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 8: Synthesis: self-organization, strange attractors and social innovation

Daniel McCarthy

Abstract

This chapter walks the reader through a broadly systemic analysis of three historic cases of social innovation (Dutch East India Company, Derivatives Trading and the Internet) to distil key insights or patterns of systemic change for scholars and practitioners of social innovation.  These patterns can be interpreted using conceptual tools, metaphors or heuristics from complexity theories so as to both help explain the phenomena and enable social innovators to recognize, and even replicate, patterns of systems behaviour in the complex, evolving systems they are seeking to transform.  While this chapter is not the first attempt to apply insights from complexity and chaos theories to understanding social systems, social change or innovation, it combines insights from pre-existing theories of social innovation, concepts like the “Adjacent Possible”, with ideas from chaos theory and complexity theory.  The resulting complexity-based interpretation highlights both the hope and the potential unintended consequences of any innovation.

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