Profile - The ITSSOIN Project
We’re always on the lookout for innovative projects from further afield that can inform our work and give us ideas to work on here in the Northern Ireland Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector. One of the projects we came across was ITSSOIN.
The ITSSOIN project (Impact of the Third Sector as Social Innovation) investigates “the impact of the Third Sector and civic engagement on society, which goes beyond their economic benefits or the natural virtue of caring for others”.
The idea behind the project is that the Third Sector, or as we call it the VCSE, specifically through stimulating civic involvement, is best placed to produce social innovation, outperforming the commercial sector and the state in this regard.
By investigating the relationship between the VCSE Sector and social innovation, ITSSOIN will help develop the wider understanding of why and how the sector is central to functioning, cohesive and viable societies.
The project hopes to “enhance sector conceptions by building on and extending previous research traditions” that, according to ITSSOIN, “have focused on different roles such as: service provider, minority advocate, value guardian, economic motor, or sphere of social interaction”.
ITSSOIN will develop testable hypotheses and investigate them empirically. This will be done by identifying dominant social innovation streams in selected fields to investigate how nonprofits and civic engagement have enabled, meaning initiated or driven, the particular innovation.
The fields being investigated include: culture & arts; social services; health care; environmental sustainability; consumer protection; work integration; and community development.
Based on an empirical portrait of the VCSE Sector in nine countries, the project will explore the influence of structural characteristics of non-profit organizations and civic engagement on social innovations.
Thereby ITSSOIN will focus on organisations (properties and practices) and context conditions (discourses and policy frameworks).
Since it is hard to establish causality and to measure social properties when investigating impact, especially at the level of society, ITSSOIN will narrow down the VCSE Sector impact to one priority aspect: social innovation – understood as the capacity of non-profit organizations to generate novel ideas, ways and means of doing things, of addressing public and social problems of many kinds.
By doing this they hope to be able to not only show the reach and influence of the VCSE Sectors role in social innovation but also the impact of that social innovation.
This project is a collaboration between a number of schools and universities across Europe and its findings will be announced in the coming months and years.