The achievements of communities committed to the common good on the basis of pluralistic and demorratically negotiated values have for some time been increasingly discussed again for the solution of social problems. In particular, communities seeking alternative forms of consumption are of some interest. The affinity between the problems of everyday life and those of social-ecological change that have been overcome in the process is possible. But to what extent does this motivational coalition play a role in the involvement of the active in such a community? The representative survey presented here on behalf of the Federal Environment Agency provides information on this.

A basic postulate of the contribution by Jürgen Howaldt and Michael Schwarz (2017) is a supposed “double deficit”: According to the authors, there is a lack both of a concept based on social theory and of sufficient empirical research and political attention in the context of social innovation. In order to fill these gaps, elements of a social-theoretically founded concept are offered, coupled with references to empirical research results. In the following, we would like to address some of the problems of both the postulate and the perspective presented and introduce an alternative reading of deficits and research desiderata in contextual social innovation into the discussion.

The interaction between science, politics and the public has been undergoing profound change for several decades. In many areas of society, a closer involvement of the public in the decision-making and problem-solving processes of science and politics can be observed. A format that has become increasingly important in recent years is known as Citizen Science. Citizen Science is generally understood as the cooperation between citizens and scientific institutions with which the public can be more closely involved in science. Against the background of the increasing social importance of Citizen Science, a UFOPLAN project examined its applicability for departmental research and developed a concept for the application of Citizen Science in departmental research at the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). It is aimed primarily at UBA employees, but also at representatives of other departmental research institutions. The purpose of the concept is to offer them a guideline with which they can test the suitability of Citizen Science approaches for planned research projects. On the other hand, a rough estimation of the expected additional effort (e.g. time required for communication and coordination with citizens/citizens) and the benefit for the respective research project (e.g. broader, realistic data basis) in selected fields of application (e.g. climate, water, noise, soil) can be made on this basis. Four Citizen Science formats were identified which are particularly suitable for the Federal Environment Agency as a departmental research institution. The “co-design” type involves citizens from the outset in the research process, or the impulses themselves emanate from the citizens themselves. The second type, “co-production,” corresponds to the Citizen Science activities that have occurred most frequently to date. Another type is “virtual participation”, in which large, often virtual amounts of data are obtained via crowdsourcing approaches and sensor carrier approaches. The fourth type focuses on “autonomous research”. This can be understood as the activities of individuals or interest groups such as professional societies or associations, which are generally active without special institutional ties and conduct independent research.

What do alternative consumption and business models look like, which economic and social structures shape the Sharing Economy and what effects do it have? Sharing Economy refers to the trend towards sharing, exchanging and borrowing. Botsman & Rogers (2010) speak of collaborative, communal consumption, which they understand as a form of social coexistence. Lamla (2013) sees a new experimental participation in such consumption models. The effects of analog, but especially of digital sharing on the actors involved, on the social market economy and society as a whole are extremely complex and difficult to predict. Accordingly, they are assessed and discussed controversially. The debate focuses on competition aspects, employment and the labour market, the social security system, sustainability and ecology, as well as everyday consumer practices and the interrelationships between these different areas.

Climate change is not a problem of nature – climate change is a problem of society. This, however, under the very restrictive condition that a society that is differentiated into its own logical functional systems, self-interested organisations and stubborn everyday interactions, and thus structurally highly confusing, makes climate change an issue. Under these conditions, climate change is a problem of sometimes colliding, sometimes cooperating, at any rate highly different problem definitions and constructions of the most diverse functional areas, of the most diverse affected and committed organisations, of largely disinterested or then overly committed everyday interactions. An understanding of these circumstances helps to clarify how ‘society’ acknowledges ecological problems at all and chooses certain forms of dealing with them as feasible – and others not. This volume brings together theoretical and empirically oriented contributions that offer analyses at the macro, meso and micro levels.

Recent environmental debates appear to be increasingly technical as a result of climate change. As a result, those approaches discussed under the heading of sustainability that place environmental changes in a comprehensive societal context are marginalised. The perspective on socio-cultural innovations has gained a bracket for technical solutions and social conditions that does not view technology as detached from social processes, but as a social phenomenon. The anthology establishes a link between social science innovation research and social science sustainability research.

The publication series contains working papers that provide information on research activities at the Institute for Social Innovation.