In recent years, social innovation has become a buzzword in the corridors of foundations and their partners, and yet the concept is far from new. In fact, social innovation has been around as long as humans have walked the Earth. Just consider the creativity that was harnessed by our forefathers in the Paleolithic era to develop stone tools for hunting and gathering.
Social innovation today takes many forms, from the development of new technologies, such as nanotechnologies, to new production and decision-making processes. Because of their close links to society and their independence, foundations – particularly those funding research – are well placed to foster new models for improving the lives of citizens. However, as technologies and society as a whole continue to evolve ever more rapidly, the question arises: how can foundations keep up with and facilitate social innovation?
This is the question that will guide discussions at this week’s EFC Research Forum, which will take place 9-10 February in Barcelona. The aim is to drill down beyond the buzzword and consider some key areas that are driving social innovation forward. One such area is Open Access, which is revolutionising and, some say, democratising access to scientific information. However, this new approach to the dissemination of scientific data and results also opens a Pandora’s Box of issues such as how to ensure quality and financially sustainable publishing models.
The shift in data ownership and new publishing models will undoubtedly affect how foundations make their funding decisions. It is therefore incumbent on foundations to not only keep abreast of the changing trends in this regard but also to be at the forefront of these developments. These questions are pertinent not only to the world of science and research, but also to the wider world. The recent black-out of Wikipedia, the fifth most visited website in the world, pays testament to the larger issue of information sharing-and who are and will be the gatekeepers to scientific and other knowledge.
Foundations like to consider themselves innovators, risk takers and independent thinkers, ready to spearhead innovative ideas. The conference aims to really challenge these badges of honour and examine to what extent foundations’ work leads to positive change in people’s lives. It will also look at what proactive steps foundations can take, in partnership with governments and other stakeholders, to ensure that they remain ahead of the game and may wear their social innovation badge with pride.
Margaret Mulligan is EFC Research Forum coordinator