Nadia von Jacobi


Oxford, UK


Development economics


Qualitative and quantitative analysis, Policy recommendations

By Nadia von Jacobi

Pushing the Empirical Frontier Further

Pushing the Empirical Frontier Further: Investigating if and how social innovation can empower marginalised people in Europe

Besides historical reconstructions of social innovations in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, an entire work package (WP7), led by the University of Pavia in Italy, was dedicated to the empirical investigation of ongoing social innovations in Europe.


The research team in Pavia led by Enrica Chiappero Martinetti, explored the scope, organisation and possible impact of three social innovations:

  • complementary currencies in the Netherlands and the role they have in reducing marginalisation through greater access to credit or employment opportunities, in particular by promoting the local economy;
  • solidarity purchasing groups in Italy and their potential for reducing marginalisation of small-scale, organic farmers and other producers that embed a solidarity-value in their products and services;

communal interest groups in rural and remote areas of Germany that seek self-determination in water provision and waste water management and the role that these groups can play for local empowerment.

In order to gather comparable information across the three cases, the University of Pavia coordinated primary data collection that used mixed methods, combining qualitative and more exploratory interviews with social innovators with more structured responses to a survey that gathered subjective opinions and perceptions of active participants and control groups. The data collection took place between October 2015 and May 2016 by researchers from Technical University Delft (NL), University of Greifswald (DE) and the University of Pavia (IT).

As part of CrESSI’s multi-level theoretical framework, detailed attention was paid to capturing (1) subjective evaluations of agency and change that may be attributed to participation in the social innovation; (2) the role and importance of specific social forces such as institutions, cognitive frames and networks, for the implementation and success of the social innovation; (3) the possibility of singling out the social impact of the studied processes by using control groups.

Our results showed that participants expect social innovations to change people’s minds, altering cognitive frames, or mental structures. We also found that participants all reported that they have benefitted from social innovation, again mainly by acquiring intangible opportunities, such as new knowledge and social relations that have positive implications for their business.


Professor Enrica Chiappero-Martinetti is a full-professor of Economics at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the University of Pavia.

She teaches Economics at undergraduate level and Development, Poverty and Inequality for postgraduates.

Nadia holds a PhD in Economics, Law and Institutions, is currently post-doctoral researcher (University of Oxford) and Adjunct Professor (University of Pavia). Her research interests focus on the role of social structures for human development and the social innovation-institutional change link, both from theoretical and empirical points of view.

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