Changes that lead to a transformation in society through the introduction of new practices or concepts are referred to as social innovations. A current example of social innovation is the issue of working from home, triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The latest issue of the “DUZ – Magazin für Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft” magazine provides examples of the role that universities – both at home and abroad – can play in the development of social innovation. The dossier is the latest issue in the “DUZ Spotlight – Gute Praxis international” series, published in cooperation with the CHE Centre for Higher Education.

Be it the introduction of social insurance, women’s suffrage or more modern concepts such as working from home, and food or car sharing – all these phenomena are referred to as social innovations. Such innovations go hand in hand with a change in social practices, usually in response to social challenges prevailing at that time.

Such processes are often driven and developed by non-governmental or non-profit organisations, which are involved in 80 per cent of social innovations. Higher education institutions (HEIs) are only of secondary importance as development locations; in fact, they were involved in only around 15 per cent of all social innovations worldwide.

“HEIs still make too little use of their potential to promote social innovation,” summarised co-author Isabel Roessler from the CHE Centre for Higher Education. “The reasons for this are a lack of organisational framework conditions and insufficient awareness of the role they play in the social innovation system,” remarked the project leader of the WISIH research project, which addresses social innovation at HEIs.

The DUZ Spotlight Dossier uses two examples from Europe and North America to illustrate how social innovation can be driven forward through the institutional networking of research activities.

The Social Entrepreneurship Center at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration has been in existence since 2013. The Centre’s activities include communicating and shedding light on the social impact of university-based research projects, and conferring the “Social Impact Award”.

One of the pioneers in the area of social innovations is Canada’s Centre de recherche sur les innovations sociales, or Crises for short. Created from a network of researchers from the Province of Quebec, the aim of the Crises Institute for the last 30 years has been to create and disseminate knowledge about social innovation and transformation. One of the CRISES network’s characteristic success factors is the joint development of knowledge on social innovation by researchers and practitioners.

Bianca Brinkmann, co-author of the publication, believes now is a good time to establish similar centres for social innovation in the German higher education landscape: “Especially in times of crisis, it becomes clear that social innovations are important, also as a task of HEIs and research. HEIs can join forces and address social innovations strategically, thanks to their interdisciplinary centres and networking structures,” stated the project manager from CHE. The example of Technische Hochschule Köln, which has established the issue as a leitmotif of the university in numerous facets on campus, including a dedicated transfer fund, shows that such options are also possible in Germany.


The topic was addressed in the 11/2020 issue of DUZ on 20 November. The authors Bianca Brinkmann and Isabel Roessler are project managers at the CHE Centre for Higher Education. The dossier is the eighth issue of the “DUZ Spotlight – Gute Praxis international” format, developed collaboratively by CHE and DUZ, which is published every now and then in DUZ and at

Previous issues of the Spotlight Dossier have explored the Austrian model of the lifelong student ID (09/2017 issue), the British professional doctorate (01/2018), the Dutch University Teaching Qualification (08/2018), the transfer community based on the Swiss model (12/2018), the establishment of academic continuing education certificates in Switzerland (11/2019), instructional designers in university operations (02/2020) and learning spaces of the future (08/2020). All publications are available in German.

About the WISIH project:

The CHE project “WISIH: Paths and indicators of social innovations driven by higher education institutions in the field of Nursing Science and Occupational, Organisational and Business Psychology” was launched in October 2019. The project also encompasses a practical test enabling universities and universities of applied sciences to test under real-life conditions whether it is possible to determine indicators of social innovation in practice. The project on which this report is based receives funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research under the funding ID 16IFI112. The authors are responsible for the content of this publication. For more information, refer to:


DUZ Spotlight: Soziale Innovationen 25. November 2020 446.15 KB 17291 downloads

Brinkmann, Bianca; Roessler, Isabel: DUZ Spotlight: Soziale Innovationen - Die Hochschulen...