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Social innovations that address societal challenges

Published: 21 April 2017

Malin Lindberg, Professor at Industrial design conducts research on innovations of a different kind, namely social innovations.

– Luleå University of Technology has a long tradition of research on innovation in technical product development. But our research shows that there is also a lot of innovation in the form of innovative social solutions developed in business as well as in academia and society, which are easily overlooked in traditional innovation research.

Malin Lindberg’s involvement in the EIO began several years ago. Along with other researchers from the university’s institutions and various actors from the private and public sectors, she began to study what innovation research and innovation development from a social perspective that existed at the university.

– The background was the growing demand for knowledge and methods to develop innovative solutions to current societal challenges, such as demographic changes, health problems, unemployment and poverty.

They started to do an overview of what research there was at the university, which resulted in a large survey of all institutions. The results were compiled in two scientific reports, and a popular science book, and contained examples of research including socially sustainable industrial products, norm creative design of products and services, and municipal crises management.

– Another example is the forestry and mining industries that have long struggled with persistent, male-dominated structures. They realize that they need to rethink their classic gender equality measures, like changing the recruitment ads and information about the industries in the school, as the current measures do not provide enough effect. They have started to cooperate with gender researchers at Luleå University of Technology to develop more innovative and effective actions.

Another area that Malin is involved in is about inclusive workplaces where employees and customers are involved in developing new solutions.

– The businesses often become more efficient and qualitative if those working in or using them are involved and allowed to contribute to the improvement,” says Malin Lindberg, and adds that this is something being implemented more and more in areas such as health and social care related activities.

– Municipal and county-run businesses rarely talked about innovation before, although there is a constant need for renewal in these areas. Social innovation is a perspective that can highlight and support more strategic renewal processes,” says Malin Lindberg, and presents local governments in the northern provinces of Norrbotten and Västerbotten as examples. There they have had innovation locks, test beds and reality labs to improve operations.

For fifteen years, Malin has researched inclusive innovation development at Luleå University of Technology. In 2010 she defended a dissertation that dealt with innovation development in female-dominated networks and activities, because the previous innovation research was primarily focused on male-dominated companies and industries. She made visible the need for greater knowledge of different social perspectives on innovation, including from a gender perspective.

– When I started researching there was hardly any research other than technological product innovation in industrial sectors, so I took it as my job to fill that gap. It has required a solid and long term cooperation with businesses, organizations and government agencies to develop theoretical knowledge and practical tools.

An example of a collaborative relationship that Malin Lindberg has initiated is with the Church of Sweden.

– They have been socially innovative in different ways throughout their history, but have rarely received attention from an innovation perspective. Currently, they are particularly active in the areas of integration and unemployment.

According to Malin Lindberg, Luleå University of Technology is a pioneer in research on social innovation in Sweden.

– There are few universities in Sweden that have initiated research on social innovation. Luleå University of Technology is one of the top along with, among others, Malmö University and Lund University. In Europe, the research area is growing strongly, and Sweden has a good chance of contributing.

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