Alex Nicholls


Oxford, UK


Social Innovation and entrepreneurship


Social Finance, Social Bonds, social impact investing

By Alex Nicholls

The CrESSI Project

The CrESSI project explores the economic underpinnings of social innovation, with a particular focus on how policy and practice can enhance the lives of the most marginalised and disempowered citizens in society. The four-year project funded by the EC was commenced in February 2014 and brings together 8 European partners led by University of Oxford.

Overall, the CrESSI project takes an institutionalist view of the key issues when exploring the drivers and structures that lead to marginalisation and disempowerment. This research also aims to set out how interventions drawing on social innovation can address major economic, social and power imbalances and inequalities. The project draws upon three interlinked strands of theory to provide an overarching conceptual framework: Beckert’s social grid model; Sen’s capabilities approach; and Mann’s analysis of power structures and their enactments.


The research goals comprise establishing an interdisciplinary theory and context for social innovation across the EU; contextualising social innovation within established research and practice on technological innovation; exploring emergent social innovation ecosystems and lifecycles; investigating effective policy agendas and instruments for fostering social innovation; and suggesting good practice metrics for capturing the impact of social innovation.


The conceptual and theoretical elements of the project are being tested and revised with a rigorous programme of empirical data collection and analyses. This has encompassed qualitative analysis of historical case studies and quantitative analyses, including primary data collection on ongoing cases that can inform the EU-wide (including European Commission) debates on building smart economies that reduce inequality and socio-economic marginalisation.


In the final year, the main findings and outputs arising from all the other completed work packages will be analysed and gathered in the Project Book “Creating Economic Space for Social Innovation” with the aim to:

  • reassess the social grid conceptual framework in the light of the results of the project’s empirical work and to envisage final conclusions regarding the creation of a fair economic space, favourable for social innovation; and
  • draw policy recommendations for promoting a fair economic space for social innovation in Europe


Main findings are gathered in a series of working papers based on project deliverables, which are publicly available on the CrESSI website ( A project book will be soon published with OUP including the final version of the theoretical framework used in the project incorporating Beckert’s social grid framework, Sen’s capabilities approach and Mann’s reflections upon power relations, along with the key findings of the various work packages.


A range of other dissemination actions have been set up and include: a) a documentary film on Social Innovation and the Marginalized – a short version for the web and a fully realized version (available December 2017) b) a toolkit for organizing youth groups that introduces various aspects of social innovation linked to youth engagement in a collaborative social innovation platform; c) a series of Financial Literacy Seminars based on the microeconomic foundations of social innovation and on keys findings relating to a reframing of the institutions and assumptions that govern efficient capital allocation, especially considering the most marginalized populations.


A final Event is scheduled on January 26th, 2018 in Oxford to present the CrESSI book “Creating Economic Space for Social Innovation”. An invited talk by Jens Beckert will kick off the sessions and contribute to the discussion on how social innovation is best able to tackle marginalization. Theoretical insights will be complemented by our empirical insights gathered on historical and current social innovation cases in Europe.

The CRESSI team

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