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From traditional to social innovation support

Innovation promoters – e.g. advisors, hubs, incubators, accelerators and science parks – in Europe and elsewhere provide support to the realization and scaling of innovations through counselling, office space, meeting arenas, contact networks, investment capital etc. Their services are generally directed towards individuals or smaller groups of innovators. They have traditionally supported innovation with a commercial, industrial and technological focus, which means that their tools and services are designed to match the logics and character of such innovations. This has delimited their ability to support the innovative solutions that are now called for in order to address societal challenges and the global sustainability goals in The 2030 Agenda. Innovators with social missions and solutions experience a lack of incitements and competence among traditional innovation promoters to help them realize and scale their ideas.

In order to maintain their relevance and impact for business and society, an increasing number of innovation promoters express an ambition to improve their ability to support social innovators. In Sweden, this ambition is supported by the national innovation agency VINNOVA. Innovation promoters from different parts of the country have joined forces to adapt their services to fit the needs among social innovators. In collaboration with researchers and other experts, this has resulted in tailored tools for social innovation support. Some examples will be presented here.

 

Support in three steps

One of the tools guides the social innovation support in the three main steps that characterize most support services: inflow, in-house and outflow.

Inflow concerns how innovation promoters identify and attract social innovators to their services and milieus. This encompasses tailored communication, where the choice of words, illustrations and channels are adapted to the character and incitements of social innovators. It further encompasses adapted criteria for assessing the potential of the innovators and their innovations, in terms of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

In-house support concerns how innovation promoters support social innovators to realize and scale their ideas and solutions. This encompasses tailored counselling and training in validated methods for social innovation. It also encompasses meeting arenas and contact networks with potential investors, users, customers, partners and other stakeholders with an interest in social innovation.

Outflow concerns how innovation promoters support social innovators on a long-term basis, after taking part of their services and milieus. This encompasses alumni networks of social innovators for mutual support, as well as forms for long-term funding and contracts. Such after-care is especially crucial for social innovators, as their solutions generally need extensive time in order to be accepted and implemented as a value-creating alternative to established solutions in the designated context.

More information is available here.

 

Visualizing the value of social innovations

Another tool helps verifying and visualizing the multiple value that social innovations engender in society. The tool can be used to communicate the value to investors, users, customers, partners, media and others. The tool helps pinpoint and present the value in terms of social, economic and environmental value. It further helps distinguish the value on the individual, organizational and societal levels, as well as on the local, regional, national and international levels. The tool encompasses two model templates – a working model and a presentation model – that can be used in a digital or printed format.

The working model provides a template for describing the social, economic and environmental value engendered by a specific social innovation, on the individual, organizational and societal levels. The template includes some inspiring examples of potential values. Provided examples of social value for individuals include improved life-quality, health, employment opportunities, etc. Provided examples of economic value for individuals are reduced household costs, increased or secured income, etc. Examples of social value for organizations are improved working environment, skills supply, social sustainability profile, etc. Examples of economic value for organizations are increased profitability, reduced staff turnover and environmental costs. Examples of social value for the society are improved public health, labor supply, cultural life, living environment, etc. Examples of economic value for the society are reduced social and environmental costs, increased economic growth, etc.

The working model also provides a template for describing the social, economic and environmental value on the local, regional, national and international levels. In addition, some inspiring examples are provided of how the value can be identified and verified, e.g. by statistics from surveys or self-assessment by users, customers and other stakeholders; storytelling based on stakeholder experiences from individual interviews, focus groups and social media; public statistics and research results in the specific or similar fields; and results achieved in similar initiatives. Inspiring examples are also provided of how the value can be visualized, e.g. through diagrams based on statistics; quotes and other accounts from stakeholders; illustrations of activities and stakeholders; and illustrations of the correlation between the addressed need, the applied resources and efforts, as well as the anticipated or achieved results and effects.

The presentation model provides a template for presenting the value engendered by the social innovation, based on the descriptions in the working model. This is presented in terms of social, economic and environmental value on the individual, organizational and societal levels as well as on the local, regional, national and international levels. There are designated spaces in the template for a short description of the social innovation itself, for the procedures of identifying the value, as well as potential forms for visualizing the value.

The model templates are available here.

 

Transformative innovation support

The tool for transformative social innovation support pinpoints the most relevant dimensions to support in the realization and scaling of social innovations. The tool encompasses three guiding components: 1) Widened views with guiding questions about whose reality should guide the solutions of the future, 2) Dimensions that are central to support in the realization and scaling of social innovations, 3) Examples of methods and initiatives for social innovation support.

Widened views encompasses the following guiding questions:

 

  • Whose needs should motivate the development of new solutions?
  • Whose ideas are highlighted and supported?
  • Whose values of desirable renewal should guide the process?
  • Who benefits from the developed solutions?

 

Dimensions that are central to support in the realization and scaling of social innovations of sustainable solutions are: 1) Perspective & Needs, 2) Co-creation & Collaboration, 3) Design & Realization, 4) Financing & Value Creation.

Perspective & Needs:

– Support in acknowledging and harnessing different perspectives, values and competences when identifying needs, developing solutions and creating value for people and society.

– Support in identifying relevant needs and challenges among different groups of people.

– Support in strengthening the self-image and self-leadership among social innovators.

Co-creation & Collaboration:

– Support in co-creating new solutions with the concerned groups of people.

– Support in identifying those actors in society who are eager to solve the addressed issue.

– Support to cooperate with stakeholders in both the private, public and non-profit sectors.

Design & Realization:

– Support in designing solutions that suit the needs and living conditions among different groups of people.

– Support in realization of the solutions in the everyday life of the concerned groups of people.

– Support in incremental improvement of the solutions

Financing & Value Creation:

– Support in finding appropriate and long-term financing of the solutions.

– Support in creating a business model that provides solution that are economically, ecologically and socially sustainable for the concerned groups of people.

– Support in achieving and measuring social and economic value creation for people and society.

Examples of methods and initiatives for social innovation support, from Sweden and internationally, are available via the link below.

The tool for transformative innovation support is available here.

Malin Lindberg is a professor at Luleå University of Technology, Sweden, where she studies social innovation and inclusive organization. Her research specifically concerns how innovative solutions are developed to societal and organizational challenges, in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Societal actors are actively involved in her research through a participatory research approach, in order to achieve both scientifically and societally relevant insights. Further information is available here.

Further inspiration

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The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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