Social innovations

What are social innovations? Social innovations are ideas, products, services or models that are new, or applied in new contexts, and which are designed to improve the wellbeing and quality of life of people as they age.


Social innovation is not a new concept but has been widely encouraged as a means to improve, expand and diversify innovation for the benefit of society. It is not an easy concept to define, but is broadly understood to mean new ideas meeting social needs and creating new relationships or collaboration.

For social innovation to be effective it needs to directly target populations and individuals – in this case the ageing population. However, there is an absence of successful and sustainable social innovations in the field of wellbeing in later life, in contrast to civic entrepreneurialism or the public sector. The lack of clear definition and wide understanding of social innovation means many social innovators may not identify themselves so; many innovations remain small, immature and hidden from view.

For example there is great potential for the use of ICT in this field, in support services for informal carers, smart home technology, the use of mobile phones to for preventative health care and management of chronic conditions, but none of this is yet implemented on a large scale. There are few recognised instruments for ensuring the success of social innovations; outcomes are many and varied, making comparisons difficult.

More information

Social innovations database

Innovage developed an evaluation process to assess the impact of social innovations on wellbeing in old age. Building on methods being developed as part of the Joint Action Healthy Life Years, Innovage developed a database of exemplars of social innovation, those with a proven track record or really obvious potential. Four social innovations (links below) were also trialled and developed as part of the project.

Innovage published ‘Guidelines for user involvement in social innovation’ which emphasised the importance of engaging with older people in the social innovation process.

Download the guidelines for user involvement in social innovation (PDF, 186KB)

ESF exploratory workshop on ageing and social innovation

Partners from the Innovage project led an ESF exploratory workshop on ageing and social innovation, which was co-scheduled with our first Innovage Forum in Sweden, September 2013. The exploratory workshop took the first stages in mapping the active and healthy ageing in relation to social innovation, and outlining a new research agenda intended to maximise the potential of social innovations in securing extended healthy life years.