Co-creation for Social Innovation in context. An analysis of the added value of co-creation within collaborative social innovation projects in the European Union

Project: PHD Research

Project Details


Social innovation and co-creation are both relatively new concepts, that have been studied by scholars for roughly twenty years and are still heavily contested. The former emerged as a response to the more technologically focused concept of innovation and the latter originally solely described the collaboration of end-users in the development of new products, processes or services.

Between 2010-2015, both concepts have been adapted and started to be used more widely by for example EU policymakers in their effort to tackle so called ‘grand societal challenges’. Within this narrative – which could be called co-creation for social innovation, it is almost a prerequisite that partners – especially citizens - from different backgrounds and sectors actively work together towards specific societal challenges.

Relevance and aim
However, the exact contribution of co-creation to social innovation projects is still unclear. Most research on co-creation has been focussing on the involvement of end-users in the development of products, processes and services. In general, scholars conclude that the involvement of end-users is effective and leads to a higher level of customer satisfaction. Only recently, research into the involvement of citizens in social innovation projects has started to emerge. However, the majority of research on co-creation for social innovation has been focusing on collaborations between two types of partners in the quadruple helix (citizens, governments, enterprises and universities). Because of this, it is still unclear what co-creation in social innovation projects with more different type of partners entails exactly. More importantly however, is that most research has been based on national case studies in which partners from different sectors collaborate in a familiar ‘national’ setting. Normally institutional and/or cultural contexts influence co-creation (for example the ‘poldermodel’in the Netherlands or the more confrontational model in France), so by looking at projects in a central EU and different local contexts it becomes clear how context effects co-creation for social innovation.

Therefore this project will analyse a number of international co-creation projects that aim for social innovation with different types of stakeholders in a European and multi-stakeholder setting.With this research we will find out what people in different contexts believe is co-creation and social innovation, how this process works in different contexts and how co-creation contributes to social innovation.

Research question and - sub questions
The project will answer the following question: “What is the added value of co-creation in European funded collaboration projects that aim for social innovation?”

To answer the main question, the research has been subdivided into four sub questions:

1) What is the assumed added value of co-creation for social innovation?
2) How is the added value of co-creation for social innovation being expressed ex ante and ex post in EU projects that aim specifically for social innovation by co-creation?
3) How do partners and stakeholders envision the co-creation process beforehand and continuously shape this process in EU projects to maximise social innovation?
4) How do partners and stakeholders regard the added value of co-creation for social innovation in EU projects that that aim for social innovation?

Key concepts
The research will focus on the interplay between the two main concepts a) co-creation and b) social innovation. For now, we are using the following working definitions:

a) co-creation is a non-linear process that involves multiple actors and stakeholders in the ideation, implementation and assessment of products, services, policies and systems with the aim of improving their efficiency and effectiveness, and the satisfaction of those who take part in the process.

b) social innovation is the invention, development and implementation of new ideas with the purpose to (immediately) relieve and (eventually) solve social problems, which are in the long run directed at the social inclusion of individuals, groups or communities.

It is clear that both definitions are quite opaque, but also distinguish roughly the same phases (ideation/invention, development, implementation and assessment) and also distinguish different levels (products/services, policies and systems).

Both concepts will be studied within the policy framework of the EU, in which a specific value to both concepts has been attributed, mostly because policymakers regard co-creation with universities and end-users almost as a prerequisite for social innovation. Based on preliminary research, EU policies seem to define social innovation in close reation with ‘societal impact’, which could defined as: “the long lasting effect of an activity on society, because it is aimed at solving social problems”, and therefore in this specific context social innovation seems to encompasses societal impact. For now, I will use this working definition of social innovation and will closely look at the entanglement with impact in the first outlined paper.

In general, I will use a qualitative mixed method approach and grounded theory to answer the main research question (mRQ). In order to better understand the added value of co-creation for social innovation in an EU policy setting, the research will:
SubRQ1) start with an analysis of academic literature on co-creation and social impact. This analysis will be followed by and confronted with an analysis of EU policy documents.
SubRQ2) use a qualitative data analysis at nineteen EU funded projects to understand how co-creation is envisoned within social innovation projects by using the quintuple helix approach (knowledge flows between partners and stakeholders in an EU setting) and the proposed social innovation journey model. By contrasting the findings from the QDA phase of the project with other research on social innovation we will be able to find arachetypes of social innovation in relation with the (perceived) added value of co-creation within social innovation.
SubRQ3) These archetypes will be used to understand the process of co-creation for social innovation by looking closely at behavioural interactions within two social innovation projects. This close examination will be carried out by carrying out interviews with key stakeholders and partners and participant observation.
SubRQ4) The archetypes will also be used to understand the perceived added value by looking closely at behavioural interactions within two social innovation projects. This close examination will be carried out by carrying out interviews with key stakeholders and partners and participant observation.

The project will contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between co-creation and social innovation on different levels:

a) Theoretical: the research will analyse the concepts of co-creation and social innovation in relation to each other by looking at the origins of the concepts, the adaptation in different fields and the uptake within EU policies;
b) Methodological: a model will be developed to study and understand the non-lineair process of co-creation within social innovation, by focusing on social innovation pathways and social innovation strategies within a quintuple helix setting (i) academia, ii) enterprises and iii) governments that work together to improve iv) society in an v) EU setting);
c) Empirical: the project will (for the first time) collect data on behavioural interactions and the satisfaction levels of these interactions between stakeholders and partners in an EU project.
d) Societal: the results of the research could be used to optimize the support for social innovation projects and also for the development of specific funding calls.

Layman's description

​De afgelopen twee decennia is er veel meer aandacht ontstaan bij onderzoekers en beleidsmakers voor het begrip co-creatie. Bijna altijd wordt de rol van co-creatie als positief en essentieel gezien in een proces waarin maatschappelijke of publieke uitdagingen worden onderzocht en opgelost (zogenaamde sociale innovatie). Het meeste onderzoek naar deze twee begrippen is kwalitatief van aard en gebaseerd op ‘case studies’.

​In zijn promotieonderzoek kijkt Peter Broekema naar de rol van co-creatie binnen sociale innovatie in Europese samenwerkingsprojecten. In zijn eerste artikel heeft hij de begrippen co-creatie en sociale innovatie tussen 1995 en 2018 binnen de EU geanalyseerd en geconcludeerd dat beide begrippen steeds breder gebruikt worden en samen met het begrip impact zijn getransformeerd tot een beleidsparadigma.

In het tweede artikel keek Peter Broekema hoe beide begrippen doorwerken in specifieke subsidieoproepen en hoe consortia deze begrippen toepassen en samenwerken. Hierbij bleek dat er weliswaar verschillende typen consortia bestaan, maar dat zij geen specifieke co-creatiestrategie hadden.

In zijn laatste twee artikelen zal hij gedetailleerd kijken naar een aantal EU projecten en vaststellen hoe de samenwerking is verlopen en hoe tevreden de verschillende partners zijn met het resultaat. Peter Broekema maakt hiervoor gebruik van projecten waarin hij zelf participeert (ACCOMPLISSH, INEDIT en SHIINE).

Key findings

Policy paradigm (social innovation, co-creation, impact)
Concluding that co-creation often takes place within own helix
Effective start/end date1/01/2031/03/23


  • co-creation
  • social innovation
  • impact
  • EU policy


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