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BU4621 Social Innovation and Social Impact

(15 ECTS credits)


Professor Mary Lee Rhodes and Gemma Donnelly Cox

Module Content

  • Defining Social Innovation and Social Impact
    • What is Social Innovation
    • How do you know when SI makes a difference? How do you measure social impact?
    • How do you know that a social innovation leads to social change
  • Solving Wicked Problems with Social Innovation
    • Presenting social problems
    • Demonstrating how SI can lead to solutions
    • Identifying change and measuring impact
  • Social Innovation at home and away
    • Local challenges
    • Social innovation in development contexts
  • Organising for Social Innovation: What are the Choices?  Are some ways better than others?
    • The relevance of sector ‘home’ for SI – does it matter whether you are in the public, private or non-profit sector?
    • Is it better to select the right ‘pure’ form, or to seek a hybrid approach?
  • Case Study: Social Innovation in Homelessness Services
    • A Place to Call Home
  • Selecting a Social Innovation course project and a personal topic
    • Using Action Research to improve social innovation
    • Presenting your group SI Project – what organization, what sector, what form, what intervention?
    • Selecting a personal topic – what is my burning SI q
  • Social Innovation and Ethics
    • Ethical culture and social innovation
    • Doing well while doing good – how is it possible?
  • Social Innovation and Resource Efficiency
    • How to innovate under conditions of resource scarcity
    • Social Innovation and sustainability
    • Social innovation in a truly circular economy
  • Everyone loves a social innovation…don’t they?
    • Public perceptions of social innovation – under what conditions do Sis become socially acceptable?  How do social innovators secure a social license to operate?
    • Civic engagement and social innovation
  • Financing social innovation
    • Who invests in social innovation?
    • What are the returns on Social Innovation Investment?
    • The social investment spectrum
    • Social Investment in Focus - Social Impact Bonds
  • Strategic Philanthropy as a source of Social Investment Finance
  • Case Study: Social Investment Innovations – the creation and use of Social Impact Bonds
  • Adding Value to your Social Innovation Project
    • SI project presentations: organization, SI, intervention, progress to date
  • Defining Social Impact
    • What is social impact?
    • What are the choices for measuring social impact?
  • “Doing” Social Impact Measurement in Strategic Philanthropy
    • Developing a theory  of change
    • Making an investment
    • Evaluating the outcomes
  • But is it impact?
    • How do you know that SI will lead to social change?
    • Critically review of SI measures and approaches
  • Group Projects
    • Progress on interventions
    • Evaluation of work to date
    • Development of impact measures
  • Leveraging Social Innovation: Advocacy and Policy Change
    • Institutionalizing social change
  • Final Project Presentations – Social Innovation and Social Impact

Module Short Title


Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

  • Grasp and engage with the key theories / frameworks / debates in the field of social innovation and its role in bringing about social change
  • Critically evaluate and apply selected models of  social investment using a number of criteria, including sustainability
  • Review the hybrid models of organisation that are emerging as boundaries between private, public and non-profit sectors blur, and evaluate the role of structure in enabling social innovation
  • Assess the social impact of social innovation in an Irish and international context
  • Contribute to making practical interventions in a socially innovative organization, in collaboration with organizational personnel and project mentors
  • Approach philanthropy and civic engagement strategically, with a view to maximizing impact and bringing about systemic change;
  • Apply principles of social investment in the practice of social sector problem solving, analysis and social impact evaluation;
  • Demonstrate the capacity to address social challenges locally and globally.

Module Pre Requisite


Module Learning Aims

The education aims of the module are:

  • To enable students to grasp and engage with the key theories, frameworks and debates in the field of social innovation and social impact and to apply them to the analysis of organisational and management practice.
  • To integrate and apply ideas, theories and techniques learned in this module and in others in their course programme.
  • To integrate and synthesise learning gained outside the formal taught courses, such as previous learning, professional experience, and personal knowledge

Recommended Texts/Key Reading

The module will draw from a diverse range of sources and as such no individual text will suffice.  However, the following texts will provide a useful nucleus for the module:

Publications from the TEPSIE Project – Exploring the Theoretical, Empirical and Policy Foundations for Social Innovation in Europe – full list available at 

Kickull, J and Lyons, T (2012) Understanding Social Entrepreneurship: The Relentless Pursuit of Mission in an Ever Changing World, Routledge

Lectures & Tutorials/Contact Hours

One two hour lecture per week
One seminar every second week


  • Assessment is as follows
    • First  semester: individual term paper (15%)
    • Whole year: group social impact action research
      project for a socially innovative organisation (35%)
    • Whole year exam – four questions, two from each semester (50%)
    • For one-semester students, assessment is as follows:
    • Individual term paper (30%)
    • Group Project (30%)
    • Term Test in Reading Week (40%)

Dates for Submission

To be advised

Module Website

See Blackboard BU4621