Thursday, March 03, 2011

Social Innovation- is this the way forward?

Being an advocate of social innovation I would say ‘of course’ but it depends on your definition and what your own particular situation is. I will start by making things complicated and offering two not entirely unconnected definitions.

Forget the use of the word ‘social’ to mean outside work and think of what it could mean. When we are being social we are interacting, sharing, caring and even building. We are essentially social beings (although some do like being alone) so why not focus on a type of innovation that makes use of our social characteristics?

In simple terms, think of innovation as a ‘people thing’ rather than a ‘gadget thing’. That is not to say we cannot have shiny gadgets, but that we should focus on how they got to be there (innovating rather than the innovation). This then leads to the possibility of innovating even when the output is not an innovation (perhaps a process innovation). Such a type of innovation is thus appropriate both inside and outside of the workplace.

So what about the other kind of ‘social innovation’? This is most definitely linked to the community/region/country as a whole. You should be thinking of innovation in community projects, healthcare, employment opportunities, arts etc. A good example might be the micro finance initiatives that have sprung up in many developing countries. We need this kind of innovation too.

Many countries are in a mess (the recession) and are cutting costs (in the public sector). We need to revert to being social creatures again or there will not be any people with any money to buy the shiny gadgets that we used to think of as innovation output. Businesses producing shiny gadgets will go bust leading to more misery. The UK government’s idea of ‘The Big Society’ to counterbalance the public sector cuts will fail dismally without a modicum of social innovation.

So the answer is that YES we most definitely need social innovation however you define it.

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