There is an interesting podcast with Charles Leadbeater on social innovation released this month by the Australian Social Innovation Exchange. Leadbeater argues that user-led innovation, where needs are articulated and shaped by users rather than producers, is needed for many social innovations. For Leadbeater, social innovations are a collaborative and participatory response to social needs that are currently inadequately met. He predicts it will be a time of upheaval and disruption for large organizations, especially in the public sector, as the interest in social innovation grows. He briefly mentions the idea of “latent capacity” – the idea of untapped knowledge and potential in a community that, with the right tools, could be focused on tackling social problems.
There is a sense that Leadbeater is using social innovation to cast a vision. User-led innovation is still in its infancy – the examples of Mountain Biking, Wikipedia and Linux are promising but it is unclear how this approach might work on social problems that are complex and contested. Continue reading
The problem is that social innovation doesn’t have an academic home. As an emerging field its proponents are scattered across the academic world with no obvious central point of contact to share ideas and carve out a credible space. Despite the increasing popularity of the term there is no dedicated academic journal and limited academic currency.
So, studying social innovation can become a ‘side of the desk’ type of project. There is kudos for being seen as involved in something progressive, but this is peripheral work – at the edge of more established disciplines. For example, Business Schools like the idea of social innovation and are integrating it into their teaching curriculums (e.g., Brown, 2009; Samuelson, 2009) but there is a pitiful amount of research on the topic – dwarfed by research into accounting, strategy and marketing.