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A framework for Transformative Social Innovation (TRANSIT Working Paper # 5)

Authors: Haxeltine, Alex; Avelino, Flor; Pel, Bonno; Dumitru, Adina; Kemp, René; Longhurst, Noel; Chilvers, Jason and Wittmayer, Julia M.
Publication date: 2016
Keywords: conceptual framework, theory, Transformative Social Innovation, narratives of change

This working paper reports on steps towards the development of a new theory of social innovation in an EU-funded research project entitled “TRANsformative Social Innovation Theory” (TRANSIT; 2014-2017). The project aims to build a theory of transformative social innovation that is of practical relevance in formulating both policy and strategies for unlocking the potential of social innovation to contribute to societal challenges. It focuses on understanding and explaining the ways in which social innovation interacts with processes of systemic or transformative change, as many urgent societal challenges are understood as requiring fundamental and systemic transformations. In clarifying the need for a new theory of SI, the project had to account for the perceived deficits articulated in the policy discourse as well as in the SI research literature—developing a reflexive critique of both. A particular need is to address the current under-theorisation of SI in terms of normative assumptions about ‘ends’ based on overly simplistic conceptions of the agency of SI-actors. This paper is structured as follows: Section 1.2 summarizes our choices around both the type of theory to be developed and the method of theory development. Section 1.3 characterizes the theoretical challenges that a new theory of transformative social innovation (TSI) should respond to. Section 2 presents the core theoretical-ontological choices made in developing a framing of the social innovation process (SI) in processes of transformative change. Based on this, section 3 outlines a conceptual framework for TSI. Section 4 concludes by stating the contribution of this paper, and looks forward to the further elaboration of this ‘TSI framework’ as a middle-range theory, based on the analysis of a set of empirical case studies.


Haxeltine, A., Avelino, F., Pel, B., Dumitru, A., Kemp, R., Longhurst, N., Chilvers, J. and Wittmayer, J. M. (2016) A framework for Transformative Social Innovation (TRANSIT Working Paper # 5), TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.2-1 Grant agreement no: 613169.

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