Defining social innovation – A 2012 report by TEPSIE

This report was prepared by the Young Foundation, as part of the TEPSIE project

These ten points summarise the reports findings: an understanding and analysis of social innovation, namely what it is, where and how it takes place as well as core features and common elements.

1. The field of social innovation is broad and varied. It covers examples as diverse as microfinance, fair trade, new models of eldercare, preventative interventions in health and criminal justice, co-production, and online platforms which enable sharing, crowdfunding, mass collaboration and peer-to-peer learning.

2. Social innovation is a practice-led field; it is contextual and as such has developed with illdefined boundaries, meanings and definitions.

3. The term social innovation is often used to describe: processes of social change; an aspect of organisational management; social enterprise and social entrepreneurship; the practical development of ‘solutions’ to social challenges; the process of developing the capacities, assets and resources of particular communities.

4. Social innovation is defined in numerous ways. These definitions include the idea that social innovation: is cross-sectoral; is a sub-set of innovation, and distinct from business or technological innovation; has a product and process dimension; has particular stages and phases (from inception to impact); is context specific; is underpinned by values; leads to specific outcomes which are a measurable improvements on existing practices; changes social relations with regard to governance; and empowers beneficiaries by increasing their socio-political capabilities and access to resources.

5. Social innovations are new solutions (products, services, models, markets, processes etc.) that simultaneously meet a social need (more effectively than existing solutions) and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources. In other words, social innovations are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act.

6. We have identified a number of core elements of social innovation. These are: novelty, from ideas to implementation, meets a social need, effectiveness, and enhances society’s capacity to act.

7. Common features of social innovation: cross-sectoral; creates new roles and relationships; open and collaborative; pro-sumption and co-production; grassroots and bottom-up; mutualism; better use of assets and resources; develops capabilities and assets.

8. According to our typology of social innovations, they can include: new products, new services, new processes, new markets, new platforms, new organisational forms and new business models. Social innovations can be incremental or radical.

9. The process of social innovation can go through six stages: prompts; proposals; prototyping; sustaining; scaling; and systemic change. These stages are often iterative and overlapping. 43

10. Social innovation does not refer to any particular sector of the economy, but to innovation in the creation of social outputs, regardless of where they emanate. As such, they can come from the public, private and third sector as well as what we call the informal sector.