• Time: 18:00-19:00
  • Date : Monday, 9 November 2020
  • Venue: HSG19


How can small innovation teams come to play a large role in addressing global challenges such as climate change, inequality, digital governance, and unemployment? In this talk, Dr Tuukka Toivonen will build on his existing collaborative work on Finnish social innovation teams (2017-2020) to explore increasingly vital questions about the impactfulness and long-term resilience of such teams in the context of what are often referred to as the ‘grand challenges of the 21st century’.

Three recent sociological and political developments make this research timely. First, innovative work has become not just democratised and collaborative (Battistella & Nonino 2012; von Hippel 2006) but increasingly team-based (Wuchty, Jones & Uzzi 2007). In fact, prior research has shown that teams are more likely than solo individuals to generate breakthrough innovations (Singh & Fleming 2010; Hargadon & Bechky 2006; Harvey 2014). Second, so-called ‘challenge-driven’ and ‘mission-oriented’ innovation policies –which set clear time-bound goals to align diverse actors –are achieving a breakthrough across the EU and globally (Kuhlmann & Rip 2018; Mazzucato, Kattel & Ryan-Collins 2020; Mulgan 2019). Third, such challenge-oriented policies increasingly involve challenge prizes, hackathons or similar programmes as key instruments. Their shared expectation is that the most creative, innovative work is done in small autonomous teams. Hence, grand challenges and team innovation increasingly overlap and intersect as real-world social phenomena.

Against this background, Dr Toivonen will share an evolving framework for researching small teams, focusing on the question of how ‘team resilience’ should be approached and understood, and how we might move from short-termist ‘hackathon mindsets’ to approaching social innovation as more of a ‘marathon’ that requires long-range teams as well as appropriate forms of support from our communities and policies.


Dr Tuukka Toivonen(PhD Social Policy, Oxford) is a Finnish sociologist at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (where he directs the MA Innovation Management). He also holds adjunct/honorary senior lectureships in social innovation at University College London. Following a project on youth policy and innovation in the Japanese context, Dr Toivonen’s international research has since 2012 investigated new social innovation intermediaries (incl. innovation labs, hubs and challenge prizes) as well as the long-range creative processes of entrepreneurs and social innovation teams. His work has been funded through an Economic and Social Research Council Transformative Research Grant (UK), the Skoll Foundation, Sitra, the University of Oxford, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Please see his faculty profile and personal website for more details.