In the third of our blog series ‘Interactions, Interdisciplinarity, International’, Jenny Hasenfuss explores the practice of social innovation and what it means for universities.
This blog will focus upon the recent ‘Social Innovation Skills Share’ workshop which took place last week coordinated by the NCCPE (National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement) and was held at the National at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations building in central London. The workshop was an opportunity to build upon the HEFCE funded “Social Innovation” pilot 2016-17 which funded six social innovation projects, and presented a great opportunity to hear about recent practice in community-university partnerships, emergent ways of working and frameworks to support high quality engagement and research outputs.
It was a richly packed day with six case studies shared and four workshops and it was extremely well facilitated by NCCPE Director Paul Manners and NCCPE Project Manager Maddy Foard from the NCCPE. The breadth of subject areas was impressive. But was even more exciting was to see and hear about the positive impact these projects are creating with external stakeholders beyond the Academy, and indeed back into the Academy.
Social innovation in action
Les Levidow, Open University, talked captivatingly about inter-generational community activism in London community based food growing initiatives, including Granville Community Kitchen . Having worked alongside community members at the Community Kitchen in a knowledge co-production process and funded by HEFCE, Les reflected in his humbling and inspiring talk about the ability of community groups to redefine societal problems, to work and develop collectively, and to devise inventive responses to those problems.
The ‘Parenting Science Gang’ project shared with us by Tamasin Greenough is involving parents (and mums in particular are really really engaging in this) in conversations about what research they need as new parents. This heartening and wide ranging project is empowering parents using a blend of online live Q&A with experts, events, the opportunity to get involved in studies and is now driving new research questions for academic researchers.
Another fascinating approach was shared by CUSE (Coventry University Social Enterprise CIC) who support University staff, students and local community members with their social enterprise ideas, training and business development and have helped to create more than 50 social enterprises in the last four years.
One project which particularly stood out for its aims and its ethos was the MoneyLab initiative designed by Ravensbourne and funded by the Money Advice Service. This project is being co-created with students from Ravensbourne and seeks to explore and understand students’ knowledge and experiences of money to develop a “more student-led approach to financial management, awareness and advice”. At the workshop session on this initiative Paul Sternberg, Head of Design at Ravensbourne and his colleague Simon Gough drew out the really sensitive considerations being undertaken within this project, elucidating the (often rarely spoken) social and emotional aspects of money and what it means for students (and indeed what the lack of money means for students). Through a thoughtful and reflective process the team are working with students. The positive intent of the team to be ready to step back from the project process was impressive as was their recognition of the subtleties involved in creating authentic ways of communicating with and listening to students. In this way Ravensbourne were engagingly honest about the challenges of co-design approaches but equally extremely positive about the real enduring quality of what can be achieved in collaboration.
The value of social innovation
At this point it is prescient to consider the provocations raised by eminent Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel, who in ‘What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets” (Sandel, 2013, Penguin) wrote “We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society”. Sandel articulates that the challenges of a market orientated society [which appears to provide a ‘neutral’ analysis of economic value of goods] are especially acute when some aspects of modern society (for example, fertility, value of teaching and learning, care for vulnerable groups, pollution reduction ‘quotas’), are condensed into a reductive market economy framework. Sandel argues that we need to be cautionary in our adoption of market principles to set value (and therefore meaning) on aspects of society, and thus we need to engage with a broader debate and paradigm to harness and celebrate value for the public good.
A common thread throughout the Social Innovation skills share day came to be the critical importance of an authentic sense of purpose, and the wider ideologies of social innovation as a practice in order to generate genuine benefit for the public good. The potential for social innovation to share knowledge and develop new insights. The potential for social innovation to be an important aspect of fulfilling the social and civic responsibilities of universities. The potential for social innovation to bring multiple benefits to multiple stakeholders.
Here in the Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal we champion co-produced research and support colleagues to undertake this with a funding call, tailored support, best practice resources and events and workshops. We have supported more than 30 co-produced research projects and have worked with 73 external partners from across the Quadruple Helix; Voluntary and community and social enterprises; Local authorities, Schools and Colleges and Businesses. Within our current European Horizon 2020 funded project ACCOMPLISSH, in the Institute for Social Renewal in partnership with University of Zagreb we have developed a set of principles and processes to underpin the co-creation research design and communication process in order to support effective partnerships and deliver mutually beneficial research.
To undertake authentic co-produced research one must utilise key principles to ensure quality and integrity of the process, being aware of power balances and the importance of creating trust. The exciting potential for co-created research is the development of university-stakeholder partnerships enabling academics to work with partners to exchange knowledge, create meaningful value and in turn nurture the potential for future impacts with and for society.
Institute for Social Renewal
Jenny Hasenfuss is the Institute Administrator at Newcastle University Institute for Social Renewal and her role involves supporting societal engagement with research and coordinating strategic projects. An experienced knowledge exchange professional and project manager, Jenny has worked in Higher Education for the past ten years and is passionate about developing impactful societally relevant research.