Knowledge File
Frugal Innovation in the 1,5m society

In this knowledge file you can read about the 1,5m society research project
which explores the role of frugal innovation in overcoming resource constraints of the 1,5m society and in the potential contribution to successful regional resilience.

Frugal innovation is about finding smart, simple and affordable solutions. The basic idea underlying frugal innovation is that resource constraints inform the process, outcomes and value of innovation. It’s about doing more, with fewer resources, for more people.

Frugal innovation during the covid-19 pandemic in the Netherlands

Frugal innovation has turned to play a key role to overcome medical constraints during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some key examples to overcome shortages in skilled staff and medical equipment include: the transformation of event centres as temporary hospitals; distilleries as producers of bottles of hand sanitizer; 3d printed ventilators; self-made facemasks; and busses and vans transformed into mobile emergency centres. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis, but also a socio-economic crisis. In the Netherlands this is linked with restrictions of the (semi)lock-down(s) and the 1,5M society, also dubbed as a “new normal life”. Think about social problems, such as loneliness or people getting bored as many leisure facilities are closed and “having fun is not allowed”.

Similarly, economic problems occur, such as shortages of materials and goods due interruptions of global supply chains; workforce absenteeism due to illness, or workers who need to take care of family members due to shop and school closures; and a loss of income for entrepreneurs caused by the closure of shops, plants, holiday and leisure facilities. Even in times of relaxation measures when many activities are allowed again (e.g. re-opening of shops and leisure facilities), certain conditions of the new normal life seem to remain. Examples include: still keeping 1.5m distance in certain occasions, frequently washing of hands, and negative test-results and/or vaccination passports/apps as entrance requirements for theatres, (sports) events and business meetings.

Opportunities for successful regional resilience

At the same time, and driven by the thought of ‘never waste a good crisis’, the Covid-19 crisis and restrictions of the new normal life offer new opportunities for successful regional resilience. For instance, the Metropole region Rotterdam-The Hague wants to use the crisis for economic renewal, as becomes clear from the policy programme “Stronger out of the crisis” (2020-2021). It is expected that frugal innovations may successfully contribute to regional resilience, as frugal innovation focuses on overcoming resource constraints, and may lead to new sustainable business models and more efficient design of R&D-, production- and distribution-processes. However, evidence for this expectation is lacking, and so far, no studies have linked frugal innovation with the restrictions of the 1,5M society.

Therefore the research team takes on this challenge by exploring the role of frugal innovation in overcoming resource constraints of the 1,5m society and in the potential contribution to successful regional resilience.More concretely, the main research question is:


How can frugal innovations in the 1,5 meter society contribute to regional resilience?

The Metropole region Rotterdam - The hague

Empirically, the team focuses on the metropole region Rotterdam-The Hague, but will also provide insights from other still to be selected regions. The study encompasses the following research stages and aims:

  • In the first stage, the team identifies which innovations worldwide have been developed by different actors (entrepreneurs, citizens, researchers, policy makers) to overcome the restrictions of the 1,5M society. They analyse the degree to which the identified innovations can be regarded as frugal and attempt to create a typology of innovations in the 1,5M society.
  • In the second stage, the team zooms in on a number of selected innovations in the metropolitan region Rotterdam-The Hague and in one or a few other regions. They attempt to provide hints to which extent these innovations may contribute to regional resilience.
  • In the last stage, we focuses on a comparison of the various case studies. They also provide concrete recommendations on how policy makers can stimulate, and accordingly use, frugal innovation to overcome constraints during a socio-economic crisis like the 1,5M society.

Local Engagement Facility

ICFI is engaged and embedded in the city of The Hague and it's wider metropole region. Enhancing this local engagement is an explicit objective of our current strategy as well as at The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), one of the Erasmus University faculties ICFI is embedded in. The Local Engagement Facility (LEF) fund was set up to encourage and formalize collaboration between ISS and other societal actors in the city of The Hague, including both local communities and formal institutions and organizations. 

In relation to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, several projects were selected particularly focusing on the impact of COVID-19 and the measures taken by marginalized or (often) overlooked groups of people. These projects make use of ISS expertise in development and social justice to inform and impact the lives of people who live on our doorstep. This project has been funded by the LEF fund with the aim to ensure that the ways in which local communities in The Hague are affected by covid-19 are not just exposed but are also supported by the research and the collaborations and networks brought about by the research.