Mutation... and Social Innovation

30.05.2014 Blog

This blog has been written by Greg Winfield.

Rarely do the issues of X-Men and social innovation occur in the same sentence, and maybe that’s more of a problem than you might think. The themes of mutation, genetic variation and diversity are, I feel, most pertinent to the social innovation world, specifically the bubble that surrounds the social innovation ecosystem.

If all the people doing all the thinking on all the problems are always from the inside of the bubble, you’re clearly restricting your ‘gene pool’ of ideas. From there you’re likely to get fewer really new and different ideas developing (mutations, if you will) and thus everything stays pretty much the same, changing a bit, improving a bit. We need to maximise the possibility that new ideas are going to spring out of the social innovation soup and really shake things up.

This is why I’m excited by our work on the Transition programme. Thinkers, sayers and doers from all kinds of sectors, countries, age groups and social backgrounds gathering at The Young Foundation to learn tools for understanding their work, expressing their impact, understanding their users and crunching their numbers. In between that we’re even splicing in in some HR knowledge, a little governance and a few project management skills. We think the curriculum itself is pretty good, but then it should be, having been developed alongside hugely diverse incubator programmes from Finland, France, Italy, Ireland and Spain. This makes it good, but the really special element comes from the people taking part.

They are the not so usual suspects. They’re not the bunch who run into each other at every conference and discuss the latest report or policy (useful though this can be) but those who would likely never get the chance to find out each other existed, let alone challenge each other on their theory of change assumptions or marvel at their nuanced understanding of the archetypal service user.

Friendships form, supportive alliances are created, disagreements occur, and most importantly, ideas bounce around. New ideas. The workshop room always feels lifted by greater awareness and growing knowledge. Through this method we hope to create a ripe environment for some really disruptive social innovation, rather than acknowledging that we all know plenty and carrying on without actually making a substantial change.

So what next? Passionate people arguing about their disparate interventions is one thing, but changing the status quo as a result of it is quite another. Hopefully through connecting these innovators with each other, with partners and with funders we can enable them to achieve greater impact. We’ll be doing this on a domestic level with a Demo Day event, but we plan to go beyond this as well. A second string to the Transition programme bow is the Transnational Startup Lab. This will take the most promising concepts and put them through an intensive training process in another country with a view to them expanding their innovation into that new market. It starts with the UK, Finland and Spain but we hope it will grow further, introducing new and exciting innovations into new countries, skilling them up, introducing them to the right people and helping them navigate the new environment. As this pipeline of new social innovators grows across Europe, it greatly improves the prospect of fresh, new, impactful ideas spreading outside borders and drawing on the passion, skills and vision of a whole new group. Regionally, nationally and internationally, the gene pool can get a whole lot bigger. More chance of social innovation mutations. Marvellous.

Photo credit: Peter Alfred Hess on a Creative Commons License via Flickr