The 3 principles of Spaces for Social Innovation

In my previous post, “what are (not) Spaces for Social Innovation“, I went briefly through a few examples of self-proclaimed social innovation spaces and tried to look at how they describe themselves and what can be some constitutive elements of Spaces for Social Innovation.

As a starting point for an emerging theory on spaces for social innovation, I summarized relevant points from sociology and social innovation theory in three main principles that are applicable to all types of spaces for social innovation and can be used as a starting base for their understanding. These three principles may be obvious to many but it is important to have them written down and explained before any further deepening of the concept, as they can later on cause confusion. They do not represent an exhaustive list nor should be considered as a final version, as it represents a work in progress, on which feedback is appreciated.

  1. Spaces for social innovation are social spaces. Space, in this sense, refers to the spatial practice of its social actors, ordered through representations of space with specific spatial codes. These social spaces are thus particularly designed to enable social innovation and are given life solely through the practices of the communities that inhabit them. Following this principle, several mentions must be made such as that the term “space” does not necessarily refer to a physical space, (though there are several theories that suggest that face-to-face interaction facilitates social innovation) or that a large diversity of spaces with a given purpose can be redesigned and understood as a space for social innovation.
  2. Spaces for social innovation are innovative and social oriented. Bringing Social Innovation down to one of its basic definitions, innovative solutions that address social needs, it is important not to confuse spaces for social innovation with organizations that simply offer solutions for social needs that are not innovative in nature (completely new or an improvement of the current used methods) or with organizations that offer innovative solutions but their finality is not focused on addressing social needs. 
  3. Spaces for social innovation engage in the process of social innovation. Described by many with slight variations, the process of social innovation usually entails several stages or steps, from inception to impact: identification of new unmet social needs, development of new solutions (ideas, proposals, prototyping…), evaluation of effectiveness, sustaining and scaling up (diffusion) of effective innovations. Some spaces for social innovation only address the initial steps of the process, while others focus on scaling and diffusion.


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