What’s Social Innovation? Social innovation is a process of change, based on strategies and ideas that lead to satisfying the economic and social development of a given community.
Before talking about social innovation, it is important to focus on the following elements:
- Improved satisfaction of a collective need: this is closely linked to an accurate analysis of the context and the reference actors and effective use of the available assets;
- Innovation of the relations between economic and social actors, and of their roles: it concerns the development of “new” relations between unrelated actors not directly linked to each other;
- Technology: while not always a necessary and sufficient component of social innovation, technology is a potentially very important lever (as in the case of the shared economy);
- Best use of available goods/resources: best use, refers to increasing the efficiency or productivity of the good/resource, or in the absolute reduction of its use;
- Structural impact: Social innovation is such when it generates a relevant change, with reference to the impact in the long term;
- Economic strength: economic sustainability is a necessary feature of social innovation in order to proceed to the more advanced stages of the project (dissemination of the new product/service and structural change of the socio-economic system).
These elements are interdependent and evolve over time. Social innovation can be divided into five types:
- Technological: allows material reality to be transformed more effectively;
- Economic: it consists in the use of technology at the service of production to achieve a surplus of value;
- Regulatory: modification of the rules and sanctions included in civil and criminal law;
- Normative: identifies values and new social habits;
- Cultural: introduces new practices.
These innovation profiles can be divided into two broad categories:
- The first, called techno-economic innovation, consists of money and is found in businesses and industries;
- The second is called social innovation and includes regulatory, normative and cultural innovation.
Social innovation is implemented within social needs, in fact, it is developed in the mission of the third sector. Social innovation is, therefore, the ability to respond to social needs through innovative, non-profit solutions and models; in fact, it refers to ethical standards such as fair trade practices and respect for workers’ rights. Among the topics most commonly addressed by social innovation are: education, health, safety, environmental protection, social discrimination, crime prevention and inequalities.
European contest and social innovation
Europe and Italy in particular are characterized by a great tradition of social entrepreneurship, associationism and the role of families as the first level of community.
Social innovation is the result of a collective and institutional orientation that takes shape through the development of networks of organizations that exchange information. The Italian debate has focused attention on the mechanisms that facilitate the emergence of a social innovation process through a new way of conceiving the relationship between market and community. The success of a project essentially depends on the ability to associate several actors such as organizations, associations, public and private institutions, organized groups of citizens and assign an active role to each of the participants.
The community plays a very important role as it becomes the place where everyone participates with their own experiences and competencies in the process of creating and testing social innovation.
Conflicts emerge when a plurality of actors face problems concerning social innovation, which depend both on the socio-cultural background of the participating actors and on the socio-historical characteristics of the context in which the innovation is developed.
An example of social innovation in Italy is considered MBS Consulting, a company that responds to the needs of organizations through vision and analysis, research expertise and methods to support transformation. This company achieves lasting results thanks to business consulting methods and tools; its success derives from three orientations:
- Corporate stakeholders ensure management of the change process;
- The focus on strategic objectives is maintained in order to bring about a daily transformation process;
- The company assumes commitment and responsibility for the results set with the customer.
The concept of social innovation and its main applications in the economic and social spheres were outlined; a number of interdependent elements for understanding social innovation and a description of 5 types of innovation were identified, with two important categories, techno-economic innovation and social innovation. In addition, several practices or techniques used by different countries for the development of social innovation were considered.
Subsequently, the analysis focused on the most innovative Italian experience, which has contributed to changing the vision of aspects of the life of organizations and individuals.
The importance of this sector in the economic sphere was ascertained and it was understood how a socially innovative company works and what the main actions adopted in practice are.
The characteristics and values of social innovation are based on knowledge and the dissemination of ideas that have made it possible to respond to numerous collective problems. However, it is not argued that social innovation can offer solutions to all the needs of individuals, but rather that it enables improvement where other forms of innovation do not prove effective.
The Italian industrial and economic fabric has a long way to go in the field of social innovation. For this reason, it will be necessary to expand the use of innovative tools in order to achieve a socio-economic development that is destined to be increasingly focused on social innovation practices.