Social Innovation: how ‘WE’ is key for solving complex social issues
Are we in agreement that when we innovate alone, we draw on a limited pool of ideas, clouded by our own biases and assumptions?
When it comes to addressing social issues, there’s a strong relationship between innovation and collaboration. Innovating with others generates more ideas, and enables us to build on and improve others’ ideas. By working together, we also build relationships and foster shared commitment to translate innovative ideas into real solutions and outcomes.
Let’s explore what social innovation really is …
- generating new ideas
- selecting, testing and improving ideas, and
- translating ideas into effective products and services.
… and isn’t
- a single ‘aha’ moment
- just doing things differently, using new language or technology.
You’ll know your social innovation is successful when your solutions are a new response to identified community needs, and they work!
Common sources of social innovation
- deliberate processes of idea generation, selection, and intentional rapid prototyping of actions that bring improvements in people’s lives eg Hackathons, Co-Design workshops etc.
- slow hunches (often driven by a diverse range of stimulating conversations) leading to a new thought, that’s then prototyped.
Don’t be afraid by a clash of ideas – it’s this tension that’s often the sign a new idea is possible. See Ted Talk – where does a good idea come from? Excellent resources are available from TACSI and IDEO, including the Human Centred Design Fieldguide.
How Collective Impact fosters social innovation
Collective Impact is an approach to tackling complex social challenges that aren’t shifting with business as usual interventions. It means solutions need to be developed locally, in response to local conditions, and they must be different to the current solutions on offer (as they’re not working).
We’ve learnt it can take months and years (rather than weeks) of effort to translate innovative ideas into practice with communities. While effective solutions are usually not complicated, they do require different mindsets and a willingness to ‘fail’ to arrive at ‘what works’ together.
Social innovation is ‘a journey’ that must be taken with others. But there’s no doubt the language of innovation can spook people. See The Hive’s innovation cycle for a visual example that has worked well for us in engaging others in this process:
Swarms bring a large and diverse group of people together at key points to connect, share insights, identify priority areas for change, align our work, and review our progress.
The focusing of attention on areas for collective action through small, diverse working groups to research relevant issues, causes and potential responses, to improve and scale over time.
The scaling, sharing and spreading our success to community groups and organisations that are best placed to make change happen.
About the authors:
Eleanor Loudon is United Way Australia’s Head of Community Impact, with more than 15 years’ experience in community-led approaches, social inclusion, collaboration, and the management of innovative programming to increase impact and organisational accountability.
David Lilley is Senior Advisor, Community Impact at United Way Australia, and was the founding Director of The Hive Mt Druitt, a Collective Impact initiative in Western Sydney.