4.1.1 Expectations and
As the development of shared expectations and
visions is considered crucial for robust niche development, we looked for
evidence of such values within the case study selected. The findings
demonstrate that all the respondents from the PCIS had a common understanding
of the term ‘social innovation’ referring to it in relation to community,
claiming: ‘social innovation is a
solution to problems that the community has primarily done in a participative
way’, ‘an instrument to impact on the
community’, ‘solutions for the
community that can be replicated and scalable’. This is in line with the
definition used by Zapf (1989) that considers SI as new social practices that
better solve existing challenges in the community.
Moreover, we found evidence of coherence around
visions and expectations. Participants from the PCIS had very clear visions and
well-defined aims of their goals and objectives, as they had kept to the
original vision of Uniminuto University, and have maintained it over time. This
is clearly illustrated by some respondents who stated:
The spirit of the PCIS is in its foundation; it is in its DNA. Since
Uniminuto started with the work done by Father Rafael Garcia Herreros, it is an
innovative university that focused on helping the community (Interviewee 2).
This is a university that changes the lives of people. We have been
recognised by the local community and they trust us, well… they know we are
here to support them in their development (Interviewee 7).
An important aspect that emerged from the
findings is how the PCIS has been involved in setting up new projects,
inspiring others and propagating a shared vision. As some of the respondents
Emprendeverde, our business incubator programme, supports entrepreneurs
that are working with environment related activities. One of the things we do
is to buy products from them; for example, we buy food and drinks from Mixtura,
a company we are currently working with. Another example is Shapebrand, a
company that creates trophies. We support the founder by buying these trophies
for the university. By doing this, we give them financial stability (Interviewee
As this university has around 127,000 students in 84 locations across
the country, we have introduced them to SI throughout our courses. Well… they students
have to do practices related to social responsibility and innovation. Some of
our students have identified problems in their local areas and have looked for innovative
solutions; they have started their own projects to help the local community. It
is fantastic to see how our values and vision are affecting other people positively,
and how the students have become promoters of innovative initiatives to help
their communities (Interviewee 4).
Thus, the evidence indicates that respondents
were aiming to achieve wider societal changes and that there is an influential
niche able to shape the development of future projects within its overall
shared vision. The PCIS, as illustrated in Figure 1, currently exhibits
characteristics of the ‘trans-local’
phase regarding shared visions and project coordination, where the local
knowledge has been fed forward to constitute the aggregated learning required
at niche level (Geels and Deuten, 2006).
Growing niches depend on expansion of networks
and network building activities, both internally (building a sense of community
to encourage information-sharing) and externally (to attract resources and
influence). There is good evidence that the PCIS engage in networking
activities in a variety of ways, with a diverse set of national and
international partners, to share information and experiences as well as work in
collaboration for the development of SI projects. When asked to name important
partners, respondents most frequently named national and local government departments,
foundations, private companies and other universities:
We have links with national government, for example, with the MINTIC,
local government departments, private companies and third sector organisations
(e.g., Siemens Foundation, and universities including Javeriana and Andes
We have contracts with foundations, for example, with Davivienda
Foundation, Proyecto Civico, Ciudad Bolivar Foundation and other private
companies (Interviewee 8).
Some respondents commented on their work with
actors who have resources and how they have tried to change their agendas and
visions by doing it. They pointed out their ability to attract funds from
different institutions, the main one being Colciencias and the Cundinamarca
We have been funded primarily by the Uniminuto University with the
support of Colciencias. After that, the Cundinamarca government gave us
substantial money for the last four years to promote and support social
innovation in the area. This has been a fantastic opportunity to develop
projects in the region and promote the PCIS! (Interviewee 2).
We found evidence of considerable formal and
informal internal networking within the niche. Respondents mentioned that much
of the effort of networking within the members has been done by organising
regular meetings and talks with leaders of the different projects to ensure the
work was done in a similar line.
We meet regularly to make sure we are all informed of the progress done
and that everybody knows what is happening. Well, we have also created a space
online to communicate with leaders in different parts of the country to make
sure communication is great (Interviewee 8).
We organise formal and social meetings to keep us updated. There is a
good environment in the workplace; people meet to exchange ideas about their
projects as well as socialise for lunch. It is like a family! (Interviewee 3).
There was also evidence of the
creation of networks with organisations at an international level. Some of the
international partners that the PCIS has worked with since its establishment
are: IDEO, Strive Together, Robomatter-Carnegie Mellon University and Colorado
School of Mines in the USA; Pontificia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do
Sol in Brazil; LaFis and Fundación para la Innovación Social in Chile;
University of Dortmund in Germany; University of Tokyo in Japan; the National
Agency of Information (NIA) in the Republic of Korea; and ICA2, Parque
Científico de Madrid, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Parque Científico de
Leganés, Distrito [email protected] and Innobasque in Spain.
An example highlighted
by respondents as a relevant activity done with an international partner is the
For example, the STEM project… well, we brought this model from a
university in the United States, the Robomatter-Carnegie Mellon University, to
help students in local schools to improve their level in mathematics and other
related science subjects. We’ve applied it in eight schools in Cundinamarca and
now it has been expanded to other locations due to the success of the project!
This has been indeed one of the most significant achievements! (Interviewee 10).
In summary, we find that networking is a vital aspect
of the development of the PCIS, and that while there is good evidence of
contributions to global-level networking, as predicted by SNM in the formation
phases of niche-development, there is more activity and reliance on
pre-existing networks within the project and at a national level (Witkamp et al.,
2011). This indicates that the sector is currently at the ‘trans-local’ phase
of niche development, moving towards the global-level phase, and it is still at
an early stage for transforming the current system regime (Geels and Deuten,
Sharing learning is an important activity for
our case study, indicating that the types of learning, and the people with whom
it is shared, vary over time and according to different phases of the
development of the sector. The PCIS showed evidence of learning being shared
‘upwards’ with intermediary organisations developing projects. The most
prominent mechanisms for sharing learning were: working with external
consultants to produce learning materials and engaging with intermediaries to
develop projects. As an example of this, one of the respondents highlighted the
recent book publication they have produced in collaboration with other scholars
and experts on SI and education in Latin America:
We rely on a network of experts in different Latin American countries
that meet regularly to share experiences and ideas. Out of this, for example,
we have recently published a book entitled ‘Innovación Social en Latin America’
to promote social innovation in the region (Interviewee 1).
Most respondents acknowledge working with
organisations that are part of the sector as being relevant for their learning
experiences. As some respondents pointed out:
We’ve developed a map of 107 SI related organisations in the country to
learn about the problems they work with and share ideas (Interviewee 5).
We’ve worked with social innovators and universities that are working on
projects related to social innovation developing a wide range of projects. For
example, we’ve developed a project with the University of Andes and Rosario
University to support SI practices in Cundinamarca (Interviewee 9).
Interestingly, some of the learning has
contributed not necessarily to the niche (SI in higher education), but rather to
supporting another niche, which is an important contribution to the SNM theory,
suggesting that learning happens on a single niche-regime interaction:
We’ve worked even with private companies; an example of this is the work
we have done with Osensa, an oil company, encouraging them to develop SI
related projects! (Interviewee 12).
A couple of entrepreneurs that had been
supported by the PCIS corroborated the contribution of the PCIS to other niches
I have personally learned a lot from the staff at the PCIS, and in
particular Emprendeverde, how to manage my business and scale up (Interviewee 15).
Camilo and the staff at Emprendeverde have supported me immensely by
giving me not only advice for my business, but also providing me with key
contacts for the business. I have learned a lot; it is difficult to say in
words the contribution they have given to my company (Interviewee 14).
Moreover, respondents accepted that they were
also actively engaged in formal evaluation or monitoring processes, whereby
learning was consolidated and passed to intermediaries. Another mechanism of
learning-sharing reported was through information sharing (meaning informal, ad
hoc contact by telephone, emails or at events) to acquire information and
advice and through hosting visits to the projects.
Within the PCIS, we’ve developed a website and a section called
SocioInnova to share all their publications. It is available for everyone!
Once, there was a university that approached us saying they wanted to
collaborate with the PCIS by organising an international event on the topic of
SI. They were surprised when we gave them our contacts; they could not believe
it! I think if we want to be part of the SI movement, we need to share!
One of the processes of learning with other
individuals and organisations was reported to be mentoring. As one of the
The Park promotes different projects from people, for example, a peasant
that created a machine to solve a problem he had with his production. We
supported him by giving advice and we have learned a lot from him as well. He
is currently studying a degree at this university (Interviewee 8).
Moreover, we found that learning plays an
important role within groups in developing, improving and evolving these
initiatives (Schot and Geels, 2008). The most prevalent means through which
this occurred was ‘learning by doing’, which was found in all the cases, and
took the form of, for instance, adapting their activities to suit local
contexts and conditions better.
We have learned a lot by reflecting on our experiences. For example, we
have changed the way we were doing things in here… (Interviewee 12).
We work with the community to ensure that it suits the location where we
develop these projects. We give relevance to the knowledge and experience of
peasants, trying to recuperate their local knowledge, for example, traditions
such as gathering in the kitchen to socialise with the family. We’ve realised
how collective knowledge can change things! (Interviewee 11).
The evidence indicates that learning has taken
place within the PCIS, some being ‘pulled out’ by intermediaries and others
‘pushed out’ by projects themselves through formal evaluations, monitoring and
structured, codified learning mechanisms. In terms of what types of learning is
shared, the findings indicate that socio-cultural, human and organisational
aspects were the most commonly shared, being less popular the financial
aspects. These findings suggest that the PCIS is displaying characteristics
typical of the third stage of niche development (trans-local phase), where
niche-level actors are playing a significant role in the process of aggregating
shared learning within the projects themselves, which is very significant to
the project’s development and progress as well as sharing learning with other
organisations (Geels and Deuten, 2006).
4.2 From the
trans-local to the global phase: opportunities and challenges
In testing how useful SNM is for explaining
developments at the PCIS, our analysis reveals that there is indeed evidence of
an emerging niche of the type described in SNM. In terms of the phases of niche
development, indicated in Figure 1, the PCIS appears to be performing some of
the roles typical of the trans-local phase, enabling wider innovation diffusion
by aggregating project learning and sharing resources with new projects. Yet,
our analysis indicates some possible routes for the development of the niche
moving from the trans-local to the global phase with a number of opportunities
and challenges to overcome in so doing. Findings from the interviews
demonstrate that one of the key elements of being successful has been the
support they have from the university, as SI is at the core of their mission.
As suggested by one of the respondents:
We are proud we have sustained our park. Well, if we compare with other SI
parks that we’ve seen, in few years’ time they disappear, we are still here;
the idea is to sustain and make it strong. We have to accept that we would not
be here without the support of the university and the people who are at the top;
they are the ones that want to see this park growing and becoming a leading
world example of SI and education (Interviewee 1).
Another interesting finding that emerged from
the interviews was that the PCIS has been extremely effective in attracting
members that have the professional skills required to develop their projects.
Attention was specifically focused on the capacity of employees and the good
working environment of the PCIS:
We have a great team and this has been crucial for the success of the park.
We have been able to develop things through our collective knowledge!
We have a great team of people from different disciplines, and the
environment is great. It is a pleasure to work here; people value the creativity
of everyone and support each other! (Interviewee 8).
In addition to this, there was apparent
agreement among respondents about the importance of having different locations
across the country to make an impact and influence others:
The fact that we are working in different regions in the country helps
us to disseminate the work and promote social innovation, making a bigger
impact. For example, we have a competition called ‘Ligas del Conocimiento’
where we give the opportunity to students at Uniminuto University in different
parts of the country (e.g., the Amazon region) to participate with their social
innovation business idea to solve a problem in their community. They pitch
their idea and if they win the competition, we give them money to start-up (Interviewee
Respondents reported enthusiastically of the
plans they have to continue with the promotion of SI activities within the
PCIS. As pointed out by one of the leaders of the PCIS: ‘We want to evangelise social innovation to make sure people move
towards the sector’ (Interviewee 1). Yet, and although the PCIS has been
recognised by the International Association of Science Parks
(IASP) as the first Scientific
Park for SI in the world, a number of respondents expressed the view that more
dissemination was needed to improve the perception of the PCIS at a national
and international level:
Something that is missing is to put our experiences in scientific data,
such as academic papers, to help us disseminate our experiences and look for
external partners at national and international levels. We have a lot of
experience, but we lack dissemination (Interviewee 12).
Moreover, challenges emerged in relation to
management issues within the organisation. As some of the respondents claimed:
One of the biggest problems is the relationship between the park and the
university, as the academic time is different, and both operate at different
rhythms, mainly in the administrative part. Well, the university follows the
academic calendar and it has a break at a particular time of the year, but the
park doesn’t stop, so it can make things complex at times mainly for the admin
people (Interviewee 5).
Some of the challenges we have experienced has been that although we are
part of the university, we have a different rhythm, mainly for admin people.
Well, the lack of trust, for example, from the admin team at university that
some of the entrepreneurs, particularly the young ones, will not be able to
deliver things on time. They, both staff at university and the PCIS including
entrepreneurs, have been able to manage and adjust perfectly, which is great!
A further point of discussion relates to the
financial sustainability of the park. As one of the respondents stated:
The PCIS has difficulties becoming financially sustainable. We have
achieved social stability working in collaboration with communities, and we are
missing the financial aspect now (Interviewee 12).
Additionally, respondents reported difficulties
for people when explaining outside the PCIS what SI is and why it is important.
This was perceived as a barrier to promote the sector within the university:
Not everyone understands the meaning of social innovation within the
university. Sometimes people from university are not open to new concepts.
Well, we have, as I like to call it, organised chaos! (Interviewee 1).
Moreover, there were some people who reported
tensions between the system regime and niche on views regarding how
universities should work and promote SI. They claimed that, while the regime within
the HE system focuses on publications and academic standards, the niche sector
emphasises the relevance of bringing innovative solutions to disadvantaged
groups and empowering the community by using a participatory approach to it. As
one of the respondents stated:
As there is a lot of pressure for academics to publish papers and write
books, it is often seen that academics move to this direction as it is the only
one that will give them the opportunity to scale up on their career, and not
the work with the community. The University supports them in both aspects, but
it is the system and the way we are ranking universities in Colombia that makes
them focus on the first part and often leave the second aspect as it is not
relevant for their career. I hope this will change, but at the moment it is
still like this (Interviewee 2).
This clearly reveals that despite the fact that
the PCIS has shown a great achievement by all the work developed, it also
presents current additional challenges to move to the global-phase level, where
the niche leads to a radical regime transformation (see Figure 3). To become a
more robust niche, we consider there to be a need to have more capacity to use
niche experiences to influence perceptions of regime actors to actively create
cracks in the regime.