What are (not) Spaces for Social Innovation?

What are spaces for social innovation (SSI)? What do they do? What spaces deserve to be under the SSI umbrella? This may sound as obvious questions. From the name itself, “spaces for social innovation”, it seems that these spaces define themselves through their purpose. In a previous post I discussed that “for”, refers to “intended to benefit or help something”. Spaces for social innovation are thus spaces that benefit… social innovation. Is it this clear though?

SIX defines experimental spaces for social innovation as “labs, hubs, incubators and accelerators designed to catalyze and grow social innovation”. Indeed, this informal definition, as well as others similar ones seem closely related to the argument above. I decided to look at different types of spaces that talk about social innovation in their purposes. Though some of them have a rounded up purpose that addresses clearly and exclusively social innovation processes and outcomes, other use various terms to describe their activity and their affiliation with social innovation. Do they count in the same amount? Below are some examples of different purposes from different spaces, experimental or not, physical or digital from all around the world.

  • Social Innovation Campmatches software developers and those with an understanding of a social problem to help them start and grow technology-based social ventures.
  • IkasHUB aims ” to develop personal skills and generate new ideas with value for the society”
  • 27th Region intents “to provide the other regions with the space and opportunity to design and develop innovative approaches to policy. Its goal is to foster creativity, social innovation and sustainability in public institutions, through community projects, prototyping and design thinking.”
  • The Social Innovation Factory  “will unite different players and actors in Flemish civil society to find answers to challenges like poverty, urbanization, multiculturalism, ageing populations and climate change”.
  • The LSE Innovation Co-Creation Lab  “seeks to reduce poverty and promote basic human freedoms through successful business model innovation.

My questions are:

Which are spaces for social innovation?

Which are not?

How did you decide?

hand madeMoving on, I must also consider looking at different spaces that represent social innovation initiatives or projects unlimited in time. They are usually either focused on addressing a particular social need or address only a narrow audience. An example that I am particularly fond of is the Mess Hall, an experimental cultural center, in Chicago, that hosts all kind of events and activities but is also opened to anyone who wants to contribute at creating culture. The center is community driven and no admission fee is charged for lectures, readings, workshops, and other events. Neither do they sell anything or write grants. The Hand Made book, by Tessy Britton offers several other similar examples and so do her Community Lover’s guides for those interested in these types of spaces and initiatives. Are we still looking at spaces for social innovation? And if so, where would one draw the line?

 

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Are spaces for social innovation a type of innovation spaces?

It is a common belief that spaces for social innovation are simply a sub-category of spaces for innovation. Spaces for innovation, or innovation spaces are usually defined as spaces that create an environment where innovation can flourish and are commonly found in companies, research institute and universities. Innovation, in this sense, is widely associated to economic, design and technological advancements.

Recent research has recognized the temptation to use social innovation as a fashionable buzzword and associate it with corporate social responsibility, environmental actions or other vague tangential meanings, distancing it from its social character, as well as the political realities and ideologies behind the concept.

It is thus interesting to see that social innovation is more often than not presented in contrast with other forms of innovation around which spaces for innovation are built, drawing a line between the local university’s innovation design lab and the social innovation lab the same community shares.