Territorial and organisational aspects of social innovation emergence

Student thesis: Phd


This Thesis presents a mixed-methods investigation of social innovation emergence. Understood as new solutions that satisfy social problems in more effective, efficient, sustainable or just ways, and deliver public rather than private value, social innovations are expected to become the drivers of socially- and environmentally-sustainable development over the next few decades. Despite the popularity of the concept, geography of social innovations and roles of organisational contexts in social innovation processes remain relatively unexplored in the academic literature. This doctoral research focuses on the roles of territorial and organisational factors associated with the emergence of social innovations at the regional, metropolitan, and organisational levels. The Thesis is submitted under an alternative format and comprises three papers. By adjusting the frameworks developed in business innovation literature to include the specifics of social innovation, the three papers investigate to what extent social innovation as innovation processes differ from the process of business innovation. The papers focus on different spatial levels and use mixed methods, which allows uncovering the roles of measurable parameters such as economic development of a region, and unmeasurable parameters such as territorially-embedded relationships and personal perceptions on the emergence of social innovations. The first paper investigates the determinants of social innovation activity at the regional level, with the help of regression analysis. The paper contributes to the ongoing discussion about the superiority of social inequality versus economic development based on the number of social innovation projects in an area. The second paper studies metropolitan contexts of social innovation activity. This paper draws on 32 in-depth interviews with social innovators and informants to study how geographical and non-geographical proximity between different actors influences the emergence of social innovations in five European cities: Manchester, Utrecht, Stockholm, Budapest and Sofia. The third paper uses a dynamic capabilities approach to investigate how the introduction of a social innovation alters existing organisational routines and requires building new routines to deliver public value, given resource shortages. The research shows that resources, trusted and open relationships among different actors, and a combination of personal and professional capabilities play a significant role in social innovation emergence. The research demonstrates (1) a shared dedication at the organisational and metropolitan levels toward finding new solutions to social problems, and (2) robust infrastructures for any organisation to operate are significant contributors to the creation of favourable organisational or territorial social innovation ecosystems. I argue that social innovations, as any innovations, rely foremost on the supporting infrastructures, which determine the ability of new solutions to deliver the desired impact. The thesis contributes to the understanding of different perspectives of social innovation emergence and factors that foster and constrain this process. The study provides insights into building favourable metropolitan and organisational conditions for the emergence of social innovation and suggests further directions of research.
Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPhilip Shapira (Supervisor) & Efthymia Amanatidou (Supervisor)

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