User-driven Social Innovation: Involving young criminals and disadvantaged mothers

Innovation generated by users has in recent years been the subject of considerable interest.  For the most part this has focused on commercial solutions, from mountain-biking to medical equipment. Businesses are encouraged to find ways to develop and integrate the insights of these “creative users” into their products and services.

The advantage of such innovation is that users are so close to the action.  They experience the product at first hand, understand how it works in practice and are the first to experience any problems. This ‘real-life’ knowledge is said to make them particularly well suited to develop new ideas.

In a recent article in the Journal of Social Entrepreneurship*, Peter Svensson and Lars Bengtsson (2010) draw on the idea of user driven innovation in the commercial sector and apply it to explore the organizing of social innovations.

Instead of users who have with issues with products, users are “people with social problems”.  Through this lens they explore two innovations in Stockholm, one shaped by “young criminals”, and the other by “disadvantaged mothers”.

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Social Innovation Inc: Seeking to transform the way businesses approach social change

How businesses should engage with social issues has long been a subject of debate. At one end of the spectrum are those who think businesses have a duty to engage in social issues.  At the other end are those who think that businesses should just worry about making money.  Jason Saul in his new book “Social Innovation Inc: 5 Strategies for driving business growth through social change” argues that both are possible.  But it will require transforming the way most businesses think about social change.

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Social Innovators as Super-Heroes

I was recently sent a link to an article by Dorothy Stoneman and J.B. Schramm entitled Superman Isn’t Waiting in the Wings, But Social Innovators Are – it’s definitely worth a read. I tried to add a comment but the blog must have a quality filter that sorted out the wheat from the chaff :) For what it’s worth here is my take on their ideas.

“Fascinating article about the inspiring impact of YouthBuild and College Summit. Not sure, however, if I completely buy the idea that governments simply need to unleash the “superpower” of individuals/organizations, particularly those in nonprofits. First, I’m not convinced that social innovators generally, and nonprofits in particular, are waiting ready for when governments engage. The diversity of nonprofit missions/capabilities/size alone mean that their “superpowers” are not only limited but often contested. Education is full of nonprofits with very different philosophies/goals which become an issue when talking about scaling up.

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