Social Innovation – What Does this Mean?

A week or so ago we sent out a request for alternatives to “Social Innovation” as the output of knowledge mobilization. Faculty, knowledge brokers and community partners responded.  Since knowledge mobilization supports relationships between researchers and non-academic research stakeholders (community, voluntary, government and private sectors) the term “social innovation” failed to embrace some of the broad social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits that can result from engaged scholarship.  The idea of (re)defining “social innovation” was popular but our suggestions relating to the bottom line (or triple bottom line) were not.  This is fine as they did what they had to do.  They got you thinking.

Some identified concerns
-bottom line sounds like a static thing and I see what your trying to get at as an ever moving, ebbing and flowing concept
-Bottom line implies money saving to me which seems the antithesis of what you’re working towards
-I worry that the bottom line will predominantly resonate with private sector – with government and broader community it may not have the same appeal.  My interactions with government (provincial and municipal) suggest that while “bottom line” may be a factor it is often not the sole or primary one.
-The challenge with labeling as social innovation or any other term comes from the creation of a constraint that excludes
-If SI or KM cannot meaningfully contribute to social justice and decent livelihood’s for all

Some offered advice:
-you should take careful note of what your community partners think your description should be
-you want to come up with something that is a) understandable and b) easily connects with or has an impact on the group affected
-The core of what you are trying to do is create value for the sectors that are of most interest to you: economic, social, cultural and environmental.

Some provided analysis:
-There seem to be at least two kinds of things going on: 1) a concern by universities (and their funders) that the investments made in research are seen to have application to our communities and to society in general in more direct ways than they have traditionally done (KM) 2) efforts by universities to build new mechanisms for the creation of community-university research partnerships (and other kinds of partnerships as well)

And some provided perspective
-I like social innovation and I have no aversion to its association with business/commercialization. The only disadvantage is that it doesn’t include the natural sciences, or economic impacts. The impact of  KMb is broader than social

Many offered alternative suggestions which I have reframed as “Does Knowledge Mobilization…”
-Inform the triple bottom line
-connect Knowledge for Maximum Benefit
-create connected Knowledge that Swarms Bottom Line Thinking
-connect Knowledge to Assets that are Everlasting
-create connected Knowledge that Drives Positive Growth Everywhere
-produce socioeconomic impact
-result in benefit creation (offered twice, independently)
-produce community-University partnerships for change (ResearchImpact would need to modify community as KM embraces government and industry partnerships)
-support societal impact
-support change for society
-produce benefit capital

Now we’re on a second iteration of this effort and I am adding a few names to our list.

1. What do you think about this debate?  Is it valuable or should we just go away and use social innovation as the output of engaged scholarship because we all know what it means?

2. Do we need a term to more comprehensively yet clearly communicate the impacts of brokering relationships between researchers/students and their non-academic research stakeholder collaborators?  If so, what do you think of the other terms provided above?  What is the output/outcome of KM?

2 thoughts on “Social Innovation – What Does this Mean?

  1. Greetings,

    I am the community lead for our CURA project and honestly, I had no idea what social innovation meant. As in many fields, we coin words and phrases that mean something to us but may not resonate with a broader audience. So, what are other alternatives – good question as I don’t really know what social innovation encompasses. Is it a community-university partnership?
    If so, that’s not a bad title.

    All the best,


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