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Social innovation that is global

There’s a lot of social innovation going on. All over the world citizens, governments, communities, NGOs are experimenting with new ways of responding to social issues.

These innovations share common principles – working through networks, designing solutions with people, bridging between sectors and silos – but vary hugely across different contexts.

Look at this new support service for families in Western Australia, or established communities for palliative care in India. Both these approaches reflect very local environments and needs, but meet these needs by convening networks and relationships to offer mutual support. In the crowded favelas in Brazil, online media is helping to amplify citizens’ ideas. This sort of crowdsourcing is also changing how we can respond to crisiscreate policy or gather intelligence.   

That’s what I think makes social innovation such a rich field. Of course, social and environmental issues are highly contextual and dependent on local circumstance. But there are really distinctive methods that are starting to characterise and frame this practice. One critical method – co-creation – was the focus of the 2011 Social innovation Exchange spring school, held this week in Amsterdam.

The Social Innovation Exchange (SIX) is a fantastic network of social innovators from all over the world. It brings people together through events, telepresence sessions and online to deepen the knowledge base and share experience. SIX also acts as a platform to highlight trends or insights from institutions shaping the field – from in-house innovation units like MindLab, design teams like TACSI or HDL, social incubators like DenokInn or the technical advances CISCO and Dialogue Café.  

Even if locally these sorts of social innovations feel apart from mainstream practice, connected globally you can see collective impact. I think that’s why these sorts of learning exchanges feel so helpful to reflect on international practice and methods. However, there’s still work to do about how best to understand what’s effective and why. How can we strengthen the evidence base for social innovation? What skills do we need to take it forward? What institutional support is most useful?  

We’re certainly interested in exploring these questions in more detail, and working towards a stronger, more thoughtful appreciation of the methods and dynamics of social innovation. And in the spirit of co-creation, we’d be very open to doing so together.

Author

Laura Bunt

Laura Bunt

Laura Bunt

Lead Policy Advisor, Public and Social Innovation

Laura was Nesta'’s lead policy advisor for public and social innovation until November 2013. She joined Nesta's Policy and Research team in 2009 focusing on social innovation and inn...

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