Social innovation can be described as the conception of novel ideas to solve global problems. While this statement encapsulates the purpose and indeed the agenda of social innovation, it needs to be broken down further. Questions such as what constitutes proper social innovation, how ideas are generated need to be answered. This article does just that. Keep reading to find out more.
Understanding Its Agenda through the Concept’s Founders
To have an understanding of what social innovation was meant to entail, knowing the history of the concept is key. As an idea, social innovation existed even before America’s independence. The founding father Benjamin Franklin wrote about bringing changes in that would resolve common social problems. Other more radical philosophers like Karl Marx conceptualized a complete restricting of society (which in itself could be considered innovative) to bring about an end to social crises of the time i.e. wealth disparities. In its modern conception, the idea of social innovation first featured prominently in the works of such people as the founder of the Open University Michael Young in the 60s.
How Innovation Works- The Birth of Ideas
We live in a world that is always presenting us with challenges. Some are new and some have never really found effective solutions. These challenges range from global warming to financial crises to poverty. Social Innovation arises out of the necessity to find new ways of dealing with these problems since the old ways seem not to work. At the heart of social innovation’s solutions is the idea. This begs the question of how are ideas conceptualized. More so, how good ideas are made.
Great ideas are not necessarily thought up by geniuses alone. In fact, sometimes educated people tend to over-complicate problems, and often fall prey to tunnel-thinking. Any person who puts their mind to work on a certain issue will often come up with ways of dealing with those problems. With that in mind, it is the agenda of social innovators to have ideas that work.
An Agenda for Social Innovation
At the heart of every social innovation is a number of characteristics. The characteristics of the social innovation agenda include the conceptualization and the setting of goals. For goals to be met they must be SMART. That is, they must be specific, measurable, realistic and time-based.
Innovation must be based on a goal that is specific. You need to know what your idea is intended to be used for- in this case the goal is that it should be used for social change in a particular field i.e. global warming. That really goes without saying. Moreover, any innovation must be geared towards measurable goals. This is key for the effectiveness of the innovation. Measurability helps with assessing the efficacy of the innovation as well as giving direction on how it should be applied. Moreover, innovations must be based on goals that are attainable. This presents a chicken and egg situation where we ask ourselves what comes first- feasibility of the idea before innovating for it or innovation then feasibility studies. Either way, an innovation won’t work if its intended purpose is not attainable. Furthermore, an innovation must be on a realistic goal. Whether a goal is realistic will also determine whether it is attainable. Lastly, an innovation must be based on a goal that is time-based.
Assessing the Efficacy of Social Innovation
The effectiveness or rather impact of a certain social innovation is measured as against the definition of the phrase itself. One must first ask themselves whether the innovation was truly intended for a social end before measuring its effectiveness. With that said, from the definition in the introductory paragraph, a social innovation is a new idea intended to solve “social problems” more effectively, efficiently and sustainably than any other solution already present.
If a solution is not effective, it hardly merits being termed as such. Moreover, efficiency means that the solution is not bringing about even more problems that did not already exist. Further still, saying that social innovations must be sustainable solutions means that the agenda of social innovation should be to solve problems in a manner that can be maintained over time. Hence someone assessing the efficacy or merit-worthiness of social innovation should use the agenda above.