The paper addresses the potentialities and challenges of integrating the concept of social innovation in the study of contemporary economic prosperity.
Innovation has been widely recognised as an engine of wealth and prosperity at micro, meso and macro levels, contributing to significant economic benefits in terms of competitiveness, growth and employment (Freeman, 1994; Verspagen, 2007).
After the 1980s, this idea triggered a policy shift in developed countries towards an increased importance of innovation and a focus on high value-added activities (OECD 2003), leading to measures focused on investments in knowledge-intensive activities as the means of attaining sustained economic growth and creating high-skill, high paid jobs. However, evidence indicates that, in some cases, investing in innovation and moving up the value-chain is not sufficient to ensure long–term growth. Some empirical studies reveal that higher rates of technological innovation are not necessarily related with higher prosperity. The evidence holds at country (Dosi et al, 2006), regional (Fragkandreas, 2013) and sectoral (Ejermo et al, 2011) levels.
Moreover, the awareness of the destructive effects - the destructive creation side - of innovation has started to grow (Buenstorf et al, 2013). There is an increased association, especially by European citizens, between innovation and job destruction and non-equitable distribution of the benefits of economic growth and an increasing awareness for the need to study this “dark side” of innovation (Fagerberg et al, 2013; Mazzucato, 2013).
Therefore, the consideration of technological innovation and its contribution to development presents challenges, given the diversity/complexity of problems that characterize our societies: demographic trends, inequality, structural unemployment, knowledge intensification and globalization, and financialization (Lazonick & O’Sullivan, 2000; Mazzucato, 2013; Pyka & Hanush, 2013; Stiglitz, 2013).
In this paper, we discuss the role of social innovation in this context, drawing on the idea that social innovation entails a transformative and collaborative approach that can be part of the solution to the above mentioned problems. Therefore social innovation is a key characteristic of the new innovation paradigm (Howaldt et al, 2016) that also implies an innovation process opening up to society, involving a broad and dynamic network of players and stakeholders, where traditional roles disappear or lose their weight and new one gain expression: citizens and customers are no longer seen as providing information about their needs; they are actively involved in the process of developing new products, services or models to solve problems (Rosted et al, 2009). In this sense, social innovation can be interpreted as a process of collective creation (Crozier & Friedberg, 1993 in Howaldt et al, 2016).
Having this in mind, the paper discusses the role of social innovation in the promotion of the connection between innovation and development through the following topics: 1. Critical appraisal on the relation between innovation and development; 2. Analysis of the role of social innovation in the promotion of that relation; 3. Analytical implication of the new innovation paradigm connecting innovation and development.