on social innovation, many universities still rarely, if ever, engage in social innovation research. Therefore, as long as those who work in this field and aim to make changes do not have a clear concept and understanding of social innovation, it will be difficult to succeed. While in the European Union, social innovation has become an important research topic, in many parts of the world this topic is still rarely studied. This brings us to the next challenge.

Therefore, secondly, social innovation should be integrated into three missions. As mentioned above, social innovation has appeared in a large number of universities’ agendas, sometimes even as an important part of their development strategies. Some universities offer classes and courses such as master’s or bachelor’s in this field. Others focus on research in social innovation. Probably the most common way we see universities getting into this is through the many activities in the fourth mission (generally defined as social responsibility, advancement and engagement). However, it is rare to see a university that integrates social innovation into all three missions. Moreover, the challenge is that it is not only the development of activities in teaching, research and the third mission. Telegram’s point is that the challenge is to integrate social innovation holistically across the three missions: work in each “mission” must be connected to work in the other missions, so that it can benefit others.

Third, there are two related and similar fundamental features in universities’ support for social innovation that should be changed:

i) social innovation support activities tend to be accidental and are mostly carried out in an unselfish way, universities have not specified the process of measuring the social return of social investment;
ii) As a result, while business innovation is characterized and well recognized and institutionally supported by knowledge transfer offices, there is so far no professional advocacy role in universities to support social innovation. So far there has been neither the infrastructure nor the provision of resources to make this possible, mainly because governments and even academic administrators have been resistant to the concept of social innovation as an effective socio-economic tool. Acceptance of social innovation at the level of government policies around the world provides an environment where institutional support for this field becomes more prevalent day by day and investors tend to invest in projects.
Fourth, there is the challenge of integrating the top-down and bottom-up perspectives. Usually, when universities play their role as socially responsible institutions in their environment, they start developing actions that are supposed to encourage different target groups (such as communities). However, such measures are usually designed and implemented from the perspective of the university, forgetting to involve the target group in the process from the beginning. It is not unusual that projects developed by universities are naturally designed and implemented in university theory and forget to involve target groups from the beginning. Therefore, it cannot be expected that the projects developed by the universities respond naturally to the needs, ideas and capabilities of the communities and target groups. Universities must learn how to work with target groups on equality and how to integrate their perspective with theirs. As shown above, projects such as LASIN are beginning to explore these issues.

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