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An overview of digital social innovations

Call for papers
Cédric Gossart, Nicolas Jullien, David Massé et Müge Özman

Digital innovations are no longer used to satisfy mere market needs, they are increasingly used to address social and ecological issues. For example, the Ushahidi application, designed to map violent acts following the 2008 elections in Kenya, aggregates and diffuses information collected by citizens about urban violence, which enables citizens and local authorities to take precautionary measures. Along similar lines, the Egyptian application Harassmap collects cases of sexual harassment reported on its platform, which allows women to avoid dangerous areas1. A similar application was developed in France under the name of App-Elles. It enables girls and women who are victims of an assault to alert the police and other contacts. As for the I Wheel Share application, it facilitates the collection and diffusion of information about urban (positive and negative) experiences that may be useful to disabled people. Two last examples involve the use of a digital hardware (other than a smartphone). First the KoomBook, created by the NGO Librarians Without Borders, is an electronic box using a wifi hotspot to provide key educational resources to people deprived of Internet access. Second, the portable sensor developed by the Plume Labs company, which can be used as a key holder, measures local air pollution in real time and communicates the data to the community.

The above examples of digital social innovations (DSI) underline the common characteristic of DSI: they all have a clear social and/or ecological objective. On the other hand, their underlying technologies can differ (software, hardware), as well as their functioning mechanisms (connecting algorithm, information collection & diffusion platform, ...). The economic models used to develop DSI and their supportive organisations can also differ (for profit or non for profit, stock corporation or cooperative, etc.).

Despite their great potential to contribute to social and environmental changes, DSI remain an underresearched field. The DSI4EU project provides a list of DSI, others mention them as being instrumental in the so-called “collaborative economy” or “sharing economy”, and civil society actors like OuiShare place a strong emphasis on them. However, it is clear that DSI have not yet been systematically and extensively analysed. We wish that this special issue contributes to do so, by using a three-level approach (micro, meso, macro).

At the level of the innovation itself (micro), we suggest for example to explore how DSI emerge and function (practices, routines, knowledge management, entrepreneurs, ...). At the intermediate level (meso), we expect contributions about funding mechanisms, market forces, supportive and regulatory public policies, or about coalitions of actors using DSI or affected by them. And at the macrosocial level, proposals could for example explore the values ​​motivating DSI innovators and users (self interest, altruism ...), the role of macro-level shocks (economic, social, ecological) on the emergence of DSI, or the ability of DSI to contribute to the systemic transformation of human societies.

In addition to the academic articles to be published in this special issue, we welcome contributions from non-academic authors that will appear in a separate section called “Libres Propos” or “Repères”, which are not subjected to peer-review evaluation. We strongly encourage contributions by junior colleagues, whose work will greatly benefit from peer-review comments as well as from remarks from senior researchers members of the editorial board and of the scientific committee of Terminal.

We suggest below a few questions that could be addressed by the contributors:

  • How can we define digital social innovations?

  • What is the profile of DSI innovators?

  • What are the business models used by the organisations developing DSI?

  • What are the design practices used to generate DSI? (open innovation, eco-design, privacy by design, ethical design, ...)

  • What are the barriers to digital social innovation?

  • How can governments support DSI?

  • What are the social and ecological limits of DSI?

  • How are power relations between socio-economic actors affected by DSI?

  • What are the consequences of the diffusion of DSI on incumbent actors of specific sectors? (smart cities, environmental monitoring, environmental and sustainable development education, health, poverty alleviation, political life, etc.)

  • New relationships between rulers and governed: what role for CivicTech?

  • What roles do DSI play in the collaborative economy and the sharing economy?

  • Is our capacity to protect commons changed by DSI?

  • How are DSI integrated into the CSR strategies of large firms?

  • Do DSI promote a circular economy and/or the relocation of production and consumption?

  • To what extent do DSI promote a reduction of the ecological impacts of human societies?

  • Are there collaborations between researchers and practitioners around DSI? Between for profit and non for profit organisations?

  • Which new research questions can emerge from DSI studies?




Submission of contribution abstracts (max. 2 pages) to innovations-sociales-numeriques[at]

30 September 2017

Response to authors

10 October 2017

Sending of complete articles for peer-review

31 December 2017

Sending of reviewers’ comments to authors

28 February 2018

Submission of final articles

31 March 2018

Publishing of articles online

30 April 2018



1 Source : Banque Mondiale (2014), Rapport sur le développement dans le monde, p. 153.

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