Social innovation represents a very simple idea--that innovative
social action can create social value beyond the capability of existing
systems. Social innovation can both create new ways of addressing old
issues and accelerate rates of social change. For public policy
interventions, a key proposition is that social innovation may be
understood as a process that has distinctive preconditions and stages,
and those preconditions and stages can be understood and acted upon to
promote innovation. Alternatively if no positive effort is made to
identify and facilitate social innovation processes, policy
interventions may well create barriers and the potential leverage of
social innovation will be lost.
While practice in this area, led by innovative community sector and
public managers is rushing ahead, theoretical commentary, which could
lead to the development of models of practice, has been less evident.
One obvious way to remedy this is to search for a clear definition of
social innovation. This, however, runs the danger of leading into the
mazes of social and innovation theory. Rather than doing that, our
enquiry starts with a face value rubric under which innovation occurs
when a new idea (or combination of old ideas) forms a different way of
thinking and acting that changes existing ideas and/or practices to
create a social benefit. In any case, for policy practitioners, the most
important issue is not to define social innovation but to recognise it.
In particular, understanding that innovation has preconditions and
processes both of which can be acted upon is a necessary step to making
it a practical option for organisational activity and government policy.
At a theoretical level the established policy-relevant debates
which help locate social innovation include theorising around economic
innovation, social capital, community strengthening and regional
development. A brief account of each of these theoretical intersections
is used here to set the scene for a discussion of the practice of social
innovation and an identification of the components of this practice
which might form the basis of a theoretical model.
Intersecting Theoretical Bases
International commentary on economic innovation provides one set of
ideas. which can be useful in establishing the character and locating
the significance of social innovation. In its old form as the
commercialisation of science and the introduction of new technology into
production processes this line of commentary has a considerable pedigree
including giants of economic theory such as Schumpeter (1939) and
Rosenberg (1982). The impact of this view on business practice and
public policy is seen in the normative status of Research and
Development (R&D) as the dominant, and often the only, way of
supporting and measuring innovation. Some contemporary critics of this
approach have located innovation more in incremental changes in how
productive activity is organised and the use it makes of changing
technology, than in major scientific breakthroughs (Fagerberg et al.
2005). This emphasis on what happens in the workplace rather than in the
laboratory has struggled to reverse the policy focus on R&D. Apart
from anything else the latter lends itself to subsidies, grants and
photo opportunities which fit comfortably into both administrative and
political modus operandi. The more incremental approach to economic
innovation focuses greater attention on how people in public, private
and community enterprise constantly adopt and adapt new ideas often
drawn from industry, locality and other networks. In this approach
innovation often begins when a worker, customer or client identifies a
problem in a product or service and seeks a remedy. It is this process
which creates 'the social conditions of innovative enterprise'
(Lanzonic 2007: 30ff). Most significantly for this article these new
understandings of innovation processes start in practice rather in
laboratory-based development of scientific knowledge. A similar point is
evident in the criticism of Porter's initial list of factor
conditions of competitive advantage (Porter 1990; O'Shaughnessy
1996) and his subsequent addition of locality and culture to his list of
enablers of competitive advantage (Porter 1998). Together the new
approach to innovation and Porter's revised competition theory give
credibility in economics to social factors in general and particularly
to the agency of people and place as significant in creating the
enabling conditions for innovation. As we shall see these are precisely
two of the distinguishing features of social innovation.
A second intersecting source of commentary relevant to social
innovation came in the form of the social capital literature. The
abstract ideas of this literature have. struggled to gain traction in
the worlds of policy and business. It did, however, produce a strong
line of international research which found that social capital ideas
were directly related to personal and collective well-being (Granovetter
1974; Coleman 1988; Tomison 1996; Vinson et al. 1996; Porter 1998; Young
and Glasgow 1998; Berkman and Glass 2000; OECD 2001; Lin 2001; Szreter
and Woolcock 2004). In particular participation in communities was being
reflected in: better physical and mental health; higher educational
achievement; better employment outcomes; lower crime rates; decreases in
maltreatment of children; and an increased capacity for a community to
respond to threats and interventions. In Australia efforts by the
Australian Bureau of Statistics to measure social capital (ABS 2004) and
Productivity Commission work on its policy implications (Productivity
Commission 2003) were evidence of a more concerted effort to understand
the tools needed to turn the social capital ideas into usable policy
instruments. The relevance of these ideas to social innovation lies in
their identification of how networks enable knowledge flows which spark
innovation and how the trust created by social relationships reduces
This social capital theorising led naturally into the third set of
ideas and practices relevant to social innovation: community
strengthening. Overall the body of social capital related research had
established the claim that community engagement diminishes the impacts
of social disadvantage (Gerard 1985). Given the weight of research
opinion, it is hardly surprising to find that governments began trying
many practical ways to enhance participation (Coleman and Gotze 2001;
Gilchrist 2004). In Australia, research was showing that social
cohesion, measured by participation in sport and the ability to get help
when needed, was associated with lower levels of negative social
outcomes such as rates of imprisonment and early school leaving (Vinson
2004). A principle programmatic approach to this emerged internationally
and in Australia in community strengthening based on the idea that
communities with certain characteristics produced better social
indicators and that therefore governments should be seeking to build
those characteristics. More recent work has begun to connect this idea
of community strength and resilience with the impact of families on
social outcomes (de V. Peters et al. 2005). This produces a very
interesting convergence between what has recently (but not always) been
a conservative political idea--family, and what has recently (but again
not always) been a leftwing political category--community. The point for
our argument is, however, that characteristics of locality (people and
place) emerge from both the social capital literature and community
strengthening practices as central enabling conditions for addressing
complex social issues. It is in this area of complexity that social
innovation has greatest potential for public management. This is because
existing approaches based on less flexible theoretical and operational
categories struggle when faced with issues which spill over disciplinary
foci and organisational structures.
The fourth set of debates which help locate social innovation among
the ideas which have policy impact is concerned with regional
development. Here economic literature on 'cluster theory'
(Porter 2000; Florida 2003) meets geography's new regionalism
(Cooke and Morgan 1998: Rainnie and Grobbelaar 2004) harking back to
established concepts such as the milieu innovateur (Aydelot 1986) and
newer ones such as the idiosyncrasy of clusters (Andersson et al. 2004).
Essentially these theories share a focus on the significance of locality
based drivers and their dynamic contribution to innovation, wellbeing
and prosperity. The possibility that they may lead to an over-emphasis
on physical (economic and environmental) factors to the exclusion of
social factors, especially when it comes to planning, needs to be noted.
In other words it is important to note that 'community' needs
to be understood in terms of both people and place if it is to be useful
in policy terms. The key factors emerging from the regional development
debates as ensuring that this occurs include: local leadership;
institutional capacity; trust relations; the significance of history and
narratives; local area data; network relations and a recognition of
interdependence between the worlds of social, economic, natural and
human capital. Regional development policy has recently seen the
creation of platforms on which innovations systems are built as being
the key idea in translating theory into practice. Institutional
arrangements indicative of this include mechanisms for inter-municipal
co-operation in Europe and cross border collaboration in North America
(OECD 2005: 103ff, 113ff). Less formal instruments which focus the
attention of central government agencies on regional issues include the
use of a 'rural lens' in Canada, the creation of micro-regions
in Mexico and the role of rural pathfinders in the United Kingdom (OECD
2006: 80, 87, 85). It is no accident that these policy platforms and
initatives display precisely the focus on people and place based social
relations which are evident in the other literatures and in social
These four sources of commentary: economic innovation, social
capital, community strengthening and regional development, together
contribute the old ideas which come into new associations in what is
being termed social innovation. Mulgan (2006) has refreshed the
literature in an international context while Smyth, Riddell and
Jones' (2005) collection of cases provides examples of practices in
Australia. While by no means exhaustive this collection is noteworthy
for its inclusion of examples from all levels of government and across
the spectrum of social policy themes. What has not yet been attempted in
the Australian context is to draw these themes and points of policy
intervention together into an integrated framework. The following
discussion addresses this lack using a historical perspective to place
the arrival of social innovation as a policy and action option in the
context of the community sector in Australia.
Origins of Social Innovation in Australia
The value of social innovation in terms of public management is
connected to the changes which have taken place in how social action has
been organised in the community sector. In particular the changes in
conceptual frameworks for social action need to be understood to place
social innovation in the context of practical social action. We capture
some aspects of these changes in Table 1.
The relationship between what is being done, that is the drivers
and character of activity, and how it is being done, that is the
instruments which operationalise the activity, is particularly
significant for understanding the changing role of the community sector.
Up until the early 1900s the dominant focus of organizations taking
social action to improve wellbeing was the salvation of, and indeed
competition for, souls. Organisations operating in the community sector
were offshoots of the churches and operated within a religious and
paternalistic framework. From the beginning of the twentieth century to
the end of World War 2 this mindset shifted towards a focus on charity
for the poor and meeting people's basic physical needs. An
indicator of the difference between these approaches was the shift from
indoor relief, in which church-based organizations sought to bring
people into their physical and organisational structures, to outdoor
relief, in which charities sought to go out into communities to provide
material support for the disadvantaged. Their similarity lay in the
paternalistic mindset in which some of the well-off saw a duty to act
for those less fortunate than themselves. Not only were the impulses
charitable but the recipients were passive.
With the emergence of the welfare state as a model for the delivery
of social security, the community sector shifted towards filing the gaps
in state-based service provision. This often meant looking after the
most disadvantaged or those whose exclusion arose from factors of which
particular states were unable to take account. With the change in the
dominant public administration paradigm towards market based rationality
of the 1980s and 1990s, this initially changed remarkably little. Market
failure simply replaced government failure as the driver of community
sector activity, with the social inclusion/exclusion paradigm remaining
dominant (Room 1995). So community sector organisations found themselves
sweeping up after the market rather than filling the gaps in state based
welfare provision. They continued to play a counterbalancing role for
people who fell through the welfare cracks. The market based
rationality, however, increasingly introduced an important new element
into community sector activity as Non Government Organisations (NGOs)
took on a direct service delivery role on behalf of government. The new
instruments were competition and contracts with all the attendant
regulatory, compliance, auditing and management practices. During this
period the sector began to look less like charity and more like an
industry, with increasing levels of professionalisation and
business-like modes of operation. The policy deficits which have seen a
retreat from the high water mark of this new public management era had
particular impacts on service delivery, with state-funded social welfare
increasingly contracted out to community organisations for whom it
became core business (The Smith Family 2007). During the 1990s a new
stage began to emerge with social investment capturing the character of
activity and social innovation becoming a major instrument. This has
impacted on both community sector organisations and government agencies
with social service delivery mandates. It is this stage in which social
innovation merges as a usable public policy model because of its
capacity to address complexity and its sustainability. Both arise from
being able to access resources not available in other models of activity
in government, business or community organisations.
This period in which social innovation practices are moving into
policy, business and community sector activities is characterised by an
inter-sectoral interest in new ideas and ways of doing things which
create social value. The view underpinning this is that increasing
social value has impacts in areas as diverse as sustainability,
employment creation, physical security and personal health. At this
practical level, social innovation can be defined as mould-breaking ways
of confronting unmet social need by creating new and sustainable
capabilities, assets or opportunities for change. It is different from
charity, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and
not-for-profit operations in three important respects. First, social
innovation involves an interest in developing capacities by investing in
people's skills and resources. In this sense social innovation
represents an investment in human capital which can lead to outcomes
such as enhanced capacity for voluntary activity and employment as well
as new business start-ups. Second, it adopts an investment, rather than
a deficit, model. This enables a focus on the assets of particular
communities rather than their problems and makes positive place-based
practices possible because in identifying community assets practitioners
also identify local opportunities. Third, is it is concerned with scale
and sustainability where people live, work and play. This local level
focus draws together sets of otherwise contrary influences which can be
mediated around place rather than setting up a dynamic of competition
for scare resources. Social innovation then is about creating a new
level of capability which changes the framework within which issues are
addressed. It focuses on creating social value but in doing so adds
value to communities in ways which can drive improved productivity.
Social Innovation in Practice
The emergence of social innovation practices in the last few years
now makes it possible to develop a list of characteristics and to
identify how these might be integrated into organisational responses.
International experience is focusing particular attention on the role of
the public sector as both an innovator in itself and a facilitator of
social innovation in general (Mulgan 2007; Harris and Albury 2009).
Observation of the Australian experience leads us to the contention that
in public policy terms, social innovation is new, useful and actionable.
It is new to the extent that it is a break from the orthodoxy of
community, business and government sector activities. This does not,
however, mean that it does not include some well established and tested
ideas. It is useful in that it adds value to the problem solving
activities of all three sectors. It does this by focusing on how a given
risk or opportunity can be approached in such a way that both the
processes and outcomes build capacity in individuals and communities. It
is actionable because it fills the needs for the community sector to
(re-) discover life beyond contracts, for business enterprises to
leverage social and locality factors, and for government organizations
to develop their ability to interact and perform at community levels.
More specifically it is now possible to differentiate social
innovation from other forms of innovation and list its components. A
starting point here is to reiterate that social innovation is different
from other forms of innovation and other forms of social action. Under
social innovation it is the social benefits which are seen as the major
output adding value in ways which drive economic opportunity and
performance. Social action, in contrast, has generally focused on
welfare provision to address social problems. It has thus been
positivist and interventionist. Social innovation by contrast is
constructivist and community based. Characteristic actions
differentiating the social innovation approach from more traditional
forms of social action and from economic innovation include:
* Shifting focus from social needs to social assets;
* Revaluing community as a social agent;
* Seeing the community sector as an industry;
* Focusing on the creation of skills and employment opportunities;
* Building community enterprises; and
* Establishing inter-sectoral partnerships.
A brief discussion of each of these types of activity will show how
social innovation is different and how it is being operationalised by
practitioners in some areas of Australian public policy and management.
These features of social innovation all represent mindset shifts
which are now observable slowly entering the mainstream of practice in
both community organisations and in government agencies with social
policy mandates. The first and most important is the shift in thinking
in social policy from needs to assets. This approach begins with an
understanding of the current and potential resources that can be brought
to bear on a risk or an opportunity. The focus is on building assets as
a resource to prevent needs becoming crises and to increase personal
involvement in addressing issues. This may mean changing the way in
which governments interact with business and communities of location and
interest (Pope and Lewis 2008). Three areas of contemporary innovative
activity may serve to demonstrate how this is happening in particular
fields. These are finance, urban regeneration and risk management. The
resource focus of a social innovation approach may be observed in the
rise of new fields of activity in the finance industry including the
growing fields of micro finance, micro credit, financial literacy, low
income loans and peer to peer finance (Alhert, 2009). An institutional
example of this in Australia is the Bendigo Bank's social
sustainability approach to finance (Stubbs and Cocklin 2007). Under a
social innovation approach these all become part of the assets mix which
might be used to address issues of lack of opportunity and economic
welfare. In urban regeneration the place-based strategies which have
become so popular in the Europe (Gomez 1998) and the USA (Ward 1996)
show how a community assets focused approach can be used to address
issues of urban decay and land use planning. In terms of risk management
at both individual and community levels, social innovation approaches
focus away from needs towards assets, enabling the identification of
risk and protective factors. Actions which flow from this involve
building protective factors and mitigating risk factors. While the
mapping of risk and protective factors is something which is yet to be
widely adopted in Australia either for individuals or for communities,
the practical implications are familiar to practitioners. An example of
a community risk identifiable using a social innovation framework, is
high dependence on a small number of ageing volunteers.
A second distinctive feature of a social innovation approach is the
focus it places on revaluing communities as having agency. In this
approach communities are seen as having value because they can cause
things to happen. The assumption here is that the positive aspects of
communities can be leveraged, and that even in communities which are
dysfunctional there exists the potential to identify and utilise
characteristics and dynamics which can turn them around. Despite
increased social mobility most Australians are still part of one, or
several, communities. These may be communities of location, or
communities of interest including professional, virtual, and even
temporary communities. What they have in common is a series of
characteristics which make them valuable to people. First communities
provide a space in which friendships are made and from which support can
be sought. So communities can be fun and can provide security. Second
communities are a space in which identities are forged, enabling people
to sort out values and views about themselves, others and the world
(Rutherford 1998). So communities are sense-making machines. Third and
because of their sense-making role, communities are places where people,
especially young people, learn to make judgements about the world. So
communities are formative and summative. Fourth communities are a place
in which people seek access to resources for living, working and
playing. So communities make people feel proud and foster a willingness
to contribute to the public good through activities like volunteering.
Finally communities can be a place where creativity, diversity and
innovation emerge. So communities are as important to business as they
are to social welfare.
The fact that these features of communities have feel-good value
ought not to mask the utility of a community based approach in
addressing complex issues (Hess and Adams 2001). That community is an
idea whose time has come in public administration is clear from the way
the names of government agencies have been changing. On hundred and
fifty years ago good new ideas about the relationship between policy and
human capital were expressed in the creation of departments of education
and health. Ten years ago there were no departments with a focus on
social capital and community building. Today internationally there are
over 70 including five in Australia created in the last five years. This
represents a very public recognition of the value to democratic
government of including community in its instrumentation. It may yet
prove problematic because the idea of community, even where it is
accepted as having positive potential, may not work effectively within
the straight jacket of formal agency.
A third factor in the social innovation approach is the recognition
that the community sector is actually an industry with a full set of
industrial characteristics including risk, opportunity, investment,
management, evaluation of performance and outcomes. The social value
outcome of community sector activity is seen by many of its
practitioners in the creation of social justice without which the sector
loses much of its raison d'etre. This focus can have a limiting
effect as it may prevent those in community-based organisations
appreciating the necessity for practical instruments which can improve
sustainability and effectiveness. On the other hand there are signs that
some in the community sector have taken this step to seeing themselves
as part of an industry. The creation of Industry Planning Units in
various peak organisations of the community sector is one example of the
increasingly professional and businesslike way in which community sector
organizations are undertaking their activity.
A fourth characteristic of the trend towards social innovation is
the emergence of community enterprises. These take a variety of forms,
but are most visible in the (re-)emergence of co-operatives as a way of
doing business in which commercial operations make a return on
investment to the community not individual private shareholders.
Examples include traditional co-operative structures, those with
particular relationships with State governments and those with links to
well established community sector NGOs. (2) In areas experiencing
disadvantage, these sorts of enterprises may provide pathways into
social inclusion, skills and financial security. These are the fastest
growing businesses in Australia and are playing a significant role in
making social innovation possible. Where social innovation fails it is
often because of financing. Community enterprises have the potential to
address this because they can integrate sustainable finance from the
earliest stages of the development of new ideas. By contrast in some
parts of the community sector there has traditionally been an ethos that
government has a responsibility to adequately fund good new ideas. If
this was ever the case it is certainly so no longer. The growth in
community enterprises is, however, uneven and often subject to very
local factors--especially the capacity and willingness of communities to
support innovative activity.
Finally social innovation has a focus on merging ideas, practices
and resources between sectors--government, community and market.
Community enterprises are an example of this especially as they often
involve partnerships between individuals and groups originating in
different sectors. This intersectoral character increases the
sustainability of social innovation by spreading risks and drawing in
varied types of resources, including knowledge, from different sources.
Where failure arises from one of these areas it does not necessarily
doom the whole enterprise. Cross sectoral involvement also widens buy-in
and facilitates diffusion of ideas and benefits.
Social Innovation and Public Policy
It is our contention that social innovation has a major role to
play in the contemporary development of public policy and management.
The major reason for this is that traditional ways of addressing social
issues are not working. Several generations of highly professional
dedicated public policy makers and managers. have worked their way from
the welfare state to contracting out social welfare provision but
persistent and intractable social problems remain unresolved and have
arguably gotten worse. Levels of poverty, for instance, remain at best
relatively stable. Even in its starkest forms, such as child poverty,
despite publicly expressed interest at the highest levels of government,
and numerous strategies, genuine success has been limited. For those of
us living in regional Australia these failures are particularly galling
as our postcodes and electorates continue to be among the most
disadvantaged on most measures of social wellbeing.
As a result of the contemporary trends in the community sector and
in how government relates to communities, this need for innovation in
social policy areas can now be addressed using new ideas about the
enabling conditions for successful social innovation. There is a growing
body of evidence including publicly available reports on how particular
innovations have worked. An analysis of the socially innovative Caroline
Springs Partnership in Victoria provides a single example which captures
many of components of success. This began in 2005 with a developer,
Delfin Lend Lease, a local government, Melton Shire, and the Department
for Victorian Communities, establishing an entity to plan and guide the
development of a new community of 24,000 residents on the western
outskirts of Melbourne. A departmental evaluation conducted after five
years provides valuable insights into the determinants of success and
the interventions which created these (DPCD 2010).
Key features of this success story are the effectiveness of shared
community and school facilities which have involved not only better use
of resources and improved services but also increased rates of
participation. The ten new schools (four Government and six private) are
co-located with diverse community activities. These include:
* A children's hub with pre-school, maternal and child health
services and several playgroups;
* Two outdoor sports fields, with synthetic pitches, lighting, gym
and toilet facilities, used by three schools and four community based
* A community centre with occasional care, maternal and child
health services, counselling services, holiday activities, disability
support and new parent support;
* A performing arts centre;
* A shared plaza from which entry is gained to 3 schools and the
community centre; and
* A community services hub in which local government, churches and
community organisations have offices.
The Caroline Springs Partnership is described by the policy makers
who have implemented it as 'an alliance model. A significant
enabling factor for this has been that the alliance operates at all
stages of the project. It is not just a matter of sharing facilities
once they are established--although the improved services and lower
costs this involves are seen as significant in themselves. Rather it is
about collaborating from the start to deliver infrastructure which
serves both economic and social objectives. The Caroline Springs
experience is that both the facilities thus delivered and the fact that
they have been developed co-operatively leads to better services, lower
costs,. greater connectedness and increased community strength (DPCD
Practitioner-oriented reports of this type are augmenting a small
body of more general material on the interventions which have
accelerated the rate and effectiveness of social innovation. Serious
gaps in this material, however, remain. Importantly understandings of
social innovation lag well behind explanations of economic innovation.
One result of this is that, in public discussion and policy, innovation
is overwhelmingly treated as economic innovation with a narrow focus on
technical efficiency and the commercialisation of science and
technology. Although there is case study material on the links between
economic and social innovation this is yet to be theorised, so it is
difficult to establish a generalised view of the utility of social
innovation as compared to the effectiveness of economic innovation. The
social innovation evident in the Caroline Springs Partnership has had
direct benefits in terms of efficiency through economies of scale. It
has also delivered a level of collaboration between private sector,
government and community which is already having cost and quality
impacts on the delivery of services. These include some addressing of
needs which were not thought of in the initial planning.
In fact, as mentioned earlier in this article, understandings of
economic innovation have been shifting towards views more compatible
with the social innovation approach. Traditional models of economic
innovation focused on research and development investments. Governments
subsidised this through tax policy and took the lead in 'picking
winners' in areas such as biotechnology and nano-technology. Newer
understandings stress that innovation occurs across all industries and
areas of economic activity but is often 'hidden' because its
contributions to productivity are not visible to orthodox government
agencies using traditional policy instruments. This brings
post-invention effects including adoption, diffusion, take up and
spillover into clearer focus as essential aspects of the innovation
process. Crucially these new understandings of economic innovation also
emphasise the importance of place and locality as drivers of innovation
because it is often in and through communities of interest and location
that these subtle effects of innovation take place. Nonetheless most
funding continues to be grant based and therefore focuses on specific
firms and stages of innovation, such as product development. This limits
the impact of outcomes by corralling them within the firm.
A significant conjunction is that the newer approaches to economic
innovation and the social innovation approach deliberately focus more on
the characteristics and assets of a place rather than the internal
processes of an enterprise. Table 2 captures this movement. One key
point to note in the context of this article is the increasingly
co-operative focus of the new approach to economic innovation,
especially the phenomena of clustering and networking to support mutual,
or at least overlapping, interests. This brings economic innovation into
territory familiar to social policy. The other outstanding factor is
that the governance needs of the three approaches to innovation shift in
a fundamental sense from a focus on firm level, top-down action driven
by positivist assumptions and expert knowledge to a focus on local
action in which approaches to issues are constructed in the process of
dealing with them.
Under the traditional approach firms innovated and then sorted out
the governance through licencing and patents certified by agencies
usually at national level. In the newer approach governance processes
which establish networks, often at regional level, become a critical
precondition for effective innovation. The role of trust relations and
the impact of intermediaries are two important implications. The latter
are particularly interesting in terms of targeting interventions because
these people who cross the boundaries between discourses, cultures,
professions and institutions can not only play a vital role in
facilitating network co-operation but can also be a resource provided by
government. In the Caroline Springs Partnership, for instance, a central
role was allocated to and played by a 'broker' who had deep
connections in the area through previous activities in local government
and the private sector. This person was employed by the Partnership and
became a conduit for local knowledge into the development process. For
the institutions of the Partnership this represented a considerable
challenge as the 'broker' needed the freedom and resources to
interact widely in ways unfamiliar in the modus operandi of both the
private developer and the government agencies.
The nature of innovation, and particularly of the new
understandings of economic and social innovation, indicates the
existence of an underpinning innovation value chain. This is formed
where actions taken in one area support and stimulate actions in others.
A problem we face in this regard in Australia is that government
interventions often take the form of pilot projects which fail to gain
permanent form. They are completed when funding is exhausted. A report
is made followed by a new grant application and another pilot is begun.
This grant driven cycle may result in invention addressing a particular
enterprise process issue. It does not result in a sustainable cycle of
innovation. In order to make the best use of innovation we need a
systematic approach which links activities across silos and sectors.
For public policy interventions encouraging moves in this direction
are evident in a number of Australian jurisdictions. The Government of
Victoria led the way almost a decade ago decade with the establishment
of the Department for Victorian Communities with its ambitious agenda to
make community the focal point for government interventions (Hess 2003).
Now its community building program includes the partnership, cross
sectoral and combined social and economic benefit approaches
characteristic of social innovation (Victoria 2009). At a national
level, the 'Relationship Matters' report (FaCSIA 2008)
focusing on 'corporate community investment' reflects the view
that social innovation can deliver outcomes in areas in which more
orthodox approaches have been failing. The principles of South
Australia's Social Inclusion Initiative are also now reflective of
social innovation practices focusing on linking people and communities
for social and economic outcomes (South Australia 2009: 8). The
emergence of a hybrid organisation linking government and non-government
interests in social innovation with the creation of the Australian
Social Innovation Exchange (http://www.asix.org.au/) is an attempt to
create a national network around the idea.
While social innovation now boasts a range of practice in Australia
and internationally its future, especially as a useful aspect of public
policy and management, is far from secure. This is partly because its
success depends on crossing boundaries and it therefore lacks an
institutional, professional or disciplinary home. The contrast with
economic innovation is striking. Here a strong body of theory developed
over many years within a rigorous disciplinary framework has helped
embed the idea at the heart of public policy and management. In
Australia each year over $2 billion of public funds are directed at
economic innovation (Productivity Commission 2006) yet social innovation
struggles to even get on the page.
Practical efforts are driving an upsurge in social innovation
actions such as community enterprise development at state level and
corporate social responsibility practices in the private sector.
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David Adams *
Michael Hess **
* University of Tasmania
** The University of New South Wales
(1.) While this characterisation of periods is our own historical
analysis, it is consistent with the work of others such as Lyons (2001)
and Smyth, Reddell and Jones (2005).
(2.) Web sites typical of these are at
-F86C7EE404E8/0/CDEPOrganisationList3.pdf; and http://www.comm
* Professor David Adams is Professor of Management and Innovation
in the School of Management at the University of Tasmania. He is Chair
of the Tasmanian Food Security Council and Tasmanian Social Inclusion
Commissioner. His email address is David.Adams@utas.edu.au.
* Professor Michael Hess is head of the School of Business at the
Australian Defence Force Academy campus of the University of New South
Wales, where he is editor of the Labour and Management in Development
Journal. Previously, as Professor of Management at the University of
Tasmania, he was one of the founding members of the Australian
Innovation Research Centre. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table 1: Phases in the development of the community sector (1)
Period Characterisation Instruments
To 1900 Competition for souls Evangelisation
1900-1950 Meeting basic needs Charity
1950-1970s State-based welfare Filling the gaps
1980-1990s Market based welfare Competition and contracts
from 2000 Investment in communities Social innovation
Table 2:.Contrasts and Similarities in Economic and Social
Old economic New economic Social
innovation innovation innovation
Drivers shareholder market position social
Location firms industries/ community
Leadership company industry distributed
Ideas from experts shop floor networks
Actions research and invention, building inter-
development diffusion, sectoral
Relations ownership mutual interest trust
Interventions grants, tax incubators/ facilitating
breaks infrastructure network
Governance licences, partnerships partnerships