Creating Welfare Together: New book on social innovation

24.03.2014 Blog

How can the public sector promote and benefit from social innovation? This question is being answered in a new book which recently hit Danish book stores. It’s translated title is ”Creating Welfare Together: better solutions with social innovation” (“Sammen om velfærd: bedre løsninger med social innovation”). In a recent review, the largest Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, called the book ”…a pearl for all those new to the field and all those already working to promote social innovation – not least the many students in our education institutions…”. They awarded it five out of six stars. In this blog post, one of the two authors, John René Keller Lauritzen provides a quick overview of some of the key issues addressed in the book. He writes:

It is time for the field of social innovation to move into the next phase. We are at a point where we have heard the numerous (and often very different) definitions of the term over and over again, and where we have heard the same cases from Bangladesh, the US and the UK one time too many. It is time to move away from the usual ‘what is it?’ and ‘is it worth investing in’, to developing specific tools and guidelines on how it can be promoted and how its social value can be maximized. In our book, my co-author Karsten Frøhlich Hougaard and I are trying to do exactly that. The book is based on international research, which we have been part of for 2½ years through the TEPSIE project; on the experiences derived from running the “Danish  Municipality Network on Social Innovation” and on running multiple implementation projects in local areas throughout Denmark. This work has given us a deep insight into how the public sector can work strategically to promote social innovation as a means to creating better and more sustainable social solutions.

The book starts off introducing the reader to the concept of social innovation – what is social innovation and what is not. When do we simply talk about volunteering, public sector innovation and CSR, and when do we talk about actual social innovation? The book moves on to address where social innovation can potentially come from. It discusses the important role of the public sector, but also how actors such as NGOs, social enterprises, regular for-profit enterprises and online communities can take an active part in shaping the social solutions of the future. But why should we find new models for addressing social challenges through mobilizing non-public actors? Why can’t we just install yet another top-down initiative taken from the shelf of a bureaucrat’s office? The book’s third chapter addresses this important question and highlights a number of areas where the involvement of non-public actors creates added value compared to the traditional public-sector solutions. Following these introductory chapters, the rest of the book is devoted to providing specific guidelines and tools on how to work actively to promote social innovation as a public sector institution.

Chapter four presents a new framework for mapping and addressing barriers to social innovation. Following its presentation, it is used to highlight the most common barriers facing public sector institutions in Denmark and provides directions on how they can be overcome. The fifth chapter provides a framework for analyzing which local challenges can most advantageously be subject to social innovation – to prototyping new schemes run by or in close collaboration with non-public actors.

How can the public sector set up an ecosystem that makes it easy and attractive for social innovators to prototype, implement and scale new concepts? Chapter six provides a number of specific suggestions, focusing both on what the so-called internal and external dimension of the innovation ecosystem. The internal dimension is about ensuring that the public sector institution itself is geared to promote innovation, to test new ideas, to meet the non-public actors on an even playing field and to bring partners from different sectors together to address a common challenge. The external dimension is about setting up attractive framework conditions for the non-public actors by e.g. ensuring the right legislative framework and access to finance, networks, equipment and infrastructure. But if non-public actors are to play a bigger role in shaping the social solutions of the future, how do we then ensure that the solutions provided continue to be of high quality? This is the focal point of chapter seven where a simple input-output model is applied to illustrate where and how different control and quality assurance mechanisms can be installed. Finally, the eighth chapter talks about how social innovation can be spread through scaling and diffusion, and particularly the role that the public sector institutions should play in making it happen.

The book concludes that Denmark has a unique potential for being a global hotbed for social innovation. Over 40% of Danes perform voluntary work and are generally ready to sacrifice for the well-being of others. Danes trust each other like few other people on the planet and the Danish public sector institutions have traditionally proved themselves able to adjust to new times and challenges. So the potential and the key building blocks are there. Now the adjustment needs to happen.

The conclusion provides 11 general recommendations – things that need to happen to ensure a promising future for social innovation in Denmark:
• A new role for the public sector: from fixer to facilitator
• Take leadership!
• Away from the control room…
• … but pay increased attention to quality assurance
• Focus on effect, not on who does the job
• Ask!
• Better welfare – not budget cuts
• A new focus for the labour unions
• SI in our education institutions
• Know what works
• Don’t reinvent the wheel: share knowledge and collaborate

For those interested, the book can be purchased on: