Why am I interested in Spaces for Social Innovation

During my bachelor, I got involved in several student organizations and co-funded one myself, together with 5 other colleagues. I was fascinated by the power of youth collaboration and its outcomes. I later heard of Incubator 107, the place where “anyone can learn from anyone anything”. What a wonderful idea! And why aren’t there more?! Moving to Sweden, I soon came to realize they are indeed more. I lived for one year in Malmö, southern Sweden. I discovered there STPLN, ¨probably the coolest culture and innovation house there is¨, host to HUBn (a free work space for innovative and experimental projects), Factory  (an open do-it-yourself workshop) the Bike Kitchen and many more. But there’s also Garaget, “the extra living room” and Underverket (Swedish for “the miracle”), one of Malmö’s innovative social venue hidden underground. These are the ones I discovered and interacted with but I’m sure that there are many more, only in Malmö, Sweden. My mind filled with questions: what are they? what do they do? how do they do it? who’s allowed there? and many more.

Together with Yatin Sethi who shared my wonder towards these spaces, I started researching how they organize themselves, how  people interact there and how do the spaces strive. I learned about hubs, labs, factories, incubators and many more but I also learned they are different in different ways but they hold to some similarities that bound them together. We discussed these features and characteristics, as the lines between the spaces were thin and we wanted to address not only hub or labs but all spaces which aid social innovation. We eventually called them spaces for social innovation, with the promise that we will come back to it, ground it and describe it, from purpose to characteristics and examples, free to be used by future researchers but also by the spaces themselves, press or anyone interested in this subject. I slowly drifted aside from my promise after I graduated my masters, but I became interested in opening myself such a space: The Mingle Inn. I was trying to define my idea when I came by my previous work and realized I do not only want a general category to put it under, but I want to understand what its characteristics mean,how will they affect it,  what work they imply, what is the best combination for my purposes and so on. I learned that I am no more satisfied by saying that these are spaces for social innovation, but I also want to know all the implications behind it.

Discuss the purpose of spaces for social innovation with me

Learn about why it is important to conceptualize spaces for social innovation

Find out more about spaces for social innovation


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?