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Department of Social Sciences

Thematic fields & research areas

The topic of social innovation is addressed with different thematic focuses in several research areas.

The socio-technical approach represents a central theoretical-conceptual reference point in the research area "Work and Organisation in the Socio-Digital Transformation" and in the reseach field "Industry and Labour Research". However, work and organisation are not captured as a consequence of increasing digital penetration, but are viewed with an emphasis on the equal status of social and technological innovation.

A hand is holding a flyer with the text "Focus Social Innovation" on its cover.

In this perspective, the interdependent overall context of a production system consisting of people, technology and organisation is moved to the centre of consideration. The human/technology and human/organisation interfaces are of particular interest as points of intervention for different design options and consequences of working conditions. What concrete social effects are associated with this is not determined by the technology, but depends on its concrete contexts of use. Against this background, the work of the future is seen as interest-dependent and contested terrain, which demands complex negotiation processes, new forms of participation and patterns of regulation. 

In the research area Innovation and education in the digital society, we are interested, among other things, in how phenomena of the digital transformation change society, what (side) consequences are associated with it, and what demands this places on an inclusive society design. We try to understand social innovations from their ecosystems in order to be able to describe their transformative effects. We also take a closer look at the changing skill requirements that challenge companies, educational institutions, administrations, and civil society. Here, we focus in particular on the innovative strategies that rebalance the responsibilities of companies, employees and the education systems, assuming that the development of social innovations also depends on how well the potential of research and education institutions can be harnessed. 'Transformative research' in this sense seeks to solve social problems by activating processes of social change. New modes of knowledge production are as much in the foreground as the scientific co-creation of society, which aims at the planned inclusion of practitioners and social innovators in the processes of knowledge production and innovation.

The investigation of transformation processes for sustainable development (research area "Transformative governance in cities and regions") takes place primarily at the level of cities and regions in Germany. One of the starting points is the concept of social innovation. The focus is particularly on the fields of action climate protection, climate adaptation and energy transition. The research projects mainly consist of inter- and transdisciplinary teams from science, public administration, the private sector and civil society actors. The further development of non-transformative governance structures towards transformative governance is difficult for various reasons. For example, there are various path dependencies as well as often a lack of financial and institutional leeway on the part of cities and regions, which can be overcome not only by technological innovations, but also and above all by social innovations.