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Social innovation refers to new strategies, concepts, ideas and organizations that meet social needs of all kinds - from working conditions and education to community development and health - and that extend and strengthen civil society.

Over the years, the term has developed several overlapping meanings. It can be used to refer to social processes of innovation, such as open source methods and techniques. Alternatively it refers to innovations which have a social purpose - like microcredit or distance learning. The concept can also be related to social entrepreneurship (entrepreneurship isn't always or even usually innovative, but it can be a means of innovation) and it also overlaps with innovation in public policy and governance. Social innovation can take place within government, within companies, or within the nonprofit sector (also known as the third sector), but is increasingly seen to happen most effectively in the space between the three sectors. Recent research has focused on the different types of platforms needed to facilitate such cross-sector collaborative social innovation.[1]

History[edit | edit source]

Social innovation was discussed in the writings of figures such as Peter Drucker and Michael Young (founder of the Open University and dozens of other organizations) in the 1960s.[2]. It also appeared in the work of French writers in the 1970s, for example Pierre Rosanvallon, Jacques Fournier, and Jacques Attali [3]. However, the themes and concepts in social innovation have existed long before that. Benjamin Franklin, for example, talked about social innovation in terms of small modifications within the social organisation of communities [4] that could help to solve everyday problems. Many radical 19th century reformers like Robert Owen, founder of the cooperative movement, promoted innovation in the social field and all of the great sociologists including Karl Marx, Max Weber and Émile Durkheim focused much of their attention to broader processes of social change. However, more detailed theories of social innovation only became prominent in the 20th century. Joseph Schumpeter, for example, addressed the process of innovation more directly with his theories of creative destruction and his definition of entrepreneurs as people who combined existing elements in new ways. In the 1980s and after, writers on technological change increasingly addressed the importance of social factors in affecting technology diffusion[5]

Recent developments[edit | edit source]

The idea of social innovation has become much more prominent with ongoing research, blogs and websites (such as the social innovation exchange) [6], and a proliferation of organisations working on the boundaries of research and practical action. Several currents have converged in this area, including:

  • new thinking about innovation in public services, pioneered particularly in some of the Scandinavian and Asian countries. Governments are increasingly recognising that innovation isn't just about hardware: it is just as much about healthcare, schooling and democracy. [7] [8]
  • growing interest in social entrepreneurship.[9]
  • business, which is increasingly interested in innovation in services.[10]
  • new methods of innovation inspired by the open source field.[11]
  • linking social innovation to theory and research in complex adaptive systems to understand its dynamics.[12]
  • collaborative approaches to social innovation, particularly in the public sector.[13] [14]

A recent overview of the field highlighted the growing interest of public policy makers in supporting social innovation in these different sectors, notably in the UK, Australia, China and Denmark.[15] A focus of much recent work has been on how innovations spread [16] and on what makes some localities particularly innovative.[17]

History of Social Innovation and territorial development[edit | edit source]

There is another extensive literature on social innovation in relation to territorial (or regional) development, which covers: first, innovation in the social economy, i.e. strategies for satisfaction of human needs; and second, innovation in the sense of transforming and/or sustaining social relations, especially the governance relations at the regional and local level. A combination of both the modes provides a comprehensive approach to innovation in social and economic dynamics within territories. In Europe, from the late 1980s, research on social innovation from a territorial perspective was initiated by Jean-Louis Laville[18] and Frank Moulaert[19] and has been going on since then. In Canada CRISES initiated this type of research. The first large scale research project to work on territorial innovation analysis was SINGOCOM Social Innovation, Governance, and Community Building a European Commission Framework 5 project (2002-2004), that offered wide ranging discussions on Alternative Models for Local Innovation (ALMOLIN).

Some noted scholars[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Nambisan, S. "Platforms for Collaboration", Stanford Social Innovation Review, Summer 2009.
  2. see for example Gavron, Dench e ds Young at 80, Carcanet Press, London, 1995 for a comprehensive overview of one of the world's most successful social innovators
  3. Chambon, J.-L, David, A. and Devevey, J.-M (1982), Les Innovations Sociales, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris
  4. Mumford, M.D. (2002) Social Innovation: Ten Cases from Benjamin Franklin, Creativity Research Journal, 14(2), 253-266
  5. notably in the writings of Christopher Freeman, Carlotta Perez, Ian Miles and others
  7. Innovation in the Public Sector an overview of thinking about innovation in the public sector, published by the UK government's Strategy Unit in 2003
  8. Ready or Not? published by The Young Foundation in 2007 about the need for public sector organisations to innovate
  9. see for example Nichols; Social Entrepreneurship, Oxford University Press 2007
  10. design companies article by Forbes magazine about how companies are innovating in the way they offer services
  11. Innovation in open source article by harvard business school about innovation in open source
  12. Westley,Zimmerman and Patton; Getting to Maybe;Toronto, Random House 2006
  13. Nambisan, S. "Transforming Government through Collaborative Innovation", IBM Center for the Business of Government, April 2008
  14. James A. Phills Jr., Kriss Deiglmeier, & Dale T. Miller "Rediscovering Social Innovation", Stanford Social Innovation Review Fall 2008.
  15. Mulgan, Ali, Tucker; Social innovation: what it is, why it matters, how it can be accelerated, published by Said Business School, Oxford, 2007
  16. various studies by Greg Dees and others and the study published by NESTA In and out of sync: growing social innovations, London 2007
  17. Transfomers published by NESTA, London, 2008
  18. Laville, J.-L. (Ed.) (1994) L’économie solidaire, une perspective internationale, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris
  19. Moulaert, F. and Sekia, F. (2003) Territorial Innovation Models: a Critical Survey, Regional Studies, 37(3), 289-302

External links[edit | edit source]

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