This project will study the role of coworking communities, media labs, incubators and hackerspaces in expanding innovation and entrepreneurship. In particular, this research will investigate the ways in which aggregating networks of social entrepreneurs can result in the development of regional hubs for social innovation in areas such as social justice, environmental activism, healthcare, education and the arts. By conducting qualitative field research at one of the oldest and most successful coworking communities, Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation, this project will document the ways in which such organizations can become sustainable and replicable in other areas across the Western Hemisphere.

The study of emergent organizational forms such as coworking in the area of social innovation is important because, to date, little academic research on this topic exists and, therefore, the practical and policy implications of such initiatives are not well understood. The networking of hundreds of social innovators in a common space such as the Centre for Social Innovation has the potential to aggregate knowledge and funding in a wide range of areas including sustainability and the environment. This project is highly relevant to the Nexus program’s objectives and themes because it will document and analyze the potential of coworking communities to support entrepreneurship in the private and non-profit sectors. Specifically, the Centre for Social Innovation is home to a network of over 180 non-profits in a wide range of sectors, representing $25 million in revenue. In addition, the Centre provides access to networks and funding for their many members, most of which are social entrepreneurs. As such, the Centre is responsible for creating networks of stakeholders that can become self-sustaining and replicable in order to address social needs in social justice, environmental activism, healthcare, education and the arts.

This project builds on my previous research on emergent organizational forms. Specifically, I am currently studying design collaborations in the areas of social innovation and sustainability with funding from the National Science Foundation’s Virtual Organizations as Socio-technical Systems program. In addition, I recently conducted a small study on coworking communities, media labs, incubators and hackerspaces for Central European University and Magyar Telecom, the Hungarian telecommunications provider. The study included six case studies from around the world including The Netherlands, Spain, the United States and Canada. Prior to these studies, I conducted research on alternative communications infrastructure models such as community wireless networks as well as the role of wireless technology in collaboration and innovation for my dissertation at Columbia University.

Funding for this project is provided by a grant from the Fulbright NEXUS program for 2011-2012.