Understanding social innovation as an innovation process: applying the innovation journey model
2019 – In this article Oeij, Van der Torre, Vaas and Dhondt, try to answer the question: ‘what lessons can we draw from social innovation processes if we analyze them with a model that is developed to describe and analyze technical and business innovations: the innovation journey (Van de Ven, 2017).
The innovation journey model is a process model distinguishing between the initiation, development and implementation/termination period of innovations. It looks at drivers and barriers, like innovation managers, investors, setbacks, adaptation and infrastructure.
The authors/researchers made a ‘translation’ of the model to be able to use it for the assessment of social innovation processes. Actually they operationalize the technical model in to a model to assess social innovation.
Using the new constructed model they did a secondary analysis of 82 case-reports. These are a selection out of 1005 cases (worldwide) mapped for the international study: SI-DRIVE. The scores were used in a qualitative analysis, using the Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) method.
The QCA analysis showed that six combinations of seven elements provided the biggest chance for adoption of the social innovation. In the article these six combinations are described as ‘paths’ and the authors gave these paths names to characterize and distinguish them. For each path a typical case is presented.
Path 1 Filling a gap
Four cases went this path.
The initiators see a system failure as a supply is missing that is needed. Authorities are hesitant to act or finance the initiative: they prefer to wait and see. Other stakeholders undertake joint action (initial stakeholder commitment) to fill the gap, using networks that are already in place (infrastructure). They progress in pragmatic ways with limited financial and political support. When eventually the innovation has proved to work, a quick acceptance and integration in the system or adaptation of the infrastructure follows.
The best practice for this path is a hospital in Germany (Kinzigtal). This hospital succeeded in creating integrated care in its region, where at first a lack of cooperation between existing institutions and professionals (from general practitioners and hospitals… to insurance companies and voluntary associations) led to ineffective and inefficient working processes. The logic of this sound idea for a social innovation fitted well into the existing infrastructure.
Path 2 Self-reliant empowerment
This path was also followed by four cases.
Relatively few new stakeholders follow the initiators in their identification of a clear and concrete social problem and participate in the development of solutions. Traditional stakeholders on the other hand stay aside. In this case there is substantial financial and political support; often resources of the new stakeholders (an NGO for example) can be used. In the networks of these new stakeholders the social innovation is adopted quickly and so an infrastructure is provided. Sometimes they scale up by being adopted by an international organization.
The case that illustrates this path is Learning Cycles from Colombia. Children and their families who are social vulnerable and dropping out from schooling system are encouraged to receive an education so that these children can successfully enter the formal education system. Thanks to support by UNESCO the project could be scaled up and implemented in the existing infrastructure and schools.
Path 3 Incremental progress
This was the path for sixteen cases.
Initiators (scientists, politicians, social workers…) with a convincing idea and with stamina are capable of setting things in motion that along the way create an ever growing consensus, for instance by mobilizing media attention. The idea does not require much evidence and does not experience serious adversity as it often speaks for itself. Step by step the social innovation becomes embedded within the system.
The case that represents this path is the Storytelling Grandmas from Argentina. The idea was to improve the intergenerational tradition of reading in early childhood to improve reading practices with the help of story telling grandmothers. On the other hand, this innovation provide these grandmothers with a new meaningful role in society to enhance cohesion. There was a growing consensus about this initiative without serious setbacks and the initiative gradually developed towards a national programme, which has even been copied by other countries.
Path 4 Power based design
This is the most popular path, followed by twenty cases.
Appropriate social innovations take off when they are themselves sound concepts but require power to get accepted. Ingenious people make such plans accessible and understandable and soon many relevant stakeholders follow. Because it is a sound plan that actually is latent in society, consensus is growing quickly and financial and political support easily acquired. Embedding in the existing infrastructure does not need any attention.
She Taxi, a project in India exemplifies this path. An influential institution founded by a ministry to promote gender equality (Gender Park, GP) developed a convincing plan to establish taxi companies by and for women. Right from the beginning important stakeholders were involved: the government, the private sector and women entrepreneurs and financial and political support was easily acquired. GP generated strong publicity with the participation of a well know film actress. They used the momentum of a societal climate of rage after the rape and murder of a woman using public transport in the region. Thus consensus over this social innovation easily grew.
Path 5 Powerful people and leadership
Eighteen cases followed this path.
A leading initiator (a person, NGO or foundation) is capable of mobilizing, inspiring, creating synergy or direction. Qualified staff is available and brings the initiative further. Either existing infrastructure is used or new infrastructure is created.
The case that represents this path is the social enterprise One Acre Fund (OAF) a project in Kenya. A powerful person from this enterprise developed several services to help, advise and train local farmers and to change their methods, marketing and sales, relations with suppliers and planning in order to enhance their income. The social enterprise employed qualified staff that was able to teach and help the farmers. The concept of OAF is being rolled out in six other countries and turns out to be a healthy service supplier with a sound business concept.
Path 6 Resilient goal setting
There are four cases following this path.
Initiatives set up in a context of political and economic instability succeeded in conquering resistance, pitfalls and set backs largely by mobilizing stakeholders right at the start, such as an NGO. In the beginning there was no qualified staff to execute the plan, however after a period of time in which the initiator kept on chasing the goal, the social innovation was rooted and institutionalized in society.
School for Life, a Ghanaian NGO is illustrative for this path. The national NGO was supported by a big international aid organization for literacy education. The NGO designed a programme to prepare children from poor families for entry in the formal education system. In the region there were no teachers available and therefor local people were trained to act as teachers (‘barefoot teachers’). Despite many barriers and set backs the local NGO succeeded to acquire funds after years of finding practical solutions and resilient goal setting.
Lessons for practice
The lesson for practitioners is: to study the six successful paths and steer their social innovative initiatives towards a path (a combination of elements) that fits best with their own practice.
Oeij, Peter R.A.; Torre, Wouter van der; Vaas, Fietje, Dhondt, Steven. ‘Understanding social innovation as an innovation process: Applying the innovation journey model’. In: Journal of Business Research 101 (2019) 243-254. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2019.04.028
Theme: Innovation & innovation capacity, International