Emergence by Design

European research project: how can we support and mobilise social innovators?

2011 - 2015

Between 2011 and 2015 Kennisland was part of the European research consortium Emergence by Design (MD). Researchers, including Professor David Lane (previously involved at the Santa Fe Institute for Complexity), practice-based organisations (like Kennisland and The Young Foundation) and technology developers such as Factlink worked together to develop theories, strategies and ICT tools to strengthen, mobilise and support social innovation in societies. In this project Kennisland has developed a prototype for a new evaluation methodology – Dynamic Evaluation – and experimented with developing a digital tool to support online evaluation practices.

Dominant innovation strategies that concentrate solely on producing new products and technologies by the market seem to have reached their limits. Our societies ask for alternative, more sustainable innovation strategies in which not only markets and governments play a role, but also citizens. However, supporting citizen-driven innovation is not an easy challenge since this field is dynamic, emergent, heterogeneous and often unorganised. It lacks a way to support and mobilise its powerful innovation potential in a more effective and smart way. What methods, designs, research and work practices help to support and mobilise social innovators towards collaboration over societal challenges like the refugee crisis, depletion of natural resources, education for all? How to design for emergence?

New ways of evaluating innovation processes

In ‘Emergence by Design’ Kennisland has been involved in developing new, real-time methods for evaluating innovation processes. Traditionally, innovation projects are externally assessed against predefined objectives. But what exactly the outcome will be, especially in innovation processes, can not be defined in advance. Also more traditional evaluation practices do not inherently support social innovators themselves: evaluations are usually not directed towards creating collaboration during innovation processes or on increasing capacities for innovation. Furthermore, one of the driving forces behind innovation, namely social values ​​and value differences that are woven into every innovation process are left unharvested. In social innovation value is created along the way, by the actors themselves in establishing new contacts and new relationships that lead to new actions. It is precisely the objective to let exciting, surprising opportunities emerge from the messy rubble of old systems. These opportunities are best recognised and utilised by those acting in systemic change contexts, and not be judged from ‘the outside’. Take pioneering teachers++Education PioneersRead the report on why and how Kennisland supports Dutch teachers in creating more space for self-organised, co-created innovation in their schools. who want to improve educational practices in their school. They usually do not benefit from a comprehensive, thick evaluation report afterwards, when their goals are accomplished. They need tools to enable them to establish new relationships, and to utilise changes that emerge along the way. Which evaluation method can support social innovators in these kind of processes?

For this question to be properly investigated Kennisland has, in collaboration with researcher Martha Vahl, first conducted a literature review++Research in the social innovation fieldDownload the literature review here. about the use of research in the social innovation field: “Social Innovation, evaluation and stories: where do they meet?”. Secondly, Kennisland developed a prototype of a brand new evaluation methodology in the day-to-day practice of the innovation project Education Pioneers. Dynamic evaluation makes use of feedback loops, in which all people involved in a new initiative (e.g. teachers who develop new education material or establish a learning network for teachers) exchange stories together. The evaluator supervises this process and takes up a research role by producing anecdotes that are used to support innovation processes during its running time. In this case anecdotes are short stories that show a (true) innovation process according to a four-step, fixed structure: a challenge, an exploration of strategies, trying one or more strategies, and the results for all parties involved. In a series of tests the use of anecdotes prove effective as a tool to support and encourage groups of people who are in the midst of developing an innovation, especially when they feel discouraged in an often difficult, messy innovation process.


Dynamic Evaluation: Learning with stories in feedbackloops
Dynamic Evaluation: Learning with stories in feedbackloops

Maker: Kennisland



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Researchers Marlieke Kieboom and Martha Vahl published about developing a prototype++Prototype for dynamic evaluationDownload the case study here. for dynamic evaluation in the report ‘Social innovation and the magic or experience: a case study about dynamic evaluation to support social innovation practices of teachers in the Education Pioneers Programme”. To conclude a digital tool++Technical supportRead the review of building the digital tool with Factlink here. was developed to technically support the exchange of stories and the use of dynamic evaluation.

Principles for new evaluation methods

Based on its work in Emergence by Design Kennisland has found seven characteristics for evaluation methods that enable social innovators to be successful in what they do. They form the core principles of the Dynamic Evaluation methodology that aims to support social innovation practices and mobilise change agents.

  1. Future-proof: evaluation methods for social innovation practices should focus on generating new strategies and new opportunities for innovators;
  2. Network-based: evaluation methods should focus on enabling and generating new relationships between innovators and their local environments, and on encouraging the contribution of others to their innovations.
  3. Democratic: evaluation methods should enable social innovators to become their own evaluators, as researchers of their own practices. Evaluators of programmes that aim to support social innovators should focus their efforts on research that supports its project manager to become the researcher and designer of scaffolding structures that enable social innovators to thrive.
  4. Supportive: Research material produced in evaluations should not be an additional activity besides innovation; it forms core material that helps social innovators to reflect on their practices, and is aimed towards improvement of their innovations (think: a newsletter, a double interview, a podcast or a blog stories instead of thick reports);
  5. Open: The research material is publicly accessible, so that others have the opportunity to use the material during their innovation processes
  6. Real-time: The research material is made available during (and not afterwards) to social innovators subject to evaluation practices
  7. Contextual: The social environment of the innovator (ie in the case of a teacher: colleagues, school, neighbours, parents, students) is directly involved in the evaluation practices

Developing a prototype for dynamic evaluation has also led to two new programs at Kennisland: Social labs++Social labsRead more on what we do in social labs. with the method Feed Forward Stories (an open research method to making new municipal policies with stories of civilians) and Academic Innovators (a programme to boost and support the innovative capacity of scientists).

Emergence by Design was a spin-off of INSITE++BackgroundRead ‘Manifesto: Towards an agenda for social innovation’ by prof. dr. David Lane in which he critiques our current innovation paradigm.. Here you can read the original project proposal of Emergence by Design proposal (PDF).

Deze tekst heeft een Creative Commons Naamsvermelding-licentie (CC BY) en is gekopieerd van de Kennisland-website. Ga voor de volledige versie met afbeeldingen, streamers en noten naar https://www.kl.nl/en/projects/emergence-by-design/

This text has a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) and has been copied from the Kennisland website. For a full version with images, streamers and notes go to https://www.kl.nl/en/projects/emergence-by-design/