What is innovative, and social, about Social Innovation?

I don’t know.  And I don’t really address that in this blog post. Apologies if you feel click-baited or rick-rolled.

I went to a seminar on Wednesday about “Social Innovation Futures: beyond policy panacea and conceptual ambiguity”  It was good – clear presentation of relevant work, good questions (except perhaps the first one, which was long and ranty, but what can you do?).  I came away having scribbled down some references, which are below, with abstract clippings where I could find.

Garud and Karnoe, 2013 – dunno, but will find out. They’ve done interesting work on Danish wind turbine innovations…

Böhme, K. & E. Gløersen (2011) Territorial cohesion storylines: Understanding a policy concept. Spatial Foresight Brief 2011:1.

“Territorial cohesion must contribute to economic growth in order to achieve the aims of Europe 2020 and boost European competitiveness. This implies a strong focus on territorial potentials and the support of smart growth and connectivity of Europe’s economic centres. Territorial cohesion will only be possible if Europe’s most economically viable and powerful locations make full use of their growth potential, thereby serving as engines for the development of larger areas surrounding each of them.

These economic centres are at the forefront of development and are important nodes in global economic networks. A key issue here is European polycentric development, i.e. the development of a number of interconnected European hubs or Major European Growth Areas (MEGAs) which mutually reinforce each other and lead to the strong growth envisioned for 2020.”

Quadruple Helix

Open Innovation 2.0 (OI2) is a new paradigm based on a Quadruple Helix Model where government, industry, academia and civil participants work together to co-create the future and drive structural changes far beyond the scope of what any one organization or person could do alone. This model encompasses also user-oriented innovation models to take full advantage of ideas’ cross-fertilisation leading to experimentation and prototyping in real world setting.

Policy-based Evidence-making Torriti 2010

“Impact Assessment and the Liberalization of the EU Energy Markets: Evidence-Based Policy-Making or Policy-Based Evidence-Making?” JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies Volume 48, Issue 4, pages 1065–1081, September 2010

 The European Commission proposal on the liberalization of energy markets has been widely debated in policy, stakeholder and academic circles both for its content and the potential consequences for the structure of the EU gas and electricity markets. However, little has been said about the empirical evidence produced by the European Commission to support this legislative package. Since the Impact Assessment (IA) system has been in place, there have been concerns regarding quality and adequateness, especially when quantifying costs, benefits and risks, selecting policy options and considering stakeholder opinions. This article examines how these crucial issues were factored into the IA on the liberalization of EU energy markets. It is concluded that the selected policy option reflects the position of some stakeholders at the expense of the available evidence on its impacts on markets, society and the environment.

 “Thin concept borrowing” Hassink 2007. 


I asked a question/made a statement (firsties!) I said something along the lines of –

For me it’s about the ;

Capacity of the social innovators. The ones I know are underfunded, overstretched, chronically.

Hope – there isn’t any.  The activists I know are now deeply suspicious of grand visions (to meet ‘grand challenges’) and don’t believe that radical transformations/transitions are possible. If we were going to make them happen, we would have by now. We are disvisioned, not disillusioned (there is a distinction – see the footnote)

State – hollowed out. There was never a golden age of the enabling state, or the entrepreneurial state, or whatever state we’d like to be in, BUT it is surely worse (locally now).  Capacity has been stripped out (again, not that there was ever a golden age) but also, with the relentless culling, the cost of experimenting is now huge.

Fear of/tolerance for failure–  Innovating means experimenting. Experimenting means a high likelihood of failure. Failure means ammunition in the hands of enemies both within and beyond the organisation you are in.  So you hunker down – “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” etc

Couple of final thoughts;

It was ALWAYS the case that, as Keynes said,  “Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.”

And finally, who is this “social” in “social innovation”?  When corporate behemoths like Hitachi are super-comfortable using the term in their marketing strategies, I get a little nervous. Call me a luddite.



The promised Footnote

Disvisioned versus disillusioned

… we were discussing the increasing feeling of despair that we are all suffering from: over and over again we were all using the word ‘disillusioned.’ Then someone pointed out that if what one had held in the past was an ‘illusion’ then it was very healthy, even important, to be ‘disillusioned,’ relieved of illusion- or delusion. If on the other hand what one had held before was ‘vision’- ‘silent upon a peak in Darien’- then what the present political climate was doing was ‘disvisioning’: and it was important that we realise that there was no word- at least within this culture and language- for ‘disvisioning’. No word to describe the experience of having had a real vision, a true vision of possibility and then having that taken away from you. That word, that event, is one that necessarily must be denied by bourgeois culture. I was brought up with a wicked myth- that you cannot put the Truth down, that it will win in the end; I think we have to fight that very carefully; alas, indeed it is highly possible to put the truth down, to destroy even the dream of it, and in fact the truth has been put down. Can it be that all visions, or prophesies, or whatever, that are not in the process of being realised are thereby proven as illusions/delusions? We have to face the real possibility that through social circumstance we may now be in the process not of being disillusioned, but of being disvisioned: an act of violence, not therapy.

Sara Maitland Futures in Feminist Fiction in From My Guy to Sci-FI: Genre and Women’s Writing in the Postmodern World ed. Helen Carr (1989) London: Pandora.

5 thoughts on “What is innovative, and social, about Social Innovation?

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  1. I was taught, the Danish wind-turbine success, came from a grass-roots development. The Danish Government did not put any blocks on the communities involved, slowly improving their technologies. At the same time, Boeing were producing large wind turbines in California, which ultimately failed.
    Another grass-roots story I was taught about, was the Austrian Solar Clubs. Where local communities built and developed their own solar panels. I did investigate, and the UK did set up Government sponsored Solar Clubs. The Government after a short period, pulled the plug on them, stating it was cheaper to buy off the self units. This has always been the UK Governments policy, support big business, stop grass-roots, community innovation. This is especially true of the ‘Green Deal’, you will only get funding if it from one of the approved firms.
    Stop reading meaningless physco-babble, it will pickle your brains.:-)

    1. Hi Patrick

      there are two articles on the Danish wind energy history that are worth reading.

      The Danish state did put some money in, and performed fairly usefully (especially in bailing out some of the bigger ones who were exposed when the US ‘wind rush’ ended

      The first article is thrilling and uplifting,

      Bricolage versus breakthrough: distributed and embedded agency in technology entrepreneurship

      and the second one accuses it of being overly-romantic

      Hendry, C. and Harborne, P. (2011) Changing the view of wind power development: More than “bricolage.” Research Policy 40, pp. 778-789.

      This was mentioned in a reading group/symposium yesterday by one of my supervisors. It’s a response/elaboration to a paper by Garud and Karnoe comparing the Danish and US wind energy industries and how they came about. Hendry and Harbone heartlessly puncture the lovely romantic notions that Tinkerers Matter throughout the process (they did, but once you get to a certain point, there’s no substitute for “science” and deep pockets. Reminds me a bit of Manuel de Landa in “War in the Age of Intelligent Machines,” where he makes the point that there are tactics, but strategy will overcome them, and there is strategy, but in the end, logistics – being able to feed, clothe, arm and replace members of your army at a more efficient rate than your enemy – is what matters.

      As for my brain – surely too late!!

      1. The Manuel de Landa reference, obviously did not take account of the USA’s experience. Though, they were the World’s best equipped (in their eye’s) Armed Forces, logistically well fed, armed and clothed. They were beaten by lightly armed, but committed local forces in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. They will state, they were not defeated in the latter two countries.
        As for Denmark, it was local people who committed their own money to the local wind industry and are part-owners of the installed wind turbines. And yes, it did grow to become http://www.vestas.com/. Which closed down its UK manufacturing plant, because of the lack of commitment by the last Labour Government towards renewables. I did attend a talk by someone from the UK based research and design team, which had been kept by Vestas. They had developed the manufacture of wind turbine blades using bamboo, the fastest growing grass. Which reduce time, costs and their environmental impacts.
        I never had any romantic ideas about Samso Island, called ‘Energy Island@ by some. The local community had help grow the Danish wind turbine industry, but I was not happy they burnt biomass, to produce their heat and were still dependent on fossil fuels for their vehicles. Even the recent announcement, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/danish-island-is-energy-self-sufficient/, is not music to my ears. Growing energy crops, should not replace growing food. I believe, they should have adopted bio-digestion from the start, using their own sewage with food and crop waste, to produce bio-fuels, with the added bonus of a highly rich organic fertilizer as a by-product.

  2. re: ‘ No word to describe the experience of having had a real vision, a true vision of possibility and then having that taken away from you.’
    Did Charlie Brown gets disvisioned when Lucy pulls the ball away?

    Reminded of my life for some years as one of those enviro’s accepting gov’t/corp’s invitations to more consultations.

    so, at links below: Not sure which version below that I like best or is most appropo re political promises re action on climate.

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