Social innovation research: An emerging area of innovation studies?

Robert P. van der Have*, Luis Rubalcaba

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

432 Citations (Scopus)


While the adoption of Social Innovation (SI) in the governance and policy domain has fueled a rapidly expanding scholarly literature, this field has become characterized by conceptual ambiguity and a diversity of definitions and research settings. This present situation inhibits the integration of findings. This paper traces the content, scope and relatively short history of modern social innovation research across disciplines by applying network and bibliometric analyses, and explores their relevance to innovation studies. Based on data from 172 publications, we analyze scholarly works that directly address the social innovation topic, allowing us to identify the precedence, dynamics and the current map of social innovation research as an emerging field of study. Our analysis suggests that the SI field is grounded in four distinct intellectual communities arising through a somewhat organized diffusion process: 1) Community Psychology; 2) Creativity research; 3) Social and societal challenges; 4) Local development. The interest of SI in the areas of management and entrepreneurship is only very recent and is currently reflected within existing communities. We forge conceptual bridges between the two (currently very separate) domains of social innovation and innovation studies, and the implications of our finding for further research and policy are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1923-1935
Number of pages13
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Bibliometrics
  • Integrative literature review
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Social innovation
  • Social technology
  • Social value


Dive into the research topics of 'Social innovation research: An emerging area of innovation studies?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this