Social Innovation - the emergence of a new social movement?

CamillaWiser's picture

We're excited to be hosting France's first ever Social Innovation BarCamp. It's happening in Paris on June 26, and it's already a sold out event. But what is  'social innovation'? When do we know when we see it? And what are the implications of this relatively new field? We explore these questions and their significance below.

Amaury SautourDamien Roussat and Camilla Burg wrote this post. They are among the co-organizers of the firstSocial Innovation BarCamp Paris 2010 on June 26. This event is co-organised by NetSquared,, InformEthic, FinanceSolidaire, Silicon Sentier, Kiva en francais, LIENS, La Ruche, 27eme Region, and FING.

Social innovation

While most of us might be able to give a pretty good shot at defining the term ‘innovation’, how successful would you be at doing the same for ‘social innovation’ if asked? We were a little unsure of how to come up with a precise definition ourselves (without going to Wikipedia!). So we thought it might be useful to share a few common traits that we came across while doing research in preparation for the Social Innovation BarCamp we’re currently organizing in Paris.

Social innovation refers to any technological, organizational or economic innovation which addresses any issue related to people or the way society operates or to the way it could be improved.

Any initiative which questions or examines existing models which relate to the way we interact, communicate or support each other could be deemed as social innovation.

Social innovation drives us to focus on the way things are done in order to address societal and environmental issues. User-centered design, collaboration and the creation of a more equitable society are all central to the efforts of those that practice in this field.

A new era? A new social movement?

The emergence of this concept may support the belief that we are entering a new social era or that we are witnessing the creation of a new social movement. For the time being, however, while movement building may be one aspect of this concept (we’ll only know in hindsight), we think that it is an extremely positive field of work which, among many others, is emerging and evolving from the ground up to support positive social change.

Social entrepreneurship & Web 2.0

So what are some of the examples of social innovation which are actually happening on the ground (or in the webosphere) so to speak?

We can name a number of technological and socially innovative ways of using the web; which helps map and connect people with their neighbors, where people can support entrepreneurs by investing in their project and where the public to keep an eye on what their elected governmental officials are up to.

We also came across more well-known projects which are linked to social entrepreneurship and economic innovation such as the micro-loan programs created by and Or we could highlight user-centred design and research programmes such as the 27eme Region and its “Resident Territories” program which helps local citizens shape public policy at a grassroots level.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. There are many more. Indeed our challenge is to determine where social innovation begins and where it ends. We envisage a discussion around this very topic as part of the Social Innovation BarCamp. We look forward to finding out more and reporting back soon!