Social Frontiers Canada: three take-aways and a blog series
Two months on, and the questions raised at Social Frontiers Canada continue to propel thoughts and discussion. Over the coming month, we will publish a short blog series exploring the variety of perspectives and reflections on the question ‘How does culture present the context, barrier and opportunity for social innovation research?’ While responses differ, it’s clear that culture has a role to play. Here, we offer three main take-away points from the symposium:
Take-away one: Draw upon a wider array of disciplines and methodologies
Given social innovation’s status as a ‘quasi-concept’, researchers have become incredibly adept at building upon a wide array of academic literatures, methods and frameworks – such as complexity theory, systems thinking, and innovation studies. Despite this multidisciplinary approach, some potentially valuable areas of research are drawn upon less frequently by social innovation researchers. Cultural theory is one such area.
While many participants at Social Frontiers Canada were not cultural researchers, everyone took the opportunity to review their work through a different lens – resulting in new conversations and thought-provoking comparisons. To set the scene, Frances Westley and Geoff Mulgan offered insightful reviews of cultural theory and its potential relevance to social innovation research.
Along with culture, a variety of underexplored, yet relevant literatures and research methods – such as technological studies to human-centred design – can help researchers further develop the ‘quasi-field’ of social innovation research.
Angele Beausoleil, Chris Martin and Masha Safina’s blogs offer a few examples where social innovation research has taken on a different focus or approach.
Take-away two: Narrow the gap between research and practice
One of the most overwhelming messages from Social Frontiers Canada was the need for practitioners and researchers to connect more often, and interact differently. While organisations and researchers have gotten much better at adapting their research outputs for different audiences, there are few spaces where researchers and practitioners can meet, exchange ideas and experiences within their fields and find new opportunities to work together.
Similarly, knowledge gaps and power dynamics can be minimised further within the research process. Along with promoting more meaningful partnerships and collaborations, more individuals can be encouraged to work across research and practice – becoming, as some participants called it, ‘pracademics’.
David Phipps, Marlieke Kieboom and Andrew Barnett's blogs consider this challenge further.
Take-away three: Culture can (usefully) frame and complicate social innovation
Social innovation is widely appreciated to be clumsy and challenging, involving diverse groups of individuals and institutions. Add power dynamics, differing worldviews and multifaceted relationships and you’re looking at an even more complex process.
Reflecting on culture can help us take context into account. It can also enable us to explore the assumptions feeding into social innovation – as some participants argued, the very concept of social innovation is itself rooted in many Western cultural beliefs. Perhaps most importantly, culture can be imperative for encouraging greater pluralism and dialogue within social innovation.
All of this requires a specific understanding of what we mean by culture – moving away from static and singular notions, towards a more fluid understanding of how different groups come together and operate.
Steve Ney and Lewis Williams's blogs delve further into the role of culture in social innovation.
This blog is part of a series of reflections on the issues raised at this year's Social Frontiers conference in Vancouver. To explore the blogs, or find out more information about the conference, visit the event page.