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Social Innovation and Service Innovation: a necessary dialogue

Written by Faridah Djellal, Faîz Gallouj and Jean-Christophe Godest

Reviewed by David Walburn


The concept

How to implement it?

Step in the RIS3 process

What can be expected?

A quote

Expert's comments


The concept

Social innovation and service innovation are both still operational marginal fields, but particularly dynamic in which a multitude of definitions, theories more or less contradictory compete with none other is needed. Social innovation is often an innovation of services, but is also often (and increasingly) a service innovation. Indeed, the service sector is a place particularly conducive to social innovation.

It must be taking into account the density of social interactions merchant services - especially customers - that characterizes them. In a government, the density of the social interaction takes place in a "spirit of public service" based on the principles of continuity, fairness and equal treatment. But it is also true to an even higher growth of commercial activities in developed countries.

While social innovations aimed primarily a social development - which may be expressed in simplifying the idea of quality of life, certain social innovations –also- the purposes of economic development. This is the case, for example, devices for rehabilitation of people in need, microfinance, provision of microloans, savings and insurance schemes for the poor excluded systems traditional banking. Many social innovations emerge within companies combine the purposes of social development and economic development. These are organizational innovations, resulting from the hierarchy or carried by the base, which improve the quality of employees involved and positively on productivity. Note also that certain social innovations born to satisfy a need for social development can be adopted by companies for profit maximization. They include, among others, the case of learning and training and telemedicine for instance.


How to implement it?

  •  Spaces of dialogue still deserve to be exploited, especially that of public policies to support social innovation and service innovation.
  • A better understanding of social innovation in the light service innovation and vice versa should contribute to further reduce the gap of hidden or invisible innovation in our economies, and enable us to move towards a new global innovation paradigm.


Step in the RIS process

  •  Step 1 – Analysis of regional context/potential
  • Step 3 – Vision for the future


What can be expected?

  • Describe a comprehensive scenario of the regional economy, society, and environment shared by all stakeholders and keep stakeholders, like social or environment operators, fully engaged in the RIS3 ;
  • Launch new an original collective actions.


A quote

“Social innovation and service innovation issues have developed separately with too rare intersections beween them. Both issues share many points in common, however, and sometimes even describe the same socio-economic reality.” by Faïz Gallouj


Expert's comments

With this paper, the authors are back on the territory of the type of innovation which consists chiefly of doing things better – more cheaply, more efficiently, more effectively or improving quality without necessarily increasing cost – rather than the technical innovation one would associate with manufacturing.

Service delivery is a feature of commercial businesses dealing with their clients, but it is also applies to many public and voluntary sector organisations. The potential for innovation to improve service delivery applies across the piece. There is indeed much political tension around proposals to transfer services ranging from health care to the delivery of mail from the public to the private sector in some countries. The authors point out that social service as well as profit maximization can apply equally to innovation in this category.

The potential for social and service innovation across the sectors clearly has an important place in any regional economic development strategy. However, a particular value of this area of innovation is that it widens the scope of economic development from economic growth which is centred on the performance of firms, to include aspects such as improving personal well-being and addressing the needs of disadvantaged people. This wider agenda is not often reflected in the concerns of policy makers, and perhaps more could be made of this in the main paper.

By including the scope for innovation in the delivery of service to areas of social policy, public policy can facilitate the involvement of a much wider group of players in the regional economy, which, with effective leadership, could have a significant impact on the overall commitment to regional economic development. It could transform it from being regarded as a rather niche area of policy concerned mainly with finance and manufacturing to something where everyone has a role to play.

A fuller examination of this area of public policy can be found in another paper in this series by Claire Nauwelaers: Social Innovation And Smart Specialisation Strategies.


Mr David Walburn

After a career in business David Walburn joined Greater London Enterprise in 1986 where he was responsible for venture capital and other small business support, before becoming Chief Executive of the organisation. He was the Chair of the London Business Angels Network and played a key role in the setting up of the European Business Angels Network. He has worked with the UK government and the European Commission on developing public policy initiatives to improve the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises. He was the Chair of Capital Enterprise, the umbrella body for organisations supporting micro business development in London, until 2012.

For the last ten years he has been a Visiting Professor at London South Bank University where he headed the Local Economy Policy Unit and was the managing editor of the journal Local Economy.

He has served as President of EURADA, and been a member of a number of advisory bodies of the European Commission.  He has been an active member of the International Economic Development Council in Washington DC and has a wide range of international contacts with economic development organisations.

He continues to write and lecture on small business finance and regional economic development.