The Relationship between Social Innovation and Social Change

ارتباط نوآوری اجتماعی و تغییر اجتماعی

ارتباط نوآوری اجتماعی و تغییر اجتماعی

How do theories of social action contribute to a better understanding of processes of social change and why should we focus on placing each innovation within an overarching network of innovation flows? In order to understand the relationship between social innovation and social change, it is very important to properly dissect and explore the potential of social innovation. Referring to the theory of social action and the theory of Gabriel Tard helps us to better understand the complexity of innovation processes. This split enables a new perspective on the placement of social innovation and the governance of social change processes.

Although the need for social innovation is clearly felt and there have been many scientific discussions in this field, there is still no clear understanding of how social innovation leads to social change. Therefore, in the analysis of European projects in recent years, Jane Jensen and Dennis Harrison come to the following conclusion: “Although social innovation appears in different fields and policies and is studied from multiple theoretical and methodological perspectives, the conditions that cause to develop, grow and finally change the society, it is not yet fully understood in the political and scientific circle.

Social innovation and theories of social change
The terms “social innovation” and “social innovator” first appeared in the early 19th century – long before “innovation” took on an economic and technological meaning. From the point of view of meaning, from the beginning, these terms, as special forms of social change, were very much related to the processes of social change and the transformations of society. Although their content was not precisely defined, these terms were widely used in England and France. The main focus was on fundamental change in the social system and the structures that support it; In other words, changing the system and organizational structure of society in general. With the emergence of the concept of social reform in the second half of the 19th century, social innovation became more closely related to the processes of intentional transformation that affected a part of society and aimed to solve problems, such as education, working conditions, and equal opportunities.

In the 20th century, William F. Ogburn is known as the first holistic scientist who pointed out the importance of social innovation as part of the theory of social change. He introduced inventions and innovations as “a combination of existing and known elements of culture, material or non-material, or changing one of them to create a new one” and considered them as the most important factor of change. He has embedded social change as an innovative process, where new innovations – structural or social – can be the driving force.

To better understand the relationship between social innovation and social change, we should go back to the words of Gabriel Tard. Tarde’s view allows us to broaden the view that was limited by Schumpeter to economic and technological innovation to include a wide variety of social innovation. In Gabriel Tarde’s social theory, development and change come from inventions and activities, which are imitated and therefore become social innovation. In this way, social imitation is driven by innovation, and social change is explained by the activities and inventions that are imitated.

The importance of such a concept of social innovation, which is based on social theory, is that it allows us to discover how phenomena, conditions and structures emerge and evolve. Countless and unknown inventions and discoveries change the society and its functions through numerous imitations and, as a result, become real as a social phenomenon. “In the field of social innovation, everything happens either as invention or as imitation. In the meantime, the imitations that form the rivers and inventions of the mountains of this area. For Tarde, imitation is the main mechanism for social production and social change. He believes that “all community-based similarities that belong to the world of social innovation are the result of a kind of imitation; This imitation, more than anything else, can be done in the form of imitation of habits or fashion through sympathy or obedience, education or upbringing and with care and diligence. Since imitation is always accompanied by change, the process of imitation simultaneously transforms innovations into social structures and practices. Additionally, individual actions and rebellions against common morals, customs, and laws—as interruptions or crossings of mimetic flows—are transmitted from person to person and are imitated. Finally, this process leads to social innovation.

Social innovation and theories of social change

Social innovation and dynamics of changes in social functions
Together with the perspective of action theory in analyzing the dynamics of social functions and social changes, this approach gives us a new perspective on the role of social innovation in social change processes. The definition of social innovation as a combination or new formation of social functions enables the integration of different meanings of social innovation and provides us with a new perspective on the relationship between social innovation and social change. This new understanding of social innovation as a new combination or formation of functions in the fields of social operations, with the aim of better managing needs and problems than using existing functions, also shows how social innovation leads to social change. Therefore, social innovation is social to the extent that it changes social action and is accepted and spread in society (for example, throughout society, wider sectors, or only in some social sub-areas).

The social and governance systems in which social innovations are embedded are very complex, and the issues addressed are deeply embedded in current social practices and institutions. In such a complex context, SI-DRIVE developed the concept of “field of action”, which is used as a general type of different activities in a specific domain at the intermediate level to analyze the complex interactions of different innovation activities. Although an activity represents a specific and limited implementation of a solution to respond to demands, societal challenges, or systemic changes, the concept of context explores general characteristics that are common to different projects. This approach enables the analysis of diffusion processes not only at the smallest level of social innovation activities, but also by collecting data at a larger social level where broader user groups and specific social influence have been achieved and where social changes are visible. Likewise, this approach enables us to examine the interactions between small (micro) developments and their integration at a larger level.

The complex relationship between social innovation and social change
In this context, the global mapping of the SI-DRIVE project showed that social innovations are capable of changing or even re-justifying social changes and empowering people. In other words, these innovations have been able to improve social harmony and enable smart, sustainable and comprehensive growth by attracting the attention of different stakeholder groups and even society in general. This mapping sheds light on many social innovations, often unrecognized but still significant, that have responded to everyday social demands or needs.

However, these projects and initiatives are broad and complex in their goals and effects. Like any other innovation, social innovation, despite the positive intentions of the participants, is basically bilateral in its effects. New social functions alone and automatically do not become the correct answer to basic social challenges and military objectives related to social transformation processes. By focusing on solving social and ecological problems that cannot be adequately addressed through traditional economic and governmental methods, many social innovations have a partially remedial function without fundamentally changing past practices and related institutional structures. Additionally, many projects and initiatives do not have the desired impact in society and instead are often confined to the local and experimental level (see here for an article on emerging social innovation). Some initiatives have a broader perspective and direct their actions towards major social challenges and creating new forms of cooperation between different actors and at different levels, along with redefining the relationship between social and economic value. They generally aim to modernize existing structures. Only a few initiatives work explicitly to fundamentally change the functioning and institutional structure of society. Due to this fact and also that the long-term effects on existing practices and institutions have rarely been investigated, the question of the relationship between social innovations and transformational change has now become one of the key questions of social innovation research.

Governance of social change processes
This attitude towards the role of social innovation in social change processes has implications for the governance of social change processes. As such, policies based on action theory focus on social actions and innovation rather than technologies and external influences on attitudes, behaviors and decisions. This policy starts from various contradictions between fixed ways of life and different forms of performance, as well as between social issues and existing deficiencies in solving problems, and relies on strengthening the ability of society to reflect on observing and shaping transformation processes. Social actions – and therefore, social innovation – are always the result of complex and apparent processes that are never controlled by a single individual. In this process, politics does not intervene, but is part of the social arrangements that configure social practices. The focus here is on empowering agents to suspend fixed routines and patterns and acquire learning patterns. Rather than a linear and sequential view of the relationship between invention, innovation and expansion, transformational change is seen as the social and collaborative re-formation of social practices that is fueled by the interplay between invention and multiple imitation.

Changing the perspective on social innovation towards the experimental formation of social learning processes leads to focusing on the mechanisms of imitation and non-linear and non-sequential diffusion, organization and routinization. The question is how to initiate processes of social transformation, and this directs attention to ideal societies. Such societies are interpreted as “institutions, relations and practices that can develop in the present world and also anticipate and lead to the future world”.

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