Social innovation: The problem of success

The literature on social innovation is really a literature of success.  Largely missing are solutions that have failed, had unintended consequences or are contested.

While it is recognized that labeling something as new does not make it “inherently virtuous” (Bacon et al., 2008) the solutions generally seem to be treated as having positive effects (Murray et al., 2010). This can gloss over any disagreements as to their effectiveness and the values and beliefs of their proponents.

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A great week for social innovation but…

It has been a great week for social innovation!  The Young Foundation launched an Open Book of social innovation ideas and knowledge and NESTA released a a new website to build and maintain a growing network of its proponents. states that it has over 500 methods for those willing to take the plunge. While this a great step forward in showcasing and collating examples of social innovation, the foundations of social innovation remain flaky.

A central problem is that there are multiple definitions of what social innovation means (see some examples at  For some, it is really a term to connect a new idea to a social group in a positive way.  No one thinks innovation is a bad thing and it’s ever better if it makes a difference to lots of people :) For others it implies collective participation in generating solutions or it reflects a social consciousness behind the innovation process.

Does this really matter when social innovation is popping up everywhere (see Google News Chart below) even at the White House? Continue reading