A shared understanding of social innovation

درک مشترکی از نوآوری اجتماعی

A shared understanding of social innovation

Developing a strong, theory-based conceptualization is an important challenge in order to explore the potential of social innovation. Here, social innovation is defined as a new combination or transformation of social functions, which can connect different and sometimes contradictory meanings of social innovation and provide a new perspective to the multiplicity of the concept of social innovation. Also, this definition offers an opportunity to better understand the relationship between social innovation and technology and provides a foundation for further scientific research.

A new perspective on social innovation
The importance of social innovation in successfully facing the social, economic, political and environmental challenges of the 21st century has been confirmed not only in the Europe 2020 strategy, but also at the global level in general. All those working in this field, from social activists to politicians and researchers, agree that technological innovations alone are not able to overcome the social and economic challenges that modern societies face. Global statistics of social innovation activities show countless solutions, which show that social innovations have had countless successes in various fields, including social integration through education and poverty reduction, sustainable consumption patterns, and adaptation to demographic changes. At the same time, the importance of social innovations is growing not only in relation to social integration and equal opportunities, but also in terms of innovation capability and overall future sustainability of society.

A brief history of social innovation
The term “social innovation” dates back to the early 19th century, before concepts of technology and economics influenced the general definition of innovation. At first, the term was mostly associated with the socialist revolution, but a little later, it became associated with social reforms, especially in the fields of education and labor. In the early 20th century, a new meaning of the term emerged: social innovation means the emergence or adoption of a new behavior or way of doing things. These practical methods are used in all areas of society, such as gender relations, formal and informal education, management, governance, cultural customs and even daily life. Recently, this term is used to describe any social phenomenon and process of change around the world.

However, all the above expectations face an incomplete concept. Following this issue, global statistics show that the concept of social innovation is not yet fully developed and not officially defined. In fact, there is still no common agreement about social innovation, and this concept does not distinguish it from other similar concepts such as social entrepreneurship or technological innovation. An infinite range of problems and different dimensions of the problem, as well as the expectations to solve them, are presented under the title of “social innovation”, without distinguishing between different social and economic meanings, the conditions of its initiation and expansion, and without clearly distinguishing it from other forms of innovation.

Therefore, on the one hand, there is a wide range of social innovations in different policy areas. But on the other hand, the reports related to the policy areas of the SI DRIVE project show that the understanding of the concept of social innovation clearly does not exist and there is a need to provide a conceptual explanation of it. Documents related to policy areas from public institutions such as the European Commission, the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, etc., often do not refer to social innovation (with the exception of some Horizon 2020 documents and publications of some public administrations). .

A definition based on social performance theory
Due to the increasing political and public interest in this concept, the discussion in this field has been greatly expanded at the international level in recent years. Considering that the theoretical-conceptual debate has not attracted enough attention and shows the shortcomings of this concept, the desire to stimulate interdisciplinary discourse is increasing. At the same time, efforts to systematically distinguish between research streams, fostering different perspectives of theory and establishing social innovation as an analytical concept with a clear research topic are increasing.

Aiming to develop a strong theoretical concept of social innovation, the SI DRIVE project focuses on social practices as a central issue. Inspired by Schumpeter’s basic definition of innovation, social innovation is considered as a new combination of social practices in specific sectors or social contexts. What distinguishes social innovations from other social changes is that they are carried out by certain actors consciously and with the aim of improving the fulfillment of needs and problems, in a way that is based on experiential functions. Therefore, social innovation is social to the extent that it is accepted by society and spread in society or certain social subgroups, and finally it is institutionalized as a new social practice. Note that, like any other innovation, social innovation does not necessarily provide a “good” or “desirable” effect for everyone.

Based on this definition, we were able to develop five key dimensions that influence the ability, scope and impact of social innovations. With social functions at the center of the conversation, the figure above summarizes these key dimensions. This model helps to understand the complexity and contradiction of innovation and to look at it in a precise and scientific way and to analyze social innovations throughout its cycle, from design and intention to implementation and actual impact. Influence may be perceived along a continuum (from “good” to “bad”) by different social groups, classes, or generations. this

The pentagonal structure has been used as a basis for using the concept of social innovation in theoretical and empirical research in all sectors of society (public, private and civil society) and in different regions of the world.

The advantage of this approach is that it allows the integration of the main elements to describe social innovations. For example, factors such as ecosystem, expansion and imitation, combination of different policy areas, political actions (whole to part) and collective actions (part to whole), cooperation with other systems or complementary actions of the system, exploitation of technological advances, etc.

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