SI Series 13: The Sixth Key Element of Social Innovation

Previously, in blog SI Series 11 (April 24’16), we looked at the five elements of what makes up social innovation: novelty, implementation, need, effectiveness, and enhancement, as described by The Young Foundation (Caulier-Grice, Davies, Patrick & Norman, 2012).

Another key element of social innovation, that The Young Foundation suggests is part of enhancement, but I’d like to separate to give it individualized focus, is resilience. Resilience is the ability of social innovation to adapt to the stressors and dynamic shifts in order to sustain or increase function, structure and identity (Hopkins, 2010, p. 54). Moore & Westley point out three main characteristics: “the capacity of the system to experience a disturbance or change and still retain its basic function, structure, and identity; the ability to self-organize; and the ability to increase its capacity to learn and adapt” (2011, p. 2). Resilience theory was initially derived for the dynamics of ecological systems; however, more recently has been applied to the complexities of human systems (Moore & Westley, 2011). Building resilience depends on increasing different parts of the innovation, in new and unique combinations, with allowance for the separate parts to associate with each other through cross-domain interaction, and a high emphasis on experimentation (Westley, 2013). It also emphasises a whole systems approach, is deeply interdisciplinary, and links global intellectual communities that offer unique pragmatic examples of local successes that have cross-contextual application. Resilience is about the adaptation within the cyclic nature of the system. It focuses on the “balance between continuity and change, a continuous (or infinite) cycle of release, reorganization, growth, and consolidation that characterizes all resilient living systems” (Westley, 2013, p. 6).

An example: a small and cute town with light transient tourism on the coast of British Columbia thrives under its main forestry industry dependant on a single company in the heart of town. A shift in environmental conditions, perhaps caused by climate change, force the company to shut down its downtown plant. The community, reeling in the loss of economic and social impacts, is now left with significant unemployment and a massive empty building that dominates the town’s central horizon. A serious loss of system resilience lies in the cycle of change getting stuck in one place; i.e., the town in its loss comes to a productive and social halt. However, a short while after the loss, a group of concerned citizens comes forward and starts a series of planning sessions that incorporates social innovation strategies they’ve learned from other urban examples. The town turns the empty building into a hub of social and eco-enterprises that draw on the rich regions environment and local tourism possibilities (for an illustration of this is, see Gibson Public Market, 2015).

System resilience lies “in the continuous movement through the cycle, causing the system to adapt or transform in the process” (Westley, 2013, p. 7). Ultimately, resilience is a major component of social innovation, and as new innovations are designed and implemented, should be considered for long term sustainability.

– Mike Unrau

 

 

Caulier-Grice, J.; Davies, A.; Patrick, R. & Norman, W. (The Young Foundation). (2012). Defining social innovation. Social Innovation Overview: A deliverable of the project “The theoretical, empirical and policy foundations for building social innovation in Europe,” (TEPSIE), European Commission – 7th Framework Programme, Brussels: European Commission, DG Research.

Gibsons Public Market (2015). Gibsons public market strategic business plan: May 2015. Prepared by Gibsons Community Building Society. Retrieved from http://gibsonspublicmarket.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/GPM-Business-Plan-June-8-2015.pdf

Hopkins, R. (2010). Localisation and resilience at the local level: The case of Transition Town Totnes (Devon, UK) (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://transitionculture.org/

shop/localisation-and-resilience-at-the-local-level-the-case-of-transition-town-totnes/

Hopkins, R. (2015, November 2). The Transition story: Time to stop talking about climate change? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/rob-hopkins/2015-11/transition-story-time-stop-talking-about-climate-change

Moore, M. L. & Westley, F. (2011). Surmountable chasms: Networks and social innovation for resilient systems. Ecology and Society, 16(1): 5. Retrieved from http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol16/iss1/art5/

Westley, F. (2013). Social innovation and resilience: How one enhances the other. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 11(3), 6-8. Retrieved from http://ssir.org/articles/entry/social_innovation_and_resilience_how_one_enhances_the_other

 

SI Series 12: Social Innovation in Transition

Due to the large scale nature of the systemic challenges that social innovations are apt to address, some people are leaning towards social innovations in urban areas that consider a grassroots perspective. An example of this type of social innovation that has a specific goal of addressing complex problems like climate change and the challenges that an oil-based and globalized economy can bring, is the Transition initiative.

The Transition initiative (‘Transition’) began in October 2005 with a film screening on the subject of peak oil and the subsequent inspired idea by Rob Hopkins to create a plan for the town of Totnes, England, to ‘transition’ away from oil dependency, act on climate change, and to revive the local economy (Hopkins, 2010). The plan was rooted in permaculture principles, which is a creative design process based on whole systems thinking for agricultural sustainability (‘permanent-culture’). The process mimics natural systems such as interdependence, integration of relationships, resilience and efficiency, and can be applied to gardening as well as economies and social systems. Hopkins’ plan was implemented in Totnes to be a ‘Transition Town’ in 2006, and the idea has since spread to over a thousand registered towns and cities across the world. Transition can be considered as a hybrid environmental and social movement, and has elements of its own culture (Neal, 2013). Transition reacts to oil dependency, climate change and an increasing recognition of the failing aspects of capitalism and globalization, becoming apparent after the financial crisis of 2008 (Feola & Nunes, 2014). However, more recently it sees itself less as reactive and more proactive as a movement rooted in prosperous communal reciprocity to create a more sustainable world (Hopkins, 2015). Transition has two key themes, resilience and relocalisation, which it enacts through the “unleashing” of the creative energy, philosophical alignment and incentive, and the intelligence and local expertise of communities (Feola & Nunes, 2014). “Organic food production, affordable and accessible social resources from heating, health care, education and transport to bottom up, localised and community centred politics which emphasise mutuality and collective action can all be identified as initiatives and/or areas of concern within Transition culture” (Neal, 2013, culture, p. 62). Transition, however, does not purport to opt out of mainstream culture, but rather attempts to change it, “by thinking transversally and embracing more eco-sustainable ways of living to reorient the objectives of material and immaterial production” (Scott-Cato & Hillier, 2010, p. 878).

Transition-Network-logo6

Grassroots and collective organisation of city-wide initiatives serve as interesting examples due to their local and broad impact. The Transition initiative, which as a culture seeks to affect resilience and relocalisation of communities in facing energy decent, globalization and climate change, is a world-wide movement of local initiatives, organisations or programs that is novel, has broad impact, meets an important need, is effective in its projects making change, and engages perhaps hundreds of thousands of individuals to live a life for a more sustainable world. Urban centres, as multidimensional and multi-sector composites of complex social problems with increased concentration potential for negative impacts of climate change, can be positively effected through Transition initiatives. As a social innovation, Transition has elements of creative destruction (see blog SI Series 10: The Complex Social Problem of Climate Change), which through the continuous novel adaptation of dominant social forces, upsets and replaces old systems (such as challenging capitalism and incessant oil consumption) in the creation of new ones (i.e. localism of economies and reducing the carbon footprint).

Indeed, Transition is a social innovation that has broad impact and stimulates grass-roots perspectives of social populations to activate local solutions. It is a classic example of a social innovation. For more information, see here or here.

– Mike Unrau

 

Feola, G. & Nunes, R. (2014). Success and failure of grassroots innovations for addressing climate change: The case of the Transition Movement. Global Environmental Change, 24, 232-250.

Hopkins, R. (2010). Localisation and resilience at the local level: The case of Transition Town Totnes (Devon, UK) (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://transitionculture.org/

shop/localisation-and-resilience-at-the-local-level-the-case-of-transition-town-totnes/

Hopkins, R. (2015, November 2). The Transition story: Time to stop talking about climate change? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.transitionnetwork.org/blogs/rob-hopkins/2015-11/transition-story-time-stop-talking-about-climate-change

Neal, S. (2013). Transition culture: Politics, localities and ruralities. Journal of Rural Studies, 32, 60-60.

Scott-Cato, M. & Hillier, J. (2010). How could we study climate-related social innovation? Applying Deleuzean philosophy to Transition Towns. Environmental Politics, 19(6), 869-887. DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2010.518677

 

 

SI Series 11: Five Key Elements of Social Innovation

It is useful to look at the elements of what makes up social innovation.  As described by The Young Foundation, there are five key elements (Caulier-Grice, Davies, Patrick & Norman, 2012) (see Fig. 1).

The first is novelty, which describes the uniqueness of the invention of the idea, product or process of the innovation. In what novel way will the field or domain be changed? Perceived novelty is the notion that the innovation doesn’t have to be necessarily original or a completely new way, rather that it is novel to the context of the field, domain or system that the innovation is being applied to. The second is implementation, or, how well suited the novel idea is to actually be implemented into the field, domain or system. Will it be adaptable and have durability and broad impact? Some innovations will be scaled and adopted beyond its immediate context. The next is need, which describes a systemic need to be met. It is clear from the science, for example, that the cause of climate change needs to be changed (Stern, 2007). Social innovation meets this need with novel products, processes and programs, from the micro to the macro in scale, to be implemented in social-environmental systems. The fourth is effectiveness, where the social innovation is more effective than the traditional solutions applied to the problem. In doing so, it should have a measurable improvement, including quality, user satisfaction, economic implications, and rates of adoption, wellbeing or social capital. The last is enhancement, which suggests that social innovation enhances society’s capacity to act, by “creating new roles and relationships, developing assets and capabilities and /or better using assets and resources; [it] will often entail changes in social relations, especially in terms of governance, and increase the participation of vulnerable, marginalized and/or underrepresented groups” (Caulier-Grice et al., 2012, p. 20).

5 elements of SI

Figure 1. Five key elements, and common features, of social innovation. Taken from Caulier-Grice et al. (2012).

  This last point deserves emphasis. Social innovation not only gives opportunity to underrepresented groups, but underrepresented groups bring opportunities to social innovation. It has been said, that the vulnerable are not the problem of sustainability, but the answer to it. Strategies of survival by underrepresented groups such as the marginalized and grassroots initiatives are key access points to wisdom-bearing approaches to tackle any significant complex social problem.

By understanding these five elements of social innovation, analysts, theorists, and academics can check to see if a particular innovation is well rounded and robust enough to make the change they are seeking.  Also, innovators themselves can use the elements to hone in on a single aspect of social innovation to highlight it, or, look at all the elements to as a sort of check-list to see if the innovation will be well-balanced or innovation enough to create a higher potential of success.

Through this understanding, the growing movement of social innovation can create the change that is necessary today.

– Mike Unrau

Caulier-Grice, J.; Davies, A.; Patrick, R. & Norman, W. (The Young Foundation). (2012). Defining social innovation. Social Innovation Overview: A deliverable of the project “The theoretical, empirical and policy foundations for building social innovation in Europe,” (TEPSIE), European Commission – 7th Framework Programme, Brussels: European Commission, DG Research.

Stern, N. H., & Great Britain. (2007). The economics of climate change: The Stern review. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.