Social Innovation Education

Sarah Prosser, Toyen Unlimited, Norway

Asad Ayub

1. Project Overview

The Social Innovation Education (SIED) project is a collaboration between the Institute for the Study of Christian Social Service (“Diakoniewissenschaftliches Institut”, University Heidelberg) and our colleagues in the social service sector across Europe including University of Trier (Trier, Germany), VID Specialized University, (Oslo, Norway) Agirre Lehendakaria Center for Social and Political Studies (Bilbao, Spain) and Eurodiaconia (Brussels, Belgium).

The partners of the SIED project are developing, testing and implementing a training program for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs who operate in the social welfare sector and often have a focus on marginalized people. This program is aimed at mid to senior level professionals who already have practical experience in the field of social welfare. The program is therefore suitable for life-long learners at various stages of their careers.

The program is broken down into four substantive Learning Teaching Training Activities (LTTAs). Each LTTA is designed by a different member of the consortium and is hosted at a different location. The LTTAs are as follows:

1. Heidelberg (Germany):

(i) Understanding of social problems, their framing in different welfare state traditions and their potential for solutions.

(ii) Introduction to the theory of social innovations with regional examples and case studies.

2. Bilbao (Spain):

(i) Understanding of the importance of regional innovation systems.

(ii) Creation of ideas for one’s own social innovation through methodical approaches such as Design Thinking.

3. Trier (Germany):

(i) Further development of the innovative idea from Bilbao into a prototype.

(ii) Testing the prototype through methodical training and development of a social business model.

4. Oslo (Norway):

(i) Implementation and dissemination of social innovations considering aspects of organisational development.

(ii) Presentation of the group social innovation projects in a pitch (with an award going to the best innovation).

The LTTAs are intensive events that last for three full days each. There is a space of two months between each LTTA. During this time each team has tasks which they must complete before the next LTTA. The purpose of this time between each LTTA is to allow participants to apply their new found knowledge in the field. The next LTTA builds on the results from their findings. As participants progress through the program, they learn to implement the design thinking process step-by-step.

The goal is to develop a full fledged course that can be taught at universities and be used for training professionals. Once the LTTAs have concluded, we intend to publish the teaching material and for it to be available online and free of cost. Once the material is published it can be used for in-house training of social service organisations, in social innovation labs,for university teaching and training, for research, and for dissemination by umbrella organisations within member organisations.

2. Preliminary Findings

The program aims to promote the fundamental concepts of social innovation by using design thinking, deep listening and prototyping amongst others. Due to the pandemic, the teaching approach had to be adjusted to fit a virtual setting. The first cohort was held virtually with the exception of the last LTTA in Oslo. Our first virtual cohort allowed us to arrive at certain findings which may be of importance beyond the pandemic. These are elaborated below.

a. Experiential Learning

During the course of the training, the students were engaged through a variety of mediums. These include lectures, interactive exercises, group exercises, mini-projects, case studies, videos and a group project that each learner must participate in. The participants repeatedly noted in the evaluations that the audio-visual material, case studies, experiential and the interactive exercises were some of the most engaging parts of the seminar. The group project component of the program involves a group of participants working together to solve one specific social challenge during the course of the four LTTAs. This prompts the question: How might we supplement lectures with other modes of learning? 

b. Peer Learning

We learnt that working with a group of professionals across Europe was an enriching experience both for the learners and for us as trainers. The discussions were enriched by the opinions and beliefs of the participants who were grounded in their experience in the field. The participants were also in a position to help each other with their diverse experiences and backgrounds. In the evaluations, they expressed a desire to have more unstructured time for peer exchange because they found this aspect quite valuable. As academics and trainers, the onus is on us to consider: how we might foster learning by exposing learners to professionals and peers from a diversity of backgrounds.

c. Scaling Impact

The virtual nature of the program allowed us to develop a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC). The consortium incorporated the evaluation and findings from the first cohort and refined the teaching material to suit the format of a MOOC. This allows us to scale up the impact of the project by offering the MOOC for free to social sector professionals across Europe. These include videos, texts, illustrations, downloads and quizzes. Perhaps a reflection on this can be: If in-person training sessions and courses need to be digitised (especially in the context of social welfare & innovation) so that they may reach a larger audience. 

d. Interactive Exercises

Throughout the course of delivering the training sessions and developing the MOOC the partners had a chance to experiment with interactive learning technologies which, according to our evaluation, boosted learner engagement. These interactive teaching tools included use of Mentimeter and Redpen which boosted learner participation and engagement through gamification. Perhaps an interesting question that is raised here is: How might we use interactive tools and incorporate them into in-person teaching sessions to boost learner engagement?

3. Conclusion

The Winning Idea

From the first cohort we learnt that our teaching methodology was successful in stimulating social innovations. The winning team consisted of David Heuckeroth (Diakonie Deutschland), Petra Brooke (VID Diakonhjemmet Oslo) and Silke Banning (Ev. Gesellschaft Stuttgart) from Norway and Germany. This is even more incredible given that the winning team was the last to agree on their social challenge after the first LTTA. By the last LTTA, they had successfully come up with the winning idea after going through the process co-designed by the SIED project consortium. Their idea was to create a virtual community platform and knowledge repository for the volunteers of faith based social welfare organisations across Europe. Using this platform volunteers in various regions can access best practises and share their experiences with their colleagues about how to deal with similar challenges they face in different geographical settings. This would build on the preexisting networks of volunteers in faith based welfare institutions across Europe. The idea won, because of its ability to leverage existing institutions to achieve impact at scale.

Ideas for further research

Welfare State

  • How do various types of the welfare state models affect innovations in social welfare organisations? Which model is optimal for fostering process and product innovations in the social sector?

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