This paper by Bill Slee, Robert Lukesch and Elisa Ravazzoli explores the idea of social innovation as both a conceptual and practical means of delivering positive social, economic and environmental outcomes in marginal rural areas. Definitions are critically appraised, and the dual contemporary origins of the term social innovation (in management sciences and critical social science) are explored. There has been much conceptual confusion, in particular about the extent to which civil society agency is central or desirable in social innovation. Social innovation can be seen to be closely connected to a range of theories that inform both innovation and rural development, but it lacks a singular theoretical “home”. Social innovation can also have a dark side, which merits scrutiny.
Three case studies illustrate social innovation processes and outcomes in different parts of Europe. Where committed actors, local enabling agency and overarching policies align, the outcomes of social innovations can be considerable. If rarely transformational, social innovation has shown itself capable of delivering positive socioeconomic and environmental outcomes in more bounded spatial settings. It seems questionable whether social innovation will survive as an organising and capacity-building concept alongside more established principles, such as community-led local development, which, although not exactly social innovation, is very similar and already firmly embedded in policy guidance or whether it will be replaced by new equally fuzzy ideas, such as the smart village approach.
The full paper is available HERE.