Getting hotter: Learning from the failure of field-building events to create action on climate change

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 11.21.04 AMSocial innovation is often defined by an interest in tackling complex social problems by engaging diverse stakeholders: Easy to say but difficult to achieve in practice.

Aside from the logistical challenges of bringing different people together, there is the even harder task of getting them to work together – to build what academics call a “field” – a shared way for individuals and organizations to relate to each other.

The research on field-building (largely focused on industries and professions) demonstrates the importance of rules, norms, collaboration and the work of institutional entrepreneurs. It also highlights the importance of organized events.

Events can be catalytic. They can offer the space for people with very different ways of thinking to mix and explore new ideas. This process can lead to new relationships, patterns of thinking and behaving.

And yet, despite their potential, they remain relatively under-explored. Until now. Researchers Elke Schüßler, Charles-Clements Ruling and Bettina Wittneben* decided to concentrate on one of the most contested issues of our time – climate change – and explore the role of field-building events. Their particular interest – why these events had appeared to so dramatically fail.

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Social Innovation and Transformation

For many, what distinguishes social innovation from other types of innovation is in its commitment to transform (e.g., Mumford, 2002; Goldsmith et al., 2010;Westley et al., 2006).

While there is no consensus on a universal definition, there is agreement that social innovation can bring about transformative change (Goldenberg et al., 2009, p. iv).

The idea of transformation is used differentiate social innovation from those that only result in “incremental gains” (New Zealand Social Innovation Centre, 2010).

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