Social Innovation Theme

From Silos to Systems

Around the world societies today face a series of complex and seemingly intractable social challenges. Many of our public institutions appear to be in various stages of stalling, inept at responding to the complexity of the social issues presented – issues that cut across the boundaries of departments and national borders.

Everywhere we appear to be bumping up against the limitations of a centralized reductionist approach in our public institutions that has resulted in the proliferation of silos and inert bureaucratic structures. Industrial age educational systems, health systems, political systems, seem trapped in a paradigm that is constrained in its capacity to evolve and meet the new requirements of a network society.

Tackling such systemic social issues as escalating inequality, outdated educational systems or the challenges of chronic diseases to our health systems requires new approaches. Existing solutions to long-standing issues such as poverty, homelessness, addiction, unemployment, discrimination appear to deliver incremental progress when we know exponential change is possible.

To be successful in our endeavors we need new solutions and approaches that leverage new ways of thinking and new technological means to create institutional forms that are normalized for the kind of complex, asynchronous environments of the 21st century.

Social Innovation, What Is It?

Over the last two decades, social innovation has gained significant popularity as a strategy to tackle new social challenges and change how we do things. It works to focus attention on the ideas and solutions that create social value – via new methods – regardless of where they are coming from.

Social innovations are new social practices that aim to meet societal needs in a better way than the existing solutions. It is about questioning and helping societies to rethink old systems and strengthen civil society in a way that is relevant for the new context. Social innovation is characterized by the capacity to address needs that traditional policy seems increasingly unable to tackle; a key part of this is getting out of the silos and using a more networked approach to empower groups and individuals – the willingness to question establishment and change social relations.

Although social innovation can happen in any organization or areas of society it often falls outside of traditional institutions involving varying degrees of social entrepreneurship. These innovations often emerge in this in-between space, attempting to solve issues that are systematically overlooked by other kinds of organizations because they do not fit within a traditional format – that the market does not show an interest in because of lack of profit, that government does not concern itself with because of voters interests and where charity is not the right solution.

For example, a local bakery might take the initiative to open its doors in the evening or weekends to train local unemployed people and help them build skills they can use towards partaking in productive activities. Here existing resources are being used in new ways to create value and it is being done outside of existing institutional structures, illustrating how social innovation happens whenever someone takes responsibility and initiative for change. A social entrepreneur is anyone who cares enough about a social issue to take responsibility and action.

, Social Innovation – Theme
, Social Innovation – Theme

Social Enterprise

Interconnected and systemic social challenges require new approaches that are often brought into being by small innovative initiatives in the form of the “social enterprise” that are less constrained by the box of existing public institutions and have a fresh lens and fresh perspective with which to innovate new solutions.

Today we often see that existing social institutions do not effectively harness people’s desire to contribute and make a positive social impact, a lot of social good will and energy is being left on the sidelines for lack of institutions to channel and direct it constructively. With social innovation personal motivation and creativity gets channeled into entrepreneurship – a social enterprise that enables new and innovative solutions, helping societies question and rethink old systems.

The social enterprise is often the means through which social innovation is realized, seeing business as a potential solution rather than a problem, in this respect, it fundamentally questions the way that we tackle social issues. By taking a market-based approach social innovation can be much better focused on outcomes and real value delivered, rather than getting caught up in organizational structures, silos, and procedures. Social entrepreneurship brings “new patterns and possibilities for innovation” and are willing to do things that existing organizations are not willing to do.

Social enterprises exist primarily to meet their mission of some form of social change be that large or small, they search for value on a double or triple bottom line taking into consideration, economic, social and environmental impacts and outcomes; in this respect, it is a more holistic form of organization.

Systems Change

Social innovation is the result of the intentional work of people trying to make positive change happen by addressing these complex problems at their roots, it can profoundly change the way a given system operates. Doing so requires both new ways of thinking and the use of new technological means. Here systems and complexity thinking have a huge role to play, as enabling transformative change within social organizations requires a holistic approach.

Changing systems requires addressing the root causes and not just the symptoms. It requires engaging people to be part of their own solution, thus building distributed systems that harness the efforts of the many instead of the few. There is no one single solution but multiple interventions need to be coordinated and sustainable solutions often turn out to be oblique, not direct.

Systems change is not easy, historical studies suggest that transforming any system may take many years, and requires a long term effort to build multiple partnerships. Innovations are usually new combinations or hybrids of existing elements – rather than completely new – they often involve reaching across organizational or disciplinary boundaries, creating open platforms. As such social innovation is often an effort which involves competencies from a wide range of disciplines and domains.

Key to the social transformation underway today is information technology and the building of new forms of networked organizations. Digital social innovation refers to “a type of social and collaborative innovation in which innovators, users, and communities collaborate using digital technologies to co-create knowledge and solutions for a wide range of social needs and at a scale and speed that was unimaginable before the rise of the Internet.”

It is at this intersection of new ways of thinking, new social business models and networked organizations that we see the greatest dynamism and potential to really change whole systems – to build new forms of institutions and realized more sustainable results along multiple dimensions.

, Social Innovation – Theme
2019-06-21T15:49:39+00:00