Research on social innovation has gained momentum over the last decade, spurred notably by the growing interest in social issues related to policy making, public management and entrepreneurship in response to the wicked problems societies in Europe and worldwide face. Its popularity among academics and policy makers also marks a turning point in how innovations are thought of and what their role in economic development is. However, for social innovations to unfold their full potential for the beneficiaries and societies at large a better understanding of underlying mechanisms, processes and impacts is necessary. Focusing on ‘the economics of social innovation’, this special issue addresses a widely neglected topic in regional development. The contributions cover distinct but complementary and related aspects concerning the existing gap between the hitherto unexploited potential of social innovation in relation to the complex and interrelated socio-economic challenges regions across Europe and globally face. This editorial provides a brief introduction in the Special Issue’s general theme followed by an overview of the lines of argumentation and main results of the contributions. It concludes with an outlook on future research.