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Boundary police and social innovation

We recently read this on a social innovation LinkedIn group: “I prefer to draw tight boundaries around social innovation, and treat it as a rare and discreet socially-generated phenomenon that is highly valuable precisely because of its rarity”.

Is this ‘border protection’ of ‘mainland’ social innovation necessary or indeed possible?

Can any individual draw a ‘tight boundary’ around a ‘social’ phenomenon or ‘social’ movement?

History is full of individuals who attempted to cage all types of social movements and innovations. But can it really be achieved?

The evidence suggests otherwise. A small trawl through history will reveal time and time again that social innovation and social movements (they are close friends) cannot be contained – even by dictators and tyrants.

History is also full of individuals and groups who wish to own and protect their fundamentalist beliefs and convictions. They do this by drawing tight boundaries around ‘correctness’ and ‘appropriateness’.

The problem with innovation – including social innovation – is that it can bubble up within any community, utilising the inherent skills within that community and external ‘animateurs’ (a ‘community organising’ term) to create social innovation in a manner that cannot be contained by ‘definitions’ or ‘words’.

Social innovation is indeed a socially generated phenomenon and the members of that ‘social group’ can come from anywhere because ‘society’ in a democracy is a porous and open space. In an open and free society, all are welcome to participate in innovations that make the world a better place and generate positive social outcomes for all.

While an academic view (a paper-based view of social change and social innovation) may want to pencil in boundaries and put fences around social innovation, the social phenomena of innovation and change pays scant attention to such prescriptions.

Get a group of like-minded people together who are empowered to change theirs and others own circumstances (no matter what their social location or description) and their energy alone will erase all such penciled in boundaries.

When black swans were first encountered in the southern hemisphere, the academics, researchers and ‘border police’ in the northern hemisphere refused to accept they were swans because according to their definitions, swans could only be white.

Our experience of social innovation is that it bubbles up and occurs with little regard to tight boundaries that attempt to stifle it. It is, and should be, free to move without being policed and is most sustainable when it is inclusive of all types of people and professions.

Social innovation, and indeed innovation of any type, is often an affront to those who seek to police its boundaries and inhibit its creativity.

We encourage and initiate social innovation in all formats with all types of people and professions, so that together we can co-create social change for a more just world.

We would love to hear about social innovations that you’ve initiated – do you have success stories to share?

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