What's our problem?
Welcome to Becoming a changemaker! This week, we distinguish between simple, complicated and complex problems. Social innovation takes place in complex systems and complex systems have complex or “wicked” problems, like the kinds of problems the world is trying to tackle right now such as climate change, HIV Aids and other pandemics, poverty and inequality. A complex system has many variables or elements such as different sorts of people, material and rules and those elements of the system are interacting with each other so much that the complexity increases exponentially. So the work of complexity is about bringing yourself into the system, engaging with it, living with it and innovating in yourself as you innovate in that system that you’re working in. You can’t look at the whole system but you can look at more than one piece of it. The more you start to bring in different parts of the systems, you can then start to connect those in ways that they weren’t connected before.
What do we have to work with?
One of the hallmarks of very innovative organizations and people is that they see resources where other people don’t, and they can bring those resources to bear to create new innovative solutions. There’s transformative power in shifting from looking at needs, gaps, and what’s wrong, to appreciating strengths, resources and what’s right. Through developing a strength-based mindset and an appreciative approach you can discover hidden or underused resources. These resources might be people, kinds of knowledge and expertise, time, and physical spaces. As soon as you start seeing resources all around you, not only can you move forward but you become energised and hopeful, and creative things start to happen. You’ll find that you might be a lot richer than you think in terms of what you have to start building your own social innovation with.
Getting out of your comfort zone
By nature the world of social innovation is made of crossing boundaries, bringing together different actors, resources, spaces, but it can be overwhelming. Part of our challenge on the journey to becoming changemakers is to learn how to become comfortable with discomfort and how in the social innovation space where you take yourself into spaces and you surround yourself with people that you normally do not engage with. Understanding how we define differences using cultural, sociological, psychological and spiritual lenses and what the nature of the differences is helps to develop tools for getting out of your comfort zone. It takes a little bit of courage because it makes you uncomfortable, but that’s how you build the competencies, the personal resilience to engage with difference when we do go and drive for innovations or we look to make differences in communities that are unlike us or operate in a different way.
Innovating by design
A number of methodologies and processes can help generate ideas and creative opportunities, and some of these have been used in business to generate new products and services, and are starting to be applied in social innovation. Human-centred design is incredibly important, and the Design Thinking process allows you to start early and wherever you are with whatever you’ve got. Design Thinking has evolved as a way to respond to deeper user insights, to connect more with people and with communities so that we can actually design solutions that are human-centred. Design Thinking is not just about products, but also helps create new processes, new systems, new services, and importantly even user experiences. Following a Design Thinking process will help you iterate and test your solution with end users, with an emphasis on failing early and often through trying things out and prototyping. Powerful Design Thinking methodology can help you to come up with human-centred design solutions that manifest economic viability, technical feasibility and social desirability in your social innovation.
Changing the system - who me?
Understanding that social innovation is system innovation can help us appreciate why social innovation is so difficult to do. Social innovations can start to challenge and change the underlying system conditions that caused the social or environmental problem in the first place. We are asked to innovate around belief systems, or around authority, power, and resource flows. So, a social innovation challenges the rules of the game. Asking what’s innovative about the work means asking questions around the experiences of where an innovation might be changing the rules of the games and allows us to go deeper into the kinds of impacts that might be possible, and discover hidden impacts. When any kind of social innovation starts to get at the systemic roots, we’re going to be provoking anxiety. So it’s quite helpful to map out the social system and the rules that govern it and then to consider how you are challenging these rules through the innovation.
What if it works?
In the end social innovation is about impact. We’re all trying to have a meaningful, positive effect on the world, whatever that might mean to us. If we do this and we’re actually successful, this is going to take us sooner or later to the question of scale. How do we grow that innovation? As social innovations mature, the forms they could take and the multiple ways in which you could organise around achieving impact increase. It used to be easy to label organisations according to non-profit and for profit, and government institutions based on their purpose, its organisational structure and the way it measured what it achieved. That’s all changing. There are different ways to diffuse and scale the work that we’re doing to achieve impact.