Social innovation is described as a specific type of innovation that meets social goals. The Stanford Graduate School of Business defines social innovation this way:
A social innovation is a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions. The value created accrues primarily to society rather than to private individuals.
We like this particular definition largely because it includes the role of social justice into the definition along with an emphasis on social impact. Social innovation is becoming more than a niche as human systems are becoming more entwined through collaborations, partnership, strategic alliances and the mass of interconnections of people from around the world. In an increasingly globalized world made possible through transnational trade, global policy, mass human migration and the digital networks of knowledge and media created through the Internet the process and outcome of innovation is increasingly social.
The reasons for this is that there is no longer a standard client or patient or person or customer or…
The diversity in human systems means that it’s increasingly problematic to apply ‘standard models’ to populations. That’s not to say that we can’t make assumptions or that certain generalizations don’t work at all, but they aren’t the same as they once were. What we need to do is design for each condition and setting in which we seek change.
This process of design, when done well, includes the involvement of those who are the beneficiaries or stakeholders in the innovation. By excluding these relevant stakeholders there is a genuine risk of designing something that might either miss something critical or worse, unintentionally create something that exacerbates social problems rather than addresses them in a satisfactory manner. For that reason our approach to innovation design is one that assumes that nearly any human system intervention is a social innovation on some level.
By approaching a problem context as a social innovation we bring together not only the design considerations, but also the social ethics and values associated with social innovation. It also ensures that innovations are made social and translated beyond the originators of the innovation into the wider world, thus increasing exposure and improving access and overall knowledge translation.
Next time you approach an innovation problem ask yourself if what you’re doing is social or not. You might be surprised where it lands you.
And if you need help with that, we’d be happy to help.