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Global Science Week 2017 discusses social innovation in science and society

How can science contribute to solving increasingly complex societal challenges? The Tsukuba Global Science Week (TGSW 2017), with its thematic focus “Science for Social Innovation”, addressed this question by bringing together researchers across borders and disciplines in Tsukuba Science City, the largest science and technology hub in Japan. Dr. Christoph Kaletka (TU Dortmund University / sfs) held the opening keynote and addressed the largely untapped potential of social innovation research and policy.

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Christoph_Kaletka_Science_for_Social_Innovation_keynoteFrom the 25th to the 28th of September, 600 participants followed TGSW’s invitation, which had staked a major claim: “As the pace of globalization continues unabated”, so the organisers, “we have come to witness a range of ‘global issues’ – climate change and global warming, biodiversity, world hunger and poverty, environmental degradation, food security, human trafficking, terrorism, etc. – that call for worldwide collaboration of scientists. Tsukuba Global Science Week, with the University of Tsukuba as its main driver, was conceived and launched as a platform for sharing the latest research results, carrying out transdisciplinary conversations, and providing an impetus for action to deal with such intractable problems.”

Social innovation was chosen as the umbrella topic for the event. In this relatively new scientific field, researchers aim to find out how the manifold initiatives in education, inclusion or poverty reduction successfully contribute to social change. International research consortia investigate social innovation’s drivers and barriers, argue how supportive ecosystems for social innovation can be developed, and start transdisciplinary discussions with policy-makers, public administration, companies, and the civil society.

In his lecture, Christoph Kaletka argued how progress on the concept of social innovation was made in recent years, and presented the latest empirical results of SI-DRIVE, a global research project on social innovation, coordinated by TU Dortmund University. For example, the results show that social innovation initiatives are equally driven by civil society, the public and the private sector, while research is only playing a minor role. This contrasts heavily with the strong and often leading role of science and research in traditional, technology-oriented innovation networks. According to Kaletka, this shows the need to further develop application-oriented research concepts such as transformative research, design thinking, co-creation, and the research-driven development of intermediaries like social innovation hubs. 

At the end of TGSW 2017, the “Tsukuba Declaration” was released on behalf of the participants. It says: “We, as drivers of innovation, commit ourselves to ‘trans-border’ collaboration across industry, government and academia, and will pioneer new industries and shape the next society, […] and aim to strengthen the capacity of science and research to develop innovative solutions to complex social problems.”