Social innovation for biodiversity: A literature review and research challenges

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January, 7 2022 | Journal article | Biodiversity | Rafael Ziegler, Joachim Spangenberg

New ways to tackle biodiversity loss through social innovation
Alongside the news about the ecological crisis, there are also stories about new ways on how individuals and communities are changing their behaviour to address the current loss of biodiversity. In this paper, SERI members worked with an international team of authors to examine social innovations regarding actions of the civil society used to mitigate biodiversity loss.
Innovation is usually attributed to technological change, which at the same time can also imply negative ecological impacts. In contrast, social innovation can address the reasons of biodiversity loss while at the same time promoting human well-being.

There are calls for social innovation to help with the effort to halt biodiversity loss. However, research on social innovation and biodiversity is dispersed and covers a multitude of disciplines. A systematic overview of research on social innovation and biodiversity is missing and this paper contributes by focusing on social innovation to tackle the drivers of biodiversity loss and unsustainability. The paper reviews research on social innovation in changing land use (agriculture, forestry, aquatic ecosystems and cities), in tackling exploitation of organisms (fishing, hunting, harvesting), and in addressing threats of climate change, pollution and invasive species. Across these drivers, the authors find a) a strong emphasis on social innovation as civic action for changing practices in addressing unsustainability, b) that social innovation research tends to focus on local experimentation although there are bodies of literature on policy-driven innovations and consumer/producer-driven innovations, and c) that there is very little research taking a critical perspective to explore negative or unintended consequences of social innovation. Drawing on the review, the paper proposes three cross cutting issues that can be a focus for future research, practice and supportive policy: social innovation for nature-based solutions, social innovation for participatory governance, and social innovation for technology that tackles biodiversity loss.

Full Paper available at

Ziegler R, Balzac-Arroyo J, Hölsgens R, Holzgreve S, Lyon F, Spangenberg J and P P Thapa 2022. Social innovation for biodiversity: A literature review and research challenges. In: Ecological Economics, Volume 193, 07336.