Social innovations are innovations that are social both in their means and in their ends.
Social innovation definition
According to Geoff Mulgan – one of the key promoters of the concept in the UK and the EU – for a long time, innovation has focussed too much on hardware and much brainpower has been wasted on useless, harmful, or trivial tasks. On the contrary, social innovation shall direct resources to more useful purposes.
The Innovation spiral
At the core of the thinking about social innovation is the innovation spiral. It inquires how new ideas that respond to new social needs are generated, identified, developed, tested, upscaled and transferred. The SI spiral tracks the pathway of SI initiatives from the conception of the idea until they get institutionalized. There are a number of break-up points.
|An initial stage is the generation of the idea. Here the key issue is the matching of a detected social need to a possible solution, however conceived (stages 1 and 2 in Figure 1).
|Adaptation and systematization
|The following stage is the development of new solutions in response to these social needs. Key issues are how to design a prototype, systematize the model, know about its adequacy, and consciously convey the essence of the change (stages 3 and 4 in Figure 1).
|Testing and evaluation
|The succeeding phase is the testing in reality, the roll out to on-the-ground cases, including the evaluation of the effectiveness of new solutions in meeting social needs (stage 5 in Figure 1).
|Upscaling and transfer
|A critical moment is the growing, scaling up and transfer of effective social innovations. The collective process of learning and adaption converts the ideas to something useful, which might divert substantially from the initial idea (stage 6 in Figure 1).
|System change and cultural transformation
|Finally, the prototypes and new models perforate existing practice, change institutions and norms, and, ultimately, contribute to a cultural transformation. A key matter here is how bottom-up innovation gets taken up in public policy that ensures universal coverage (stage 7 in Figure 1), and if at all “system change” shall necessarily mean that SI initiatives are converted into public policies.
Even though there are numerous definitions, we opt to align ourselves with the EU definition (Regulation of the European Social Fund) and further operationalize it over the course of the project. Hence, for the project, social innovation shall be understood as … ‘‘Social innovation’ means an activity, that is social both as to its ends and its means and in particular an activity which…
EU definition of social innovation
|Definition (as per EU)
|… relates to the development and implementation of new ideas concerning products, services, practices, and models,
|… that simultaneously meets social needs and creates new social relationships or collaborations between public, civil society or private organisations,
|… thereby benefiting society and boosting its capacity to act;
social ends and empowerment
Check out what we do!
- One of our Swedish partners, The Swedish Forum for social innovation (FfSIS), has recently organized a high-level webinar on social innovation, with more to come! We invite you to see the recording (1h) and the literature list.
- our French partner Avise has compiled all their actions on social innovation in one place.