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The TRANSIT project has been completed!


In the TRANSIT project we have developed a theory on Transformative Social Innovation. This is a process of change in social relations involving challenging, altering and/or replacing dominant institutions and structures. Additionally, we initiated the collaborative writing of a Manifesto for Transformative Social Innovation. With the manifesto, we want to redirect attention to the emerging movement of transformative social innovation: communities and individuals across the world that are making change on the ground.

Clicking on the links below provides you access to:

Read a summary of the projects ambitions and results

Get inspired by our infographic on Transformative Social Innovation Theory

Read about the results from the theory development

Read more about the TSI Manifesto

Research question

How does social innovation interact with other forms of (transformative) change, and how are actors (dis) empowered therein?

Project description

TRANSIT (TRANsformative Social Innovation Theory) was an ambitious research project that developed a theory of transformative social innovation which is about empowerment and change in society. It was co-funded by the European Commission and ran for four years, from January 2014 until December 2017. TRANSIT utilized a research method that encouraged feedback from social entrepreneurs and innovators, policy makers and academics, to develop a theory with practical relevance. The theory that has been developed is based on insights from other theories e.g. transition theory, social movement theory and institutional theory. The research project studied how social innovation can bring about empowerment and societal transformation.

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Research Approach

The theory of Transformative Social Innovation was formulated in a dynamic and iterative process that builds on existing theory, grounded the emerging theory in in-depth case studies and tested it through a meta-analysis of the journeys of social innovation initiatives based on critical turning point data. Using an embedded case study approach, TRANSIT researched a total of 20 transnational networks, 110+ related social innovation initiatives in 25+ countries. In this process, the research team continuously interacted with social innovators, social entrepreneurs, policymakers and scientists in a number of workshops applying and reviewing the emerging theory. Further outputs of this process include academic articles, book chapters, working papers, training tools, policy and practice briefs for social innovators, entrepreneurs, researchers and policymakers. 

An embedded case study approach was used to ground and test the emerging middle-range theory on transformative social innovation. This approach combined both qualitative, in-depth case study analysis, as well as quali-quantitative comparative meta-analysis. In total, TRANSIT researched a sample of 20 transnational networks and 110+ of their local manifestations.

 (Transnational) networks

Many social innovators of today work locally, but are connected with other innovators around the globe. TRANSIT explores these linkages by researching international networks of social innovation in Europe and Latin America as case studies both qualitatively and quantitatively.

  • DESIS-network, Network for design for social innovation and sustainability 
  • FABLABS, Digital fabrication workshops open to local communities 
  • INFORSE, International network of sustainable energy  NGOs 
  • Participatory Budgeting, Network of communities and municipalities reinventing how public money is spent and prioritized
  • RIPESS, Network for the promotion of social solidarity economy
  • Seed Exchange Network, Protects biodiversity by defending seed freedom for integrity, self-organization and diversity 
  • Slow Food, Linking food to a comitment to sustainable local and global development 
  • Time Banks, Networks facilitating reciprocal service exchange 
  • La Via Campesina, Aiming for family farming to promote social justice and dignity 

Structure of the project

TRANSIT was structured in 6 Work Packages.

WP1 Project management – coordinated by DRIFT at the Erasmus University Rotterdam (The Netherlands). The aim was to coordinate and coordinated and manage all (financial, scientific, information) resources of the consortium, focusing on their quality and coherence. DRIFT was responsible for the overall scientific management, established and kept contact with the Advisory Board and facilitated scientific & internal knowledge management.

WP2 Synthesis – coordinated by ICIS at the University of Maastricht (The Netherlands). The main objective was translating theoretical insights into working papers, policy recommendations and practical tools. The tasks were the organization of synthesis workshops, the production of working papers, policy briefs and prototypes for tools. The focus areas of those outputs:

·         Global Societal Challenges and Game-changers in relation to Social Innovation

·         Governance

·         Social Learning

·         Resourcing

·         Monitoring

WP3 Theory and concepts – coordinated by the 3S-group of the University of East Anglia (The United Kingdom). The overall objective was to develop a practically relevant middle-range theory of transformative social innovation processes in an iterative process and in co-production with a variety of actors. Central questions were how social innovation relates to its context and how it is influenced by and influences the dynamics in society as well as how we can value and measure impacts and processes of transformative social innovation.

WP4 In-depth Case Studies – coordinated by Aalborg University (Denmark). The focus was on collecting and analyzing in-depth empirical evidence about social innovation. This has been done by carrying out in-depth case studies of transnational social innovation networks and their local manifestations that followed a set of methodological case study guidelines.

WP5 Meta-Analysis – coordinated by ULB-CEDD at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium). This WP focused on conducting a qualitative survey about critical turning points amongst local manifestations of transnational social innovation networks. The results were collected and are accessible in an open-source internet-based database: the critical turning points-database. The data was then analyzed by means of detailed comparative, quali-quantitative analyses against theoretical propositions identified in WP3.

WP6 Communication and engagement – coordinated by IHS at the Erasmus University Rotterdam (The Netherlands). The objective was the communication of the project results, stakeholder engagement and the facilitation of learning and capacity building in EU and Latin America. This WP shared knowledge and insights about transformative social innovation via a web-based resource hub and is actively engaged with other actors via engagement workshops, a knowledge group and by linking to existing SI platforms.


Who were the TRANSIT research partners?

The TRANSIT project was coordinated by DRIFT (Erasmus University Rotterdam - The Netherlands), and involved twelve separate research institutes from across Europe and Latin-America.

  • DRIFT (Coordinator) – Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the Netherlands
  • 3S-group – University of East Anglia, United Kingdom
  • ICIS – University of Maastricht, the Netherlands
  • IHS – Erasmus University of Rotterdam, the Netherlands
  • ULB-CEDD – Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
  • AAU – Aalborg University, Denmark
  • SPRU – University of Sussex, United Kingdom
  • IEC-UNQ – Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, Argentina
  • COPPE – Rio de Janeiro Federal University, Brasil
  • People-Environment Research Group – Universidade da Coruña, Spain
  • BOKU – University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, Austria
  • ESSRG – research and development SME, Hungary

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