Call for Papers. Social Innovations, Transformations and Action Research

Challenging transformations: action research and social innovation

This ARJ Special Issue Call For Papers closes November 30th 2023.

We live in a time of global and intersecting crises. We find ourselves amidst growing economic volatility and socio-political polarisation. As societies emerge from the Covid 19 pandemic, Earth herself is moving through climate change tipping points. Conscious transformation of ourselves, our societies, economies and governments is now warranted and time sensitive if we are to achieve eco-social sustainability. The key question is how.

The purpose of this Special Issue is to explore in what ways action research can support innovative and prefigurative transformations.

The scale at which change is needed may lead many to look for grand solutions. However, what may be needed is fundamental transformation in the local practices and relationships of people. Such changes in practices and social relations can be cultivated through social innovation: new ways thinking, acting and organizing that address unmet social needs and have the potential to transform dominant institutions. Social innovation is burgeoning in research and practice but finds itself in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, it is heralded by the international to local policy community as part of the solution to deliver on grand policy goals such as decarbonization, access to healthcare or just societies. On the other hand, any governance system that is in principle progressive – a space where anyone can start anew – is in fact quite hidebound and even regressive with those who take the principle seriously enough to act upon it. As a result, while offering more sustainable pathways, social innovations face resistance and challenging power dynamics when trying to institutionalize new ways of doing, thinking and organising and transform the very governance systems that stimulated their existence in the first place.

We propose that action research is a vital element to co-producing social innovations with the potential to support transformations at many scales. By involving social innovation initiatives and governance stakeholders in ongoing and joint inquiry, learning and change, action research could cultivate conditions in which transformation can happen.


The main aim of this Special Issue is to explore the challenging relationship between social innovations and their broader context. Multiple questions arise concerning how and by whom or what can social innovations in a specific local context be supported in ways that catalyse long term and systemic change processes. We invite action researchers, change makers and policy actors to share their experiences with the dual demand of sustaining innovative ways of working and transforming dominant institutions. Our objective is to advance current understandings of the enabling conditions for social innovations to emerge, flourish and institutionalise new and more sustainable systems.

Although we are keen to draw on the lineage of action research literature, we are as excited by the prospect of exploring other sources of insight and knowledge. We equally welcome the approaches and experiences of anyone addressing this question from different backgrounds and labels, including prefigurative politics, the commons, and grass-roots civic action. We particularly encourage contributions that advance understanding of how we can cultivate space that allows transformation to happen by facilitating joint inquiry, learning and change in the face of power and resistance.

Key questions and approaches

One way in which this issue has been approached in social innovation research is by turning to the notion of ‘ecosystems’ in which social innovations are understood to operate in complex and dynamic environments. A key question is how innovation is co-produced in interaction among many different actors, relationships, and institutions.

Of particular interest to this Special Issue is the role that action research can play in working with social innovations and prefiguring ecosystems that nurture and sustain transformative change. Action Research with a concern for Transformations (ART) fosters forms and relationships of knowledge production that seek to transform unsustainable forces through fostering inclusive, creative, and collaborative processes. The idea is that ‘microworlds’ of ART proliferate as we facilitate stakeholders in coming together, in mutual learning, and building transformative partnerships. A key question is how to sustain transformative working across social innovation and action research.

By exploring cross-fertilization with ART – which we see as an umbrella term for all forms of action research that is transformative in co-producing systemic change – the Special Issue aims to support ARJs ambition to help grow innovation and advance transformation towards sustainability. A good background reference — a kind of checklist against which you can also assess the suitability of your (future) work for us — is the ARJ editorial on Action Research for Transformation. With this we seek to highlight transformative action-oriented research, ideally action research that moves us toward a more sustainable world for all. You may find it at this link: This is also available as a free download from our companion site.

Special Issue Editorial team

With all the benefits of a diverse editorial team, we aim to encourage many voices and perspectives. The editorial team will be drawn from diverse geography (global north and south), experiences, ethnicities and skills in governance and organizational life. We see our work as supporting and developing papers. The team includes:

Koen Bartels (Institute Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham), Andrea Rodericks (Independent Action Researcher in International Development), Julia Wittmayer (DRIFT/ESSB, Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Hilary Bradbury, (Editor in Chief, ARJ., AR+ Foundation).

To offer your paper to the special issue

  • Include words in your title and abstract to make clear you are responding to this call for papers.
  • Papers are to be received – along with a cover letter to the Editor in Chief – by November 30th 2023.
  • Papers are no longer than 7000 words inclusive.
  • Contributors should be aware of the journal’s focused energy to refresh action research around issues of eco-social transformation. Authors are particularly encouraged to refer to the seven choice points as these will be used in assessing the quality of papers selected. These may be found at
  • In case you have questions about the special issue, please do not hesitate to contact Julia Wittmayer ( as corresponding Associate Editor for this special issue.

All accepted papers will be highlighted through the AR+ Foundation community social media.

The following Sage Publications link offers more background on the journal in general and includes the submission portal:

We look forward to receiving your papers!