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Social Innovation: an Interdisciplinary
and Critical Review of the Concept
Romeo Sharra & Marthe Nyssens
CIRTES - Université Catholique de Louvain
March 2011
Overview
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Introduction
The emergence of the concept
Social innovation as an outcome
Social innovation as a process
Towards an integrated framework of social
innovation
Conclusion
Further research
Introduction
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EU’s “Renewed social Agenda”, BEPA workshop and
report on social innovation
President Obama creates “The Office of Social
Innovation and Civic Participation (SICP)”
Australia & New Zeeland have established their
centers for social innovation
Spain wants to create its “Social Silicon Valley”
South Korea and “The Hope Institute”
etc.
Introduction
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Some recent examples of SI:
 Microcredit
 Fair
and alternative finance
trade
 E-learning
 WISE
 The Open University
 Carpool
 Etc.
Introduction
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But SI is not an exclusivity of our times:
Back in the 19th c. mutual societies, cooperatives, and
non-profits were founded to improve the living
conditions of marginalized urban workers
Progressive establishment of the Welfare State
(unemployment benefits , healthcare systems, etc.)
Although an old phenomenon, social innovation remains
relatively understudied in the scientific literature
Introduction
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The interest for this concept/field is growing
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Creation of research centers:
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CERISIS: Centre de recherche pour la solidarité et l'innovation sociale
Centre de recherche sur les IS (CRISES) à l’UQAM – Québec
The INSEAD Social Innovation Centre
CSI (Stanford Graduate School of Business),
etc.
Creation of journals
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Stanford Social Innovation Review
Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal
Journal of Social Entrepreneurship
etc.
The emergence of the concept
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A polysemous and unstable concept
Every innovation is social (Callon 2007)
 SI refers to the social organization of a production system where
social structure and technical system are combined in an optimal
way (DeBresson 1993)
 “A novel solution to a social problem that is more effective,
efficient, sustainable, or just than existing solutions and for which
the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather
than private individuals” (Phills et al. 2008)
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The emergence of the concept
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2 main fields mobilize the
concept of SI
SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
LOCAL DEVELOPMENT
Leadbeater (1997)
Moulaert (2002),
Dees (1998)
Vachon (2001)
Kramer (2005)
Nussbaumer & Moulaert (2007)
Ashoka
Etc.
Etc.
The emergence of the concept
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Social innovation and social entrepreneurship
« Social entrepreneurs play the role of change agents in the social sector, by:
•Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value),
•Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission,
•Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning,
•Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand, and
•Exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the
outcomes created ».
Dees (1998)
Social entrepreneurs are “people with new ideas to address major problems
who are relentless in the pursuit of their visions, people who simply will not take
“no” for an answer, who will not give up until they have spread their ideas as far
as they possibly can”
Bornstein (2007)
The emergence of the concept
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Social innovation and local development
The macroeconomic, centralized
and “top-down” policies have
failed to reduce disparities
between regions, especially in
an urban context.
Moulaert, 2002
New approaches to local
development have emerged which
focus on the exploitation and
promotion of the endogenous
potentialities of the territory.
Vachon 2001
Birth of the Integrated Area Development (IAD) which is based on social innovation.
« The integrating dynamics had to come from ‘social innovation’ in at least two senses:
1. social innovation through the satisfaction of unsatisfied or alienated human needs;
2. and, innovation in the social relations between individuals and groups in
neighborhoods and the wider territories embedding them”
Moulaert et al. 2005
Social Innovation as an outcome
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Phills et al (2008)
“A novel solution to a social
problem that is more effective,
efficient, sustainable, or just than
existing solutions and for which
the value created accrues
primarily to society as a whole
rather than private individuals”
Mulgan (2007)
“ innovative activities and services that
are motivated by the goal of meeting
a social need and that are
predominantly developed and diffused
through organizations whose primary
purposes are social”
These definitions are made of 3 parts :
1. Novelty and improvement => new does not necessarily mean totally novel or
unseen but rather different or alternative and/or more efficient than current
practices;
2. A clear and explicit aim to solve a social problem;
3. In order to create social value rather than private value, i.e. gains for
entrepreneurs, investors and ordinary (not disadvantaged) consumers.
Social Innovation as an outcome
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According to Lévesque (2001), SI is not always
motivated by an unmet social need but it can also
stem from an aspiration for a different society, e.g.
more egalitarian, more human or more
environmental-friendly => cf. 1968
Sometimes necessity and aspiration(s) can be
combined => cf. fair trade.
Social Innovation as a process
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How does SI emerge, is adopted and then diffused?
Starting point: the awareness of a need that is not being met
=> condition of necessity (Defourny & Develtere, 2009)
 The involvement of a complex network of formal and/or
informal partnerships between various stakeholders
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“In most cases the success of the innovation will rest on the participation and
involvement of a wide variety of interests – the users and beneficiaries of the
innovation as well as the producers and suppliers”
Murray et al. (2010)
Social Innovation as a process
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Mulgan (2007)
“ some of the most effective
methods for cultivating social
innovation start from the
presumption that people are
competent interpreters of their own
lives and competent solvers of their
own problems”
Alvord, Brown, & Letts (2003)
“ successful social entrepreneurship
involves innovations that mobilize
existing assets of marginalized
groups to improve their lives”.
EMPOWERMENT
Individuals can acquire the skills to improve their own lives
Social Innovation as a process
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Need + idea
of how it
could be met
First
prototypes:
trial & error
« Scaling up »
& diffusion
Learning and
continual
adaptation
“innovative efforts to solve persistent social
problems (…) that to some extent have been
successful in scaling up their impact and at
least potentially catalyzing social
transformation”
Kramer(2005)
« innovative solutions to immediate social
problems and also mobilize ideas, capacities,
resources, and social arrangements required for
long-term, sustainable, social
transformation »
Alvord et al. (2003)
Social innovation: an integrated framework
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These 2 definitions are complementary rather than
mutually exclusive:
“Our interest is in innovations that are social both in their ends and in
their means. Specifically, we define social innovations as new ideas
(products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social
needs and create new social relationships or collaborations. In
other words, they are innovations that are both good for society and
enhance society’s capacity to act”.
Murray et al. 2010
Social innovation: an integrated framework
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DRIVERS: they define the raison d'être
and the mission of every SI.
TARGET = main beneficiary of the SI
• Individuals => alcoholics, jobseekers, etc.
• Organizations => companies, schools, etc.
• Territories => neighborhoods, cities, etc.
Conclusion
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Social innovation: a “new-born” in the scientific
literature but who is growing rapidly.
2 main literatures mobilize the concept => SE et
IAD.
2 complementary approaches to define SI
=> outcome and process.
Drivers + Process + Outcome + Target
= an integrated framework of SI
Further research
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A typology of SI in social economy in Brussels:
exploratory interviews.
An empirical study on the mechanisms of SI and its
organizational and institutional determinants: case
study approach.
The added-value of SI and its importance for public
policy.
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Thank you for your attention and
feedback!
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