Social innovation is increasingly seen as essential to Canada’s social and economic well-being. Such initiatives can create lasting changes in response to social problems and lead to improvements in the lives of Canadians. The report describes the multi-method research strategies utilized to gain an in-depth understanding of social innovation in Canada from the perspective of participants involved with social innovation initiatives in a range of capacities, and to explore the factors that inhibit and facilitate the success of these initiatives.
This study was part of a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) from the Community and College Social Innovation Fund, intended to both enhance the understanding of social innovation, and to inform the development of resources that would further the efforts of colleges and organizations to effectively engage in social innovation. It combines the findings of a national survey of participants in social innovation; as well as focus groups with innovators in Alberta; and in depth case studies of three very different social innovation sites.
Focused on how participants in different levels of the system viewed factors as facilitating and inhibiting their initiatives, findings from the three research strategies were compared for consistency and uniqueness, with case studies yielding the greatest diversity of perspectives between staff operating at various levels in the hierarchy of an organization or project. Facilitating factors related to success included a strong emphasis on communication, collaboration, and service integration both within and between partner organizations. Of all participants, it was generally those “on the ground" who had direct and regular contact with clients or the community, who most acutely experienced the benefits of effective social innovation practices and frustration resulting from deficiencies.
The difficulties expressed by front-line workers provides a perspective on social innovation that has, in our observation, been insufficiently addressed in the literature. Based on this finding, subsequent phases of the project include the development of resources addressed specifically to this population. The report outlines the methods and findings of each of the three research strategies, with conclusions and recommendations based on the findings.
Social Innovation Tools and Resources
In keeping with the findings and recommendations of this study—in particular the awareness of the challenges and needs of people working on the front lines of social innovation—the final step of this project was development of a resource targeted at this under-represented group focusing on planning and development of social innovation. To that end, a learning module comprised of three units was created. The units are intended as appropriate for part of a college curriculum, as a continuing education course, as a professional development opportunity for innovation staff, or simply for individuals who are interested in learning the “how to” of social innovation.
The three units are entitled:
I. Building Effective Social Innovation Ideas
II. Project Planning
III. Successfully Communicating and Building Relationships
The contents of the units build upon findings from the research and seek to address its conclusions. Units were designed by members of the research team along with curriculum development experts from Bow Valley College’s Teaching & Learning Enhancement unit.
Social Innovation Online Module* (.zip)
*The .zip file contains all artifacts for the online module. Please consult with your LMS administrator for information on how to import into a specific LMS.
This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.