What in the name of social innovation?

30 August 2016

What in the name of social innovation?

The vacuum cleaner was deemed an early social innovation

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) have traced the origins of the term ‘social innovation’…ahead of a major conference on that very subject.

The University’s Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health will welcome more than 230 delegates from 33 countries to the International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC) in Glasgow next week.

In anticipation, Yunus Centre researchers have researched how ‘social innovation’ came to be, their findings published in the Journal of Social Policy.

Its roots traced as far back as the late 19thC, the research team focused on a 25-year period from 1989, when academics began to write in-depth on the subject.

Analysing 55 different publications, they charted a shift from describing technological innovations such as the vacuum cleaner or call-centres, to present day examples such as microcredit, pioneered by GCU Chancellor Professor Muhammad Yunus.

The researchers also noted a strong interest from policy makers in the USA and Europe, pointing to the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation established at the White House by President Barack Obama, to the €77 billion European research and innovation funding programme Horizon 2020.

Professor Teasdale, Professor of Public Policy and Organisations at GCU led the study, working with colleagues Noorseha Ayob and Kylie Fagan. Professor Teasdale said: “Social innovation is a contested concept with multiple meanings and despite its current popularity among policy makers, it remains largely ignored by leading social policy journals.

“Over time, the term has taken on meanings far removed from its sociological roots. Its use is split between those who see it as any innovation which has a positive social impact, and a more radical tradition that sees social innovation as a process involving and engaging different groups in society in order to promote societal change and empower disadvantaged individuals and groups.”

The latest social innovation research will be the focus of the 8th ISIRC, which starts on Monday, September 5. It features 168 presentations and addresses from GCU Principal Professor Pamela Gillies CBE FRSE and Angela Constance MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities.

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