The Evolution of Social Innovation
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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.
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Chapter 3: The intelligence test

Katharine McGowan


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.

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