Last week, the International Social Innovation Research Conference 2020 was held virtually. The Conference chair and EMES member, David Littlewood, shares with us some insight from those intensive days.
In early September, I had the honour of chairing the virtual International Social Innovation Research Conference 2020. The conference team and I welcomed over 300 attendees from more than 30 countries to Sheffield virtually, for three days of exciting keynotes talks, 170 cutting edge paper presentations across 23 streams, and insightful special sessions and panels. I am proud to have chaired the conference, but also extremely grateful to everyone who made it possible including the Sheffield organising committee, our stream chairs, keynote and special panel speakers, and all presenters and attendees – without you all it would not have happened.
When I took on the role of conference chair, I could not have envisaged everything that would occur between then and now. First, large scale industrial action across UK Universities set us back, and then a global pandemic that necessitated us moving from a traditional to fully virtual conference. We tried for as long as possible to include some in person element to the conference, but in the end to ensure the health and safety of all participants this was not possible. Running a virtual conference was something new for me and much of the Sheffield team. Attending such a conference was also new for many. Despite this, we were pleased with what was together achieved, and would like to thank attendees for embracing the new platform and the opportunities it brings. Whilst it is difficult to duplicate all the benefits of in-person conference attendance, particularly social and networking aspects, running a conference virtually or at least having virtual elements has the potential to make conferences more inclusive and environmentally sustainable. I am keen to see how these positive developments might continue and be further developed for future conferences, and into a post COVID-19 world.
The theme of the conference was “Social innovation and enterprise for more prosperous, fair and sustainable societies”. This theme was engaged with in different ways by our great keynote speakers: Professors Jonatan Pinkse, Fergus Lyon, Anne-Claire Pache, Bob Doherty, Dorothea Kleine, and Rita Afonso. It was also discussed in many paper and panel sessions. How we can build such societies, in a context of the current global pandemic and wider challenges, including the climate crisis, is clearly a critical area for ongoing debate, knowledge exchange and shared learning. We hope that the ISIRC 2020 conference stimulated and provided a forum for productive interdisciplinary dialogue on these topics.
At the end of the conference it was sad to say farewell, but we hope it won’t be too long before we are welcoming guests again in person to Sheffield University Management School and the Centre for Regional Economic and Enterprise Development (CREED). We are also very excited that ISIRC 2021 will be hosted by our friends at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, and hope to see you next year in Milan!
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