Social innovation. Seriously - Part 3
Part 3: Social Innovation and the wider social community
Social innovation isn't the traditional work of non-profit organisations or philanthropy or volunteering or any other of the traditional forms of social work and social engagement with which we are familiar (and many of which are doing fantastic work in often difficult and constrained circumstances).
But some of these traditional forms of social activity suffer from their own orthodoxies, which can make them conservative and resistant to innovation. That doesn't mean what they are doing is bad or not helpful, just that much of it is not likely to be especially innovative.
Social innovation is a deliberate and systematic exploration of new ways of tackling difficult, complex and often entrenched social problems that, in some way or another, challenge and break some dimension of current practice or belief. It might be incremental, it might be more disruptive and fundamental. But whatever it is, it is new, different and challenging.
And in the process, it is a practice whose important by-product is a rich residue of new capabilities spread throughout the community. In that sense, social innovation solutions are prepared to try something different, provide an effective solution and leave behind new and sustainable capabilities, assets or opportunities for wider social change.
Those capabilities include:
· New and better ways to collaborate across local or national or global communities
· More systematic methods of finding, incubating and then testing ideas or new opportunities for action
· A more settled process that takes promising new methods and tools and spread them rapidly at scale.
They also embrace new ways to secure the kind of investment of money, skills and advice that early stage innovators often need most to give them the confidence and momentum to take the early and often scary steps from imagining something could be better to doing something about it.
So ventures like Start Some Good (http://startsomegood.com/) and The Funding Network http://www.thefundingnetwork.org.uk/, both of which are successful pioneers in the business of growing the investment pool for social inventors and designers, become essential pieces of the growing social innovation capability puzzle. Plans are already in place to bring the Funding Network model to Australia through the work of Steve Lawrence and others involved with the Australian Social Innovation Exchange (www.asix.org.au).
The truth is that social innovation is very much a work in progress, a field still forming and storming and discovering what it really is and whether it can turn promise into performance. There are arguments about what’s in and what’s out, about the links between new thinking and new practice and about how the larger systems of social policy and public action (often steeply and deeply hierarchical, relatively slow and sometimes very inward-looking and defensive) are engaging with, or resisting, these new ways of thinking and working (that manifest pretty much the exact opposite of those qualities – quick, flexible, grounded in communities and radically connected).
But perhaps the fact people are bothering to talk and argue about it, to try out different ways to give effect to its instincts and potential and to pull it into the discussion about some of our most complex and entrenched challenges suggests to me that social innovation is not going away. And that has to be a good thing.
This blog post is the last of a three-part series. You can find the first and second installments on this blog.
From 13th -22nd April the Australian Social Innovation eXchange (ASIX) is holding Australia’s First Social Changemakers’ Festival to promote and explore social innovation in Australia. Register for an event here.