The achievements of communities committed to the common good on the basis of pluralistic and democratically negotiated values have been the subject of renewed discussion for some time now, for solutions to societal problems. In particular, those communities that seek alternative forms of consumption are of interest. The affinity between the everyday problems dealt with in the process and those of socio-ecological change are all-important. But to what extent does this coalition of motives play a role in the commitment of the active in such community. The representative survey commissioned by the Federal Environment Agency presented here 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 of both a concept grounded in social theory and sufficient empirical research and political attention in the context of social innovation. To fill these gaps, elements of a social theory-based approach are offered, coupled with references to empirical research findings. In the following, we would like to address some of the problematics of both the postulate and the perspective presented, and bring an alternative reading of deficits and research desiderata in the context of social innovation to the discussion.

The interaction between science, politics, and the public has been undergoing a profound transformation for several decades, with a closer involvement of the public in the decision-making and problem-solving processes of science and politics observed in many areas of society. One format that has become increasingly important in recent years is called Citizen Science. Citizen Science is generally understood as the collaboration between citizens and scientific institutions that allows the public to be more closely involved in science. Against the background of an increasing social importance of Citizen Science, the applicability for departmental research was examined within the framework of a UFOPLAN project and a concept for the application of Citizen Science in the departmental research of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) was developed. It is primarily aimed at UBA staff, but also at representatives of other departmental research institutions. The purpose of the concept is to offer them a guideline with which they can, on the one hand, check the suitability of Citizen Science approaches for planned research projects. On the other hand, a rough estimate of the expected additional effort (e.g. time required for communication and coordination with citizens) and the benefits for the respective research project (e.g. broader, lifelike data basis) in selected fields of application (e.g. climate, water, noise, soil) can be made on this basis. Four Citizen Science formats could be identified that are particularly suitable for the Federal Environment Agency as a departmental research institution. The type “co-design” involves citizens in the research process from the beginning, or the impulses come from the citizens themselves. The second type, “co-production,” corresponds to the most common Citizen Science activities to date. Another type is “virtual participation,” in which large amounts of data, often virtual, 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 that are generally active without any particular institutional affiliation and conduct research independently.

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

Climate change is not a problem of nature – climate change is a problem of society. This, however, is subject to the very restrictive condition that a society differentiated into self-logical functional systems, self-interested organizations, and stubborn everyday interactions, and thus structurally highly unclear, makes climate change a topic. Climate change is, under these conditions, a problem of sometimes colliding, sometimes cooperating, in any case highly different problem definitions and constructions of the most diverse functional areas, of the most diverse affected and committed organizations, of largely disinterested or then over-committed everyday interactions. Understanding these circumstances helps to clarify how ‘society’ takes note of ecological problems in the first place and chooses certain ways of dealing with them as viable – and others not. The volume brings together theoretically and empirically oriented contributions, each offering analyses at the macro, meso, and micro levels.

Recent environmental debates seem increasingly technical as a result of climate change. As a result, the approaches discussed under the heading of sustainability, which place environmental changes in a comprehensive social context, are sidelined. With the perspective on socio-cultural innovations, a bracket for technical solutions and social conditions is gained, which does not consider technology 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 includes working papers that provide information about the research activities at the Institut für Sozialinnovation.