To content
Department of Social Sciences

Innovation and education in the digital society

Our research in this area is conducted against the backdrop of digital transformation. We refer to the process of digitalisation as a social innovation that leads to a transformation of society. We take a social perspective and examine the societal conditions and resonances of digitalisation with its inherent opportunities and risks.

Three lines of research

In this context, we set three research priorities. Each of these is worked on by a research group and also represented in teaching. We ask about the opportunities and risks of digitalisation for participation and inclusion; we examine the conditions for the success of (digital) social innovations; and we also consider education and qualification in the digital transformation process.

Digital inclusion / e-inclusion

Inclusion as a task for society as a whole demands that opportunities to participate in social and therefore also in digital life are increased. In contrast to integration, inclusion goes beyond structural integration and aims at a societal transformation towards a society in which diversity is recognised as normal and which aligns its structures to the diverse needs of all people. On this basis, we deal firstly with the opportunities and risks of digital media for participation, and secondly with the framework conditions that come into play.

We investigate “participation with media” – that is, the promotion of opportunities for participation through the use of digital instruments, as well as “participation in media” – that is, participation in the increasingly digitalised society (e.g. Pelka 2018). Digitalisation can promote equal opportunities, empowerment and inclusion, but at the same time there are also new risks such as dependencies, opportunities for manipulation and new lines of social exclusion. This applies in particular to those who are already increasingly affected by social inequality due to their personal characteristics (e.g. age, gender, dis-/ability, migration history, educational background).

To counter these risks, the creation of an inclusive digital infrastructure at low-threshold learning places is of great importance, along with an offering of offline support and trained media educators, easily accessible content, and media-educational concepts. Places of digital inclusion function as venues in which disadvantaged people can experience support and barrier-free spaces (e.g. in district centres, cultural institutions or MakerSpaces, see e.g. Pelka 2016). We examine these places from a social innovation perspective and ask about new forms of social action that support participation in and with media; but we also ask which new social practices arise through digital inclusion.

How can participation succeed in an increasingly digitalised society and how is participation in society supported with digital media? What role do social innovations play in this?

At which social interfaces can the deployment and use of digital opportunities improve an inclusive infrastructure and counteract social inequality?

Incluscience: Er­wei­te­rung der um einen bürgerwissenschaftlichen Ansatz (Verticals) und Erstellung eines bürgerwissenschaftlichen Instrumentenkoffers für inklu­sive                                                 Bürgerwissenschaft

Emscher Lippe Hoch 4: Einrichtung eines Reallabors zur Stärkung digitaler Kompetenzen benachteiligter Menschen in der Emscher-Lippe-Region

Evaluation PIKSL: Skalierung des Ansatzes eines inklusiven Lernortes

SELFMADE: Aufbau eines inklusiven MakerSpace in einer Werkstatt für Menschen mit Behinderungen

MAKE-IT: Untersuchung der europäischen Maker-Bewegung

I-LINC: Erstellung einer Plattform zur Kooperation unterschiedlicher Stakeholder an der Schnittstelle von Online-Lernen, Inklusion und Beruflichkeit

Social innovations

Social innovation (SI) as a central research topic of the Social Research Centre (Sozialforschungsstelle, sfs) is well received in research area 3 in a large number of international and national projects as well as in academic courses. On the one hand we pursue basic SI research, on the other hand we maintain a specific thematic focus on the topics of inclusion, ecosystems and the role of universities.

As reflected in empirical research, marginalised groups in general and people with disabilities in particular are important target groups and also important stakeholder groups in SI initiatives worldwide (inclusive social innovation). The conditions for the success and/or failure of such initiatives and their dissemination as well as the special requirements for cross-sectoral cooperation are the subject of our research (e.g. Eckhardt / Kaletka / Pelka 2018).

To understand why some innovations prevail and others fail, it is not enough to analyse only actors, cooperations and power constellations, as it also necessary to understand the ecosystems in which social innovations arise. Ecosystems include laws and cultural norms, political, technological and economic framework conditions, intermediate structures and educational offerings (e.g. Kaletka / Markmann / Pelka 2016). These complex conditions form the framework for research on SI initiatives and infrastructures. They are also fundamental for research on diffusion processes.

The success of social innovations also depends on how well the potential of research and educational institutions is utilised (e.g. Anderson / Domanski / Howaldt 2018). In addition to research focusing on transformation processes, approaches in which science itself is an active participant in social innovations are gaining importance. Thus, in this sense, “transformative research” tries to solve social problems by activating processes of social change. Accordingly, we ask questions regarding new modes of knowledge production and the scientific co-creation of knowledge that are aimed at involving practitioners and social innovators in the innovation processes.

Which dynamics promote the emergence, establishment and dissemination of social innovations?

Which actors promote social innovations?

What conditions must prevail so that diffusion processes of social innovation succeed?

02/2018 - 01/2021

Emscher Lippe Hoch 4: Einrichtung eines Reallabors zur Stärkung digitaler Kompetenzen benachteiligter Menschen in der Emscher-Lippe-Region

05/2018 - 04/2021

SISCODE: Society in Science and Innovation through Co-Design

01/2018 - 12/2020

SIKE: Social Innovation through Knowledge Exchange: Entwicklung von Instrumenten für den Wissensaustausch zwischen Hochschulen und nichtakademischen Organisationen

10/2016 - 10/2019

Students4Change: Social Entrepreneurship in Academia: Integration sozialer Innovationen in die Lehrpläne lateinamerikanischer Universitäten

06/2016 - 05/2019

KoSI-LAB: Entwicklung Kommunaler Labore sozialer Innovation in Dortmund und Wuppertal

02/2016 - 01/2019

Social Innovation Community (SIC): Themenübergreifende Netzwerkentwicklung zwischen Forschung, Politik und Praxis sozialer Innovation.

01/2014 - 12/2017

SI-DRIVE: Social Innovation – Driving Force of Social Change. Theoretische und empirische Erarbeitung eines vertieften Verständnisses sozialer Innovation

Education and qualification in digital transformation processes

Socio-digital transformation also changes qualification requirements – a development that challenges businesses, educational institutions, government agencies and civil society alike. For companies, a lack of (digital) skills threatens to become a central bottleneck. For us, two central perspectives are in the foreground: education and training in digital transformation, and the transformation of education and educational landscapes themselves.

Digital transformation requires short-term and sustainable qualification adjustments for entire workforces and individual employees. In addition to specialist knowledge, interdisciplinary (e.g. digital, social, personal and methodological) skills are becoming increasingly important. Qualification requirements are becoming more diverse and the changing of working areas and companies is becoming the norm. Boundaries between highly qualified workers and academically trained engineers are becoming less important in companies, while low-skilled employees are threatened by vocational exclusion. Central questions relate, for example, to the resolution of the foreseeable mismatch between existing and future employee skill requirements, and the potential for skills development to contribute to inclusive growth in Europe.

Faced with these changes, vocational training, higher education and further training are also in a state of upheaval, as are their objectives, functions and content. It is important to develop innovative strategies to rebalance the responsibilities of businesses, employees and education systems. In the context of workplace-related, company-based learning, informal and non-formalised learning processes (learning on the job) become more important. In the same way, the digital learning and information potential will continue to develop (content, methods, didactics, and learning arrangements).

Relevant research topics include the transformation of educational systems to meet the skills requirements of employers, and to enable attractive learning environments and professional biographies for employees and jobseekers. We are looking for ways to overcome the separation between educational areas in order to realise an ecosystem for a holistic educational paradigm for lifelong learning that is oriented towards the individual learner and his or her needs.

How can skills development contribute to inclusive growth in Europe so that as many people and regions as possible benefit from digital transformation?

What transformations are necessary within the educational systems? What possibilities arise from digitalising the educational system and its formats?

How can a holistic ecosystem with equal opportunities yield an educational paradigm for lifelong learning that is oriented towards the individual learner and his or her qualification needs?

01/2020 – 12/2023   

SPIRE-SAIS: Produktionssektor übergreifende europäische Allianz für „Industrielle Symbiose“ zur Verbesserung der Umweltbilanz im Rahmen einer „circular economy“.

01/2019 – 12/2022   

ESSA: Erstellung eines Entwurfs für eine “European Steel Skills Agenda”, in der Strategien zur Qualifizierung in der europäischen Stahlindustrie festgehalten werden.

01/2019 – 12/2022   

BEYOND 4.0: Untersuchung des Einflusses neuer Technologien auf die Zukunft von Jobs, Wirtschaftsmodellen und Wohlfahrt in der Europäischen Union.

01/2018 – 12/2020

SIKE: Entwicklung neuer Paradigma und Werkzeuge für Praktiken des Wissensaustauschs an Universitäten, durch die Soziale Innovation entstehen, Social Entrepreneurship angeregt und mehr Unterstützung für lokale Communities geboten werden sollen.

10/2016 – 03/2020   

COCOP: Optimierung komplexer industrieller Prozesse durch technische Anpassungen sowie neue Beobachtungs- und Kontrollmechanismen für die Anwender in den Fabriken in Co-Creation-Prozessen. Hierdurch sollen wirtschaftliche, soziale und umweltbezogene Vorteile entstehen.

10/2016 – 10/2019

Students4Change: Entwicklung einer pädagogischen Methode für Institutionen der tertiären Bildung und ihre Vertreter, die diese befähigt, soziale Innovationen zu realisieren.

10/2016 - 06/2019   

ROBOHARSH: Konzipierung einer Roboterzelle, die die Arbeitssicherheit erhöht, indem sie das technische Personal in einem gefährlichen Bereich der Stahlschmelze unterstützt.

01/2014 - 12/2017   

SI-DRIVE: Erforschung des Konzepts der sozialen Innovation, dabei u.a. theoriegeleitete Vertiefung, Mapping sozialer Innovationen sowie Empfehlungen für Policy Makers


Research associates:

Student and research assistants: