UNIT 2: Define and recognize social innovation opportunities.

There is no consensus on a single definition for Social Innovation, however it is possible to say that social innovation initiatives all stand on a common ground: that of addressing social needs and issues through innovative means (VINNOVA 2014).

One of the most common definitions is provided in The Open Book of Social Innovation: “We define social innovations as new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs and create new social relationships or collaborations. In other words, they are innovations that are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act”.

Familiarise yourself with the social innovation spiral you will come across it often as part of this journey, if you want to understand this process in more detail see the Open Book on Social Innovation.

It may be useful to refer to Social Innovation not as a traditional concept, rather as a PROCESS, depicted in a SPIRAL.

Spiral the process of social innovation

The process includes 6 stages. They are not always sequential and their boundaries are not well defined, there are overlapping with spaces and feedback loops between them.

You should use the spiral in order to present your clients or partners the process of Social Innovation.

The ESII training course follows the stages of the spiral. Module 1 (the present module) refers to Stage 1: Prompts. “In this stage we include all the factors which highlight the need for innovation as well as the inspirations which spark it, from creative imagination to new evidence. This stage involves diagnosing the problem and framing the question in such a way that the root causes of the problem, not just its symptoms, will be tackled. This means going beyond symptoms to identifying the causes of a particular problem”.

Learn more about the process here. You can find interesting case studies for each of the six stages.

At the end of this section you should be able to say whether your clients are ready to start the social innovation process or not, depending on the potential of their idea/initiative and the relevance in terms of social impact.

This is just the first step; the journey begins with next units. Enjoy!

a) Explain clearly what is Social Innovation.

You will find it is not easy to find a unique definition, the literature offers several interpretations. So, why don’t you start with examples?

You should be able to select relevant case studies to help your clients or partners find their way in this complex field.

Here (link to Italian Case-Studies in Italian) (use Google translate if required) you can find selected case-studies for different sectors, which you can use as examples.

This will help you grasp different aspects of this multifaceted concept and will allow you to explain what a Social Innovation is to different audiences.

b) What is the connection with market oriented activities?

Answer: A Social Enterprise

The European Commission uses the term ‘social enterprise’ to cover ‘an enterprise whose primary objective is to achieve social impact rather than solely generating profit for its owners and shareholders; operating in the market through the production of goods and services in an entrepreneurial and innovative way; which uses surpluses mainly to achieve these social goals and which is managed by social entrepreneurs in an accountable and transparent way, in particular by involving workers, customers and stakeholders affected by its business activity.’ Learn more here

You should now be able to recognise ideas and initiatives with a social innovation potential and drive them to the market, to become successful social enterprises.

This is an exercise to help you identify a social innovation opportunity and make a preliminary analysis of an idea’s potential social impact.

Inspiration and idea generation can happen whilst meeting a friend or colleague for a coffee or during a meeting in your office. In either case, you should take this issue as an opportunity for social innovation.

Set up a meeting with your client the aim to answer the following questions.

  1. Which objectives are pursued?
  1. What social challenge, need or issue does the initiative intend to address?
  1. Who are the target groups and expected beneficiaries? And how do we know they will benefit from this solution?
  1. What is the expected social impact?

You may use the tools here. This is just an example; you can adapt it to your needs!

Explore Further

Explore Further

You can make use of some additional interesting tools, to be adapted to the specific filed of social innovation, in order to go deeper into the analysis of the idea:

A Consumer Trend Canvas is an easy-to-follow framework meant to understand consumers’ trends. You can download a blank trend canvas here.

You could adapt the tool to your needs, by replacing the world “consumer” with the word “beneficiaries”, or “target groups” or “society” depending on the subjects you have identified as beneficiaries of the initiative. Sit with your client and try to fill in the table together!

If you are working with a team of potential social innovators and you want to facilitate fruitful group dynamics, you can use the Issue Cards, physical instruments used as a peg to induce and feed interactive dynamics inside a team: learn more here!

Wait a moment! Perhaps you don’t have any clients chasing you to get support for an innovative idea and you want to be the starter of a social innovation process, by supporting idea generation. In this case, we suggest you to organise a workshop: invite a group of relevant people around a table and let them express themselves!

Here you can find easy-to-use instructions and a checklist to organise an effective Ideation workshop. Once you have done this, you may have new ideas to check, so start from the beginning!