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 7: The Internet: a dynamic history

Ola Tjörnbo


This case looks at the development of the Internet, a social innovation which has transformed our relationship with communication and information in ways that touch all aspects of our lives. It traces its origins back to the invention of packet switching in both the US and UK, through the emergence of the earliest computer networks, and finally to the launch of the World Wide Web, which made the technology accessible to everyone with a home computer. Though this is a story of new technology, it is also an example of the way that social innovations can be deeply shaped by the convictions and choices of their founders. This case describes the early struggle over the identity of the Internet, how it was shaped by the sometimes utopian aspirations of its creators, and how early attempts to exert ownership and control of the technology largely failed, though the struggle is ongoing.

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