Social Frontiers Canada: thinking about culture in social innovation research
As the social innovation research community continues to grow and evolve, could culture become a major agenda?
On May 30th Social Frontiers Canada will bring together researchers from Canada and internationally to explore share, learn and explore. We hope this day will be an opportunity for sharing and reflection on the current research and the direction of the field in future.
When we held the first Social Frontiers event in London last November, our aim was to bring together the international social innovation research and take stock of the range of research taking place. Through the conversations and presentations, it was clear that the social innovation research community has evolved to develop and inform new understandings and approaches. However, certain blind spots still exist. Although culture has gained considerable attention in innovation studies, it remains relatively under-explored within social innovation research.
Why should we consider culture?
Social innovation is about action and ideas. But what lies behind these actions and ideas, and how do we take this into account in our efforts to understand, evaluate and theorise social innovation? If we want to understand how innovation can be supported, it’s critical to understand the context and culture that shapes actions and ideas. What are the cultures – the collectively held attitudes, behaviours, values, and assumptions - that influence social innovation?
Culture is a deep and complex term, and considering its relation to social innovation research is not without challenges. Inevitably, people will have different understandings of what culture means, and how it should be addressed within social innovation research – if at all. We also need to be careful and avoid oversimplifying or reducing culture – or using it as a catchall response to difficult questions.
Despite these challenges, there is good reason to consider the role of culture in many aspects of social innovation – not least scaling innovations, complexity and systems change. For instance, to understand why and how innovations are taken up within different systems (such as health care), tracking diffusion is not enough; we also need to measure and analyse the motivations, attitudes and habits of the people working within these systems. Furthermore, given many promising innovations are developed on the margins or intersections of different communities, sectors and disciplines, focusing on the dynamics and interactions of different groups can be incredibly useful.
So how will we consider culture at Social Frontiers Canada? Using their research and experiences as a starting point, participants and presenters will have the opportunity to reflect on the role of culture within their own work and the wider field of social innovation research. While discussion will be driven by participant interest, we are keen to explore:
- How social innovation occurs within (and influences) wider systems and cultures
- How social innovation cultures are developed and sustained
- What unites and distinguishes different social innovation cultures
- How different groups, sectors and societies interact around social innovation
- How disciplinary heritages and institutional cultures influence and shape social innovation research
- Whether a closer look at culture contributes to social innovation research
Let us know by commenting below, or on twitter, if you feel we could address culture and social innovation research from another angle.
Prepare for Social Frontiers Canada
If you’re attending Social Frontiers Canada (or are simply interested in the future direction of social innovation research), we recommend taking a look at the following resources:
- Frances Westley, ‘A history of social innovation’ (video)
- Geoff Mulgan, ‘Setting a future agenda for social innovation research’ (video)
- Anna Davies and Julie Simon, ‘Growing social innovation: a literature review’
- European Commission, ‘Social Innovation Research in the European Union’