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In the era of SDGs and Grand Challenges should all innovation be ‘social innovation’?

jochataway20 January 2020

By Joanna Chataway, Rebecca Hanlin and Julius Mugwagwa

Geoff Mulgan, newly appointed Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at UCL STEaPP, has an impressive new book out entitled ‘Social Innovation: How societies find the power to change’.  His ideas about social innovation made us wonder: In this era of changing goalposts for technological innovation, should we think about all innovation as to some degree being social innovation?

Innovation image

All innovation aimed at delivering social and environmental targets requires us to think about social factors, organisational change and other contextual realities. It could therefore be thought of as social innovation.  On the face of it, that would seem fine as a premise but with further reflection we concluded that things weren’t so simple.  It is certainly true that in the overwhelming majority of cases, technology alone won’t achieve social and environmental goals.  But, the difference between ‘innovation’ and ‘social innovation’ seems to us to relate to starting points and how technological innovation is conceptualised in relation to broader societal change.  Technological innovation, even when it is related to social and environmental goals, could be thought of as beginning with a scientific and technical focus, whereas social innovation does not.  The nature of this difference is worth exploring in more detail because the policy implications are important.

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