SMARTEES defines ‘social innovation’ in energy

25 February 2020

SMARTEES defines ‘social innovation’ in energy

What is ‘social innovation’? What does this term actually mean?

Social innovation in energy lies at the heart of the SMARTEES project, but a precise definition of the term is hard to come by. In order to ensure seamless cross-disciplinary communication, the SMARTEES partners worked to build a definition of social innovation that applies to the core consideration of the project: local social innovation related to energy.

For this, a structured workshop was organised in Groningen (the Netherlands), where the partners reviewed existing definitions and presented their ideas for a SMARTEES definition of social innovation. Emerging from the process were three key questions about social innovations:

1.      Are they tangible things (e.g. new technologies, changes in the physical environment, changes to rules, etc.), or are they processes of social change?

2.      Is social innovation, by definition, required to be a positive thing?

3.      Should social innovation be defined to arise as solutions to specific societal challenges?

The second round of feedback on the project definition of social innovation was solicited during the project meeting in A Coruna (Spain) in June 2019. Based on the results of this meeting, the SMARTEES working definition of social innovation is unveiled in Deliverable 5.1.

SMARTEES’ working definition of social innovation: Social innovation is a process of change in social relationships, interactions, and/or the sharing of knowledge that broadens/deepens the engagement of individual stakeholders with energy topics and leads to, or is based on, new environmentally sustainable ways of producing, managing and consuming energy to meet societal challenges.

Following the definition, the investigated types of innovations are specified as processes of social change, not as specific actions or interventions taken by municipalities. Social innovation, according to this definition, does not need to be strictly positive changes, but it does relate to specific societal challenges.

Clarity with respect to what is meant by ‘social innovation’ in energy will allow for better communication between interdisciplinary researchers, like the SMARTEES partners. Practitioners and policymakers can improve the uptake and knowledge sharing from effective social innovations by using precise and well-defined terminology.

Scientific disciplines of the SMARTEES project (Jed Cohen)


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 763912. The sole responsibility for the content of this website lies with the SMARTEES project. It does not necessarily represent the opinion of the European Union.