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Potential and Challenges of Open Social Innovation

In the video, different potentials and challenges are explained in detail by Amelie Riedesel.

The aspect of learning in open social innovation processes

In the video, different potentials and challenges are explained in detail. In terms of potentials it should be added that different sectors of society bring diverse perspectives on societal challenges to the innovation process, which fosters the development of a better and shared understanding of the underlying problems.

Based on this shared understanding of the problem, participants from different societal contexts (e.g. government or civil society innovators) can learn together how to overcome societal challenges within the framework of Open Social Innovation.

Finally, collective action by individuals and institutions from civil society, business, politics and administration can result in long-term cooperation between the sectors. In this way, emerging problems can be jointly identified and addressed in a sustainable and effective manner. Furthermore, mobilizing the creative potential of citizens can increase the speed of response of the public administration.

As outlined above, the aspect of learning is essential in Open Social Innovation Processes. At the same time, not being able to learn might threaten future open social innovation formats. For instance, citizens who participated in the #WirvsVirus programme and were disappointed, are unlikely to participate again. This is particularly risky, if the process and system, in which the Open Social Innovation Process is embedded does not change. Consequently, civic engagement – at least in terms of participation in open social innovation processes – may decrease.

In a survey conducted during the #WirvsVirus solution enabler programme, 7% of participants would be unlikely to recommend #WirvsVirus to others. Dissatisfaction with the format can have many reasons, from being initially overwhelmed by the task of finding a team, to unfulfilled expectations of the programme.

In addition, there is also a risk that organizations from the public and private sectors that participate in the program and whose expectations have not been met will not participate again. Here, too, the reasons may be diverse. For example, some organizations may be disappointed that the collaborative innovation efforts with the #WirvsVirus initiatives have petered out in the aftermath.

Learning is a necessary, but not a sufficient prerequisite for realizing the full potential of an Open Social Innovation process. Many of the structural conditions make it difficult to apply the Open Social Innovation method. In the future, better framework conditions are needed to show that Germany is serious about cross-sector collaboration to solve societal problems. Central to this are the development of a social innovation ecosystem and the modernization of public administration.

New mindset of funding and transformation of public sector needed

Open Social Innovation is an interesting approach to addressing complex challenges. Nevertheless, in order to capture the positive impact of Open Social Innovation in society, it is not enough to simply measure the solutions using conventional impact metrics. Due to the open and participatory nature of the process, funders and foundations must move away from strict adherence to logic models or strategic plans for monitoring and evaluation and instead adopt a broader understanding of impact that also considers the impact of the method at the individual, organizational, and systemic level.

These different levels of impact should be considered from the beginning. With regard to the impact of the method, Open Social Innovation primarily offers cross-level opportunities for learning. Non-learning can have negative effects: If the method becomes an end in itself, it creates an innovation illusion in which no effective solutions can emerge. This is particularly the case when political actors use the method as a PR event, without considering the impact of the solutions.

Thus, funders should invest in evaluation as a learning resource rather than an accounting expense. They must carefully consider whether the challenge will benefit from a collective approach to developing and scaling effective solutions. Open Social Innovation processes may be less effective if funders control them down to the smallest detail.

Thus, funders should ask themselves whether they trust both the organizers to manage the process and the participants to self-organize the process. They should also consider whether they are willing to accept outcomes that are unintended but equally valuable to society.

Furthermore, Open Social Innovation will most likely reveal vulnerabilities and pathologies in bureaucratic systems. At the same time, this disclosure will contribute to long overdue transformation processes within the public sector. Public administrators must be prepared for and embrace change. They must ensure that they and their departments are ready for reforms that they shape together with citizens and organizations.

Pointing out examples of how collaboration has worked in the past helps break down resistance to future change. Public administrators must also take into account that citizens work at a different pace to manage expectations about the speed at which tangible results can be achieved.

Nevertheless, the recent developments in Germany, but also other countries have shown that the interest in broad collaborative solution solving processes have gained great interest in the public sector.

Here are some examples of success factors of Open Social Innovation elements in different countries:

● The Netherlands integrates mission orientation through priority setting and goal definition, e.g. mission goals in the Netherlands are negotiated in a participatory and cross-sectoral manner. Furthermore, all relevant stakeholders are involved in decision making processes e.g., in mission-oriented steering committees such as the roundtable on climate.

● An important success factor in the formulation, coordination and implementation of innovation policies are specialized innovation agencies such as Vinnova (Sweden) or UKRI (United Kingdom). These “change agents” can pool expertise, orchestrate open social innovation processes, and mediate between different sectors and levels of action. Germany as well is planning to establish such an institution. The Swedish innovation agency Vinnova is working independently from the government, which is prohibited by law from interfering with the content of the agency’s work.

● Government institutions should act as demanders of socially relevant innovations with the aim of promoting both the development and the diffusion of such innovations. This can be implemented through government innovation agencies or through specially established procurement authorities, such as in Sweden.

● An affinity for risk and the courage to fail are important prerequisites of a modern innovation policy, in order to foster transformative innovations. A good example of this is the Japanese ImPACT program, which aims to promote social change through high-risk technological projects.

● In the U.S. the platform publishes concrete challenges within missions as a starting point to collectively design solutions

● In the UK the independent innovation foundation NESTA works flexibly with a wide range of partners in government and other sectors and thus allows for alignment and coordination across departments and sectors

● In Sweden the innovation council is chaired by the Prime Minister, which shows the high political priority of the topic.

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