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Frances Westley

This chapter summarizes the interesting patterns that characterize the evolution of social innovation over time. Social innovations that succeed in transforming intractable problem domains take time: these cases span from seventy to over two hundred years. They are ignited by new social philosophies in most cases, new products or technological inventions in others. Through the activities of a relay team of social and institutional entrepreneurs, those original ideas and initiatives combine and recombine over time with other “adjacent” streams of activity, often in an attempt to secure additional resources of power or capital. As a result most successful social innovations are a collection of elements, some of which are in tension with each other. It is these tensions that continue to drive the evolution of the innovations. This chapter concludes with identification of aspects of early stage social innovations that are key to identifying those with transformative potential.

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Katharine McGowan, Frances Westley and Ola Tjörnbo

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The Evolution of Social Innovation

Building Resilience Through Transitions

Edited by Frances Westley, Katherine McGowan and Ola Tjörnbo

In a time where governments and civil society organizations are putting ever-greater stock in social innovation as a route to transformation, understanding what characterizes social innovation with transformative potential is important. Exciting and promising ideas seem to die out as often as they take flight, and market mechanisms, which go a long way towards contributing to successful technical innovations, play an insignificant role in social innovations. The cases in this book explore the evolution of successful social innovation through time, from the ideas which catalysed social and system entrepreneurs to create new processes, platforms, projects and programs to fundamental social shifts in culture, economics, laws and policies which occurred as a result. In doing so, the authors shed light on how to recognize transformative potential in the early stage innovations we see today.