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BUU44621 Designing Social Innovation

(5 ECTS Taught Module – Semester One)


Prof. Gemma Donnelly-Cox

Office Hours: by appointment, via online meeting.

Module Content

Social innovation is the creation and implementation of a novel concept, idea or organisation, that benefits society and is achieved through community, business, institutional and/or behavioural change If you are interested in thinking differently and making a difference, whether your focus is climate action, or marriage equality, you are interested in social innovation. Whether you want to change the world, or help make your neighbourhood a better place to live, your desire to make a difference needs to be matched with the knowledge and skills to develop workable solutions, to deploy them effectively and to assess their impact. This module will guide you in understanding how processes of social innovation work and how to develop yourself to play a role within them. You will learn how processes of social innovation are used to address key societal challenges.

This module introduces concepts for and approaches to social innovation and value creation, linking social innovation theory, business practices learned throughout the business degree and new strategies for defining, delivering and measuring social impact. You will learn about global and regional approaches to social innovation, how to develop a theory of change and use logic models, and how to intervene in a process of social innovation. You will learn how to engage with key individuals within the fields of social innovation and social change in Ireland and abroad, including academics, practitioners and activists.

Learning and Teaching Approach:

The core learning activity in the module is gaining the knowledge needed to assess the development of social innovation and apply it to the practice of delivering social impact. Students will work on an independent social innovation paper in which they will demonstrate their capacity to use social innovation theory for practical application. In class sessions focused on individual engagement, creativity, and teambuilding, students will grapple with a series of social innovation challenges. Teamwork in teams that will carry over to the second semester will culminate in project work with social innovators aimed at increasing the social (and/or environmental) impact of their organisations.

Students not going on to the second semester will be placed in a team of one semester students. Lectures will introduce students to the core ideas and approaches underpinning social innovation and students will be given the opportunity to discuss and debate different strategies that might apply to featured social innovations. In the January assessment period, there will be an essay question test based on the theory and concepts introduced during the semester.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Describe and apply the key theories / frameworks / debates in the field of social innovation and social innovation’s role in bringing about social change 
  2. Evaluate a social innovation in an Irish / international context with respect to the potential for sustainable impact and systemic change 
  3. Analyse the hybrid models of organization that are emerging as boundaries between private, public and nonprofit sectors blur, and evaluate the role of structure in enabling social innovation 
  4. Demonstrate the capacity to understand, assess and address social and environmental challenges locally and globally

Module Pre Requisite

BUU33590 Business in Society or BUU33690 Social Entrepreneurship


BUU44622 Delivering Social Impact

Textbooks and Required Resources

The required readings are drawn from relevant academic and ‘grey’ literature which will be provided to students via the Blackboard site. The readings for each lecture topic are provided in the module schedule below.

A book of readings on social innovation from which readings will be assigned during the course is available as a pdf under a creative commons license, which means you can download it free of charge below.

  • Nicholls, Alex; Julie Simon and Madeleine Gabriel (2015). New Frontiers in Social Innovation Research. Palgrave MacMillan. Download here.

Student preparation for the module:  The main preparation for this module is the completion of the Business programme to date, coupled with the interest in working with, in the second semester, a socially innovative organisation to maximise their social impact.


Team Work (40%)- you will join a team this semester. Teams will be formed after three weeks of team-based seminar work in which you are working in a different team each time. Teams will be facilitated to form with student preferences taken into account as much as is possible. Teams will complete a video and poster project where you document on a poster the work of an exemplar social innovation – an organisation, product or process – and capture on video a contribution from a social innovator associated with the exemplar social innovation. Sample videos and sample posters will be made available on Blackboard in the first half of the semester.  

Term Test (60%) – 2 hours, essay questions – will be scheduled online, for the post-Christmas assessment period 

Late Submission Policy: Unexcused assignments submitted after the designated submission deadline may be penalised by 10% of the grade awarded for each working day late, or part thereof. Assignments beyond 5 days late will not be accepted. In the event of a non-medical reason for non-submission of a term-assignment a student should consult with and receive prior approval from the lecturer concerned. Students unable to submit a term assignment for medical reasons must produce a medical certificate to the School of Business Studies office within three working days of the missed submission date. Certificates received after that time will not be accepted.