In a study of an innovation now seen as an example of social engineering, this case follows the emergent professional networks of psychologists and bureaucrats trying to reshape American society. The test began as an idea of how intellectual capacity works and a tool to measure it, which fell into the existing debate over social problems of poverty, underachievement and education (mislabelled at the time as feeblemindedness). The opportunities presented when America joined the First World War, and needed to develop a professional citizen army quickly, provided a perfect proving ground for the test’s applicability (if not accuracy). This is a cautionary tale of scientific measurement seeming to support social attitudes, and the power of networks to scale an idea into a policy.
One of the greatest mistakes and legislative failures in Canadian history, categorizing residential schools – public/private partnerships that sought to forcefully assimilate Indigenous children – as a social innovation will challenge many observers. Yet the effort to integrate (assimilate) Indigenous children shares much with the language and focus of many social innovations. This is a cautionary tale of making decisions for a population, seeking assimilation but labelling it resilience, and reminding future social innovators of the risks of disempowering populations in the name of a common social good.
In an inversion of what is usually presented as economic innovation, this case explores the social conditions that allowed the joint stock model to grow and flourish in the Northern Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fuelling the period known as the Dutch Golden Age, the joint stock model allowed for significant, revolutionary shifts in resource flows, and ultimately reinforced an actual Dutch revolution against Spanish colonial authorities. This case illustrates the cross-sectoral requirements for a social innovation to take hold and scale, and how these shifts ripple throughout a society, leaving little untouched.