New frontiers in social innovation research
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How should social innovation be researched? And what should be the relationship between research and action? This piece discusses what can be known about social innovation, how research agendas could evolve and how the study of social innovation fits into the broader picture of research on innovation. Definitions, boundaries and character The first challenge for any researcher is to define their boundaries – what is the object of study, and with what disciplines is this object to be understood? Much of the discussion of social innovation is vague, and there are many competing definitions of social innovation that attempt to delineate a field of study (Jenson and Harrison, 2013). Some present it as simply a new term for the study of non-profits; for others it can encompass almost anything from new types of democracy to the design of products for poor consumers. The definition that I have found more useful describes the field as concerned with innovations that are social in both their ends and their means (Young Foundation, 2012). While this leaves some fuzzy edges, it captures the dual interest of the field in, on the one hand, finding better ways to meet human needs and, on the other, its interest in strengthening bonds of commitment and solidarity. It is a definition which also deliberately internalises the unavoidable tensions that are always present in any kind of social change, since all societies argue about what counts as social good or social value.
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