Social innovation has gained and retained a lot of interest throughout the years among policymakers, academics and researchers, foundations and organisations and generally individuals that want to expand their knowledge on addressing social issues.
Despite the interest and the increasing consideration of the term, there is a growing need for shared or common definitions of social innovation.
Are you feeling that social innovation is something fluffy, a fad even? Or are you one of those who talk about social innovation yourself? Either way, keep on reading as this blog post presents 8 popular social innovation definitions – helpful if you want to build a concrete understanding of social innovation and even take it one step further.
A pragmatic approach
Social innovation as «innovative activities and services that are motivated by the goal of meeting a social need and that are predominantly developed and diffused through organisations whose primary purposes are social». [Mulgan et al. (2007) Social Innovation, What It Is, Why It Matters, and How it Can Be Accelerated].
A systemic approach
Social innovation as a «complex process through which new products, processes or programmes are introduced, leading to a deep change in daily routines, resources’ streams, power relations or values within the system affected by the innovation». [Westley (2010) Making a Difference- Strategies for Scaling Social Innovation for Greater Impact].
A managerial stance
Social innovation as a «new solution to a social problem which is more effective, efficient, sustainable or fairer compared to existing solutions, and which generates value primarily for society instead of single individuals or organisations». [Phills et al. (2008) Rediscovering Social Innovation].
A critical approach
Social innovation is conceived as a process of “empowerment and political mobilisation” targeting a bottom-up transformation of the functioning of a social system, in terms of stakeholders and in terms of distribution of material and immaterial resources. [Moulaert et al. (2009) Social Innovation and Territorial Development].
An economic approach
Social innovation defined as «conceptual, process or product change, organisational change and changes in financing, and new relationships with stakeholders and territories». [OECD (2009) Transforming innovation to address social challenge].
A comparative approach
Social innovation perceived as being «distinctive both in its outcomes and in its relationships, in the new forms of cooperation and collaboration that it brings. As a result, the processes, metrics, models and methods used in innovation in the commercial or technological fields, for example, are not always directly transferable to the social economy». [Murray et al. (2010) THE OPEN BOOK OF SOCIAL INNOVATION].
An universal approach
Social innovations are defined as «new solutions (products, services, models, markets, processes etc.) that simultaneously meet a social need (more effectively than existing solutions) and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources. In other words, social innovations are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act.». [The Young Foundation (2012) Defining Social Innovation].
A short approach
We like keeping things simple so for us, social innovation is innovation that is social both in its ends and its means (Murray et al. (2010) The Open Book of Social Innovation).
However you define it, social innovation has been increasingly perceived as the answer to the rising number of European societal challenges (Nicholls & Murdock, 2012), such as refugee crisis, growing social disparities and exclusion, youth issues, unemployment, poverty or evolving demographics, to name just a few. While the European authorities, leading academics, policy experts, business people and activists agree that social innovation is the key to better future for Europe and the world, it is extremely difficult for professionals to obtain high quality training on what social innovation actually offers and, more importantly, how it can be done in practice. To tackle this issue, Limitless together with 4 other partners has recently started a project aiming to develop the first online Social Innovation Academy in Europe. The Social Innovation Academy will be the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation.
Why Social Innovation Academy? Social Innovation has been increasingly perceived as the answer to the rising number of European societal challenges. While the European authorities, leading academics, policy experts, business people and activists agree that social innovation is the key to better future for Europe and the world – as can be clearly seen from the presented reports – it is extremely difficult for professionals to obtain high quality training on what social innovation offers and, more importantly, how it can be done in practice. Social Innovation Academy will aim to change this situation in Europe and beyond. If you are interested in keeping up with this project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our Friends, apply to become a member of our Global Advisory Board or follow us on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here!
Limitless is the leader of Social Innovation Academy project.
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