One of the issues that interests me around social innovation is the relationship between one social innovation and the next. I’m fascinated in how social innovations enable and constrain future solutions. The literature on social innovations tends to track the trajectory of one solution and rarely explores the context from which it emerged and its longer term effects on other initiatives. One notable exception is the work of Mumford (2002) who explored the innovations of Benjamin Franklin. Mumford highlights the cumulative effects that can come from working on novel solutions to social problems. Franklin’s ability to repeatedly innovate seems to come as a result of drawing on elements of past innovations. It’s a sort of “chain” of social innovations. I really like this idea but I have a few problems with it :)
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.