This article aims to bring together the latest knowledge and practices of stakeholders in social innovation and promote partnerships and collaborations between different agents to generate greater impact and efficiency results.
Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise have become popular and positive rallying points for those trying to improve the world, but social innovation is a better vehicle for understanding and creating social change in all of its manifestations.
In governance, its main role is to enhance and maximize the trust of citizens through active involvement in society, whether in the public or private sphere. Social innovation's role in curbing corruption is carried out through two main mediums. Firstly, it is institutionalized through actors (in the public and the private sectors), and secondly, it is executed with new tools available, specifically ICTs.
“Social Innovation” is a concept which integrates various innovative solutions to address the most pressing problems that society faces, issues such as poverty, unemployment or the environment.
Less than a decade the term was unknown. However, is currently on the agendas of political, young entrepreneurs, big business and the most renowned universities, and strategies of investors and all interested citizens to seek answers to the major challenges facing our planet.
Social innovations are dependent on history and the change in institutions. The ten recent social innovations reflecting current change include:
- Charter Schools: Charter schools are a social innovation that provides an alternative avenue for students to continue to develop and build upon their educational foundation without many of the issues prominent in the public school system. These primary and secondary schools are publicly funded and operate independently, which allows the teachers and parents to collaboratively develop alternative teaching methods for their students as related regulations are less stringent for Charter Schools.
- Community-Centred Planning: This social innovation allows communities to plan and develop systems that cater solutions to their specific local needs by using their historical knowledge and other local resources.
- Emissions Trading: The Emissions Trading program was designed to address issues associated with the continuous increase in pollution. The program provides solutions such as setting a cap on the amount that certain pollutants can be emitted, and implementing a permit system to control the amount of pollution produced by each participating business. If a business needs to use more pollution than permitted, it can purchase credits from a business that has not emitted its maximum permitted amount. The goal of the Emissions Trading program is that, over time and with increased awareness, society will limit the types and the numbers of pollutants emitted to what is only necessary.
- Fair Trade: Products including coffee, sugar, and chocolate are currently being traded without high standards that result in tough conditions for farmers and a less sustainable environment. Fair trade is a movement that certifies traders to exchange with the farmers that produce these products. The idea behind this movement is that by being paid a living-wage, being able to meet social and environmental standards and promoting "environmental sustainability, the lives of these farmers will be improved.
- Habitat Conservation Plans: Habitat Conservation Plans is an effort by the US Fish and Wild Life Service and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect species and their endangerment by providing economical incentives to conserve their habitats and protect these species from endangerment.
- Individual Development Accounts: This social innovation is made to support the working poor with saving decisions that they have made to better enhance their lives. This initiative will give $2 per every $1 saved by the working poor for College tuition, purchasing a home, starting a business, and other similar and productive initiatives. This is made possible by philanthropic, government and corporate sponsors that donate to this cause.
- International Labour Standards: Labour standards differ country-to-country, with some agreeably better than others. In effort to internationally align these, the International Labour Organization, participating governments, and employees contributed to the development of standards that protect workers’ rights to freedom, equity, security, and human dignity".
- Microfinance: This social innovation is created to support those financially unable to gain access to financial services such as banking, lending, and insurance. The ultimate goal of Microfinance is to enable an escape from poverty by helping to improve the living conditions and financial viability among the impoverished program participants.
- Socially Responsible Investing: "An investment strategy that attempts to maximize both financial and social returns. Investors generally favor businesses and other organizations whose practices support environmental sustainability, human rights, and consumer protection."
- Supported Employment: Supported Employment is a social innovation geared towards helping disabled or disadvantaged workers who are un- or under-employed due to their condition obtain suitable employment. The Support Employment service provides access to job coaches, transportation, assistive technology, specialized job training, and individual tailored supervision in effort to help program participants become more competitive applicants and better prepared overall for the job market.
Developments since 2000
Academic research, blogs and websites feature social innovation, along with organizations working on the boundaries of research and practical action. Topics include:
- Innovation in public services was pioneered particularly in some Scandinavian and Asian countries. Governments are increasingly recognizing that innovation requires healthcare, schooling and democracy.
- Social entrepreneurship, which is the practice of creating new organizations focusing on non-market activities.
- Responsible Research and Innovation, which takes into account effects and potential impacts on the environment and society. It includes Engagement of all societal actors (researchers, industry, policymakers and civil society); Gender Equality; Science Education; Open Access; Ethics; and Governance.
- Online volunteering, a free service launched in 2000 whereby individuals from all over the world contribute to the needs of development organizations and public institutions
- Open source innovation, in which the intellectual property involved in a product or service is made freely available.
- Complex adaptive systems, which have built-in mechanisms to help them adapt to changing circumstances.
- Collaborative approaches which involve stakeholders who are not directly responsible for some activity, such as stockholders and unions collaborating on business issue and business collaborating with government on regulatory issues.
- Localized influences that make some localities particularly innovative.
- Institutional or system entrepreneurship which focuses on agents who work at a broad system level in order to create the conditions which will allow innovations to have a lasting impact.
- Business, particularly in services.
- Social innovation in tourism development, which involve creation of innovative and appropriate development strategies to involve local communities as a key agent in the decision-making and planning of tourism destinations.
How Social Innovation Differs from Social Entrepreneurship
Although social entrepreneurship has become a popular rallying point for those trying to improve the world, social change can happen outside of them. As a matter of fact, solutions have historically come from the non-profit, private, and government sectors.
The concept of social innovation focuses attention on the ideas and solutions that create social value as well as the processes through which they are generated, regardless of where they are coming from.
Social Innovation Drivers
We observe how cross-sector fertilization underlies the three key mechanisms that are driving contemporary social innovation:
- Exchange of ideas and values
- Shifts in roles and relationships
- Integration of private capital with public and philanthropic support
Ultimately, the most difficult and important problems cannot be understood, let alone solved, without involving the non-profit, public, and private sectors.
Social innovation is the process of developing and deploying effective solutions to challenging and often systemic social and environmental issues in support of social progress. Social innovation is not the prerogative or privilege of any organizational form or legal structure.
“Solutions often require the active collaboration of constituents across government, business, and the non-profit world.” - Soule, Malhotra, Clavier
CITIZENS that are intended to provide solutions individually or collectively act some of these issues through the call Individual Social Responsibility. The idea “be the change you want to see in the world” motivates many people of all generations, people who want to contribute and are active in various areas of their lives to bring about social improvements.
Another important player is BUSINESS, through Corporate Social Responsibility. In this area there are two types of agents:
- on the one hand, the social enterprises combining the best business practices to achieve two types of objectives, Performance on one side and the other of social impact
- the SMEs and large companies their activities Corporate Social Responsibility or through inclusive business, seeking to include in their value chain to low-income people.
- The third area of action from which you can create social impact is the Educational, through SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY OF UNIVERSITIES (RSU). The University, like any other organization, must responsibly manage their activity and their relationship with various stakeholders: teachers, Researchers, administration and services, students, government and society in general.
- Ethical investments using tools provided by the conventional financial system to channel resources towards initiatives and projects that combine economic and social criteria of profitability. Represent a major social commitment of the investor, as they allow channel savings into projects or enterprises that contribute to development in poor countries as well as to organizations or sectors excluded from the credit and finance in developed countries.
- Ultimately, are alternative and complementary funding instruments for social action and development in some cases allow investors to strengthen their property rights as a shareholder.
The Design-led Approach to Social Innovation
The design-led approach to social innovation has gone from a nascent practice to a rich ecosystem of adopters around the world.
We believed in the potential of design to create more resonant, relevant, and integrated solutions to a wide range of challenges related to poverty and inequality. So we made the case to social-sector organizations that a design-led process could help them meet the needs of those they serve. The social sector already embraces an ethos of focusing on end users, but human-centred design, we argued, could unlock new possibilities for creative solutions to social problems.
Although there are many ways to describe human-centred design, perhaps the simplest is to focus on three, sometimes overlapping, phases of problem-solving: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. These phases build on each other, although they are not necessarily linear. In the inspiration stage, designers engage in immersive, participatory research with the ultimate users of a new product or service (whether a business or communities affected by the problem at hand) in order to surface insights about their needs, barriers, and aspirations. During ideation, we begin to develop concepts that respond to the needs uncovered during research and test them through various rounds of prototyping. Prototypes are tangible experiments conducted quickly, inexpensively, and on a small scale. We design them to help validate (or invalidate) potential solutions, as well as to uncover unforeseen challenges with implementation. Finally, during the implementation phase, we refine solutions that showed promise during testing as we build the delivery model, technology, tools, and processes needed to ensure long-term success.
Over the past decade, this design-led approach to social innovation has gone from a relatively nascent practice championed by a few organizations to a rich ecosystem of practitioners, academics, and adopters around the world. At IDEO.org, we’ve had the opportunity to use design to address a vast array of challenges from working with mobile-network operators in South Asia and East Africa to create digital financial services that advance women’s financial inclusion to partnering with institutions to address racial inequities in health care.
Design organizations around the globe are now working on a range of social challenges. Ambitious design programs over the past several years have helped inform an era of social-impact design that is increasingly rigorous, experimental, and collaborative. The field has made tremendous progress. But as we look toward the next 10 years, our practice must continue to evolve in several essential ways.
Invest in the infrastructure and evidence required to scale. While many social-impact design efforts over the past decade have demonstrated innovation in tackling social challenges, far fewer have demonstrated change at scale. Like the Diva Centres, early case studies of design for social innovation focused on creating demonstration cases and more engaging user experiences, but often lacked the necessary ingredients to create large-scale change.
In many instances, this deficiency springs from a failure to design the “back of house” organizational infrastructure required to bring bold new products or services to life. Across the board, leading social-impact designers including us for many years failed to recognize and solve for the significant operational and mindset shifts required for an organization to deliver effectively a new and innovative intervention. This blind spot leads to solutions that are vulnerable to challenges of an organization’s operational capacity, capabilities, and funding. Preparing an implementation plan, business model, role descriptions, and measurement frameworks can help overcome these barriers and steward a solution to success, but they are not widely integrated into the practice of social-impact design across the sector
Getting a solution to market is only the first step. Designers must also plan for phases of intentional learning, optimization, and refinement beyond the pilot and build measurement systems into their design solutions to produce the evidence needed for scaling.
As human-centred design has gained popularity as a tool for developing new delivery models, the social sector has invested significantly in evaluations to collect evidence about the methodology itself, but much less in outcome evaluations for design-led solutions. In order to build the case to replicate and scale such solutions, design firms need to collect the evidence necessary to demonstrate whether the solutions have generated the desired outcomes. Firms need to partner with experts and embed detailed frameworks for measurement and learning in all services and products they design as they are implemented. Without this commitment, many transformative, human-centred solutions will be unnecessarily limited in reach.
Build community ownership. We must also invest in the people we serve, by yielding power to them in the design process. Human-centred design has always been a collaborative process, in which designers, subject-matter experts, and communities themselves are all engaged in finding and developing solutions. But as design continues to take root in the social sector, these exchanges must shift from mere consultation to co-creation, in which those who will ultimately benefit from and/or deliver a solution can shape the outcome at each stage of the design process. When the stakes of design change (to improve people’s health, livelihood, or well-being), our process must follow suit ensuring that communities have a voice and a hand in bringing possibilities to life.
This approach requires us to design the conditions for co-creation. We must build a space that enables those with lived experience of the issue at hand to participate fully. “Good design makes space for those without formal training to shape and control the project itself,” says George Aye, of the social-impact design firm Greater Good Studio. “We must design the conditions where the constituents own the change we’re asking them to make.”
In recent years, new educational programs have also been established to support a more diverse cadre of young people in finding career pathways in design. Typically, design education has produced a field of practitioners that are disproportionately white, male, and privileged. By contrast, most social-sector design by virtue of its orientation toward social justice focuses on challenges that disproportionately affect women, people of colour, and other historically marginalized groups. Today, programs such as Nairobi Design Institute in Kenya and Inneract Project in the United States are helping to narrow that gap, by providing training and support to designers with a much wider set of lived experiences to draw upon in imagining and creating new solutions. This more inclusive vision for design, with a plurality of perspectives at the table, will undoubtedly yield better results especially within the social sector.
Embrace radical collaboration focused on systemic change. The major social problems we face today are grounded in systemic issues that demand serious reengineering - from staggering income inequality to waste and exploitation in our global food system to inequitable and overstretched health-care systems around the world. Human-centred design has a role to play in shifting our communities toward a more equitable and regenerative future, but it will look quite different from the social innovation that has come before. Instead of focusing on designing individual products and services in response to discrete briefs, designers must adopt a more systemic lens and intentionally coordinate multiple interventions with multiple actors to create more enduring change.
James A. Phills Jr., Kriss Deiglmeier, & Dale T. Miller
Jocelyn Wyatt, Co-founder and CEO of IDEO.org
Tim Brown, Chair of Global Design and Innovation firm IDEO and Vice-Chair of KYU.
Shauna Carey, Managing Director at IDEO.org.