Recent events suggest that the field of social innovation is maturing to the point where it is possible to envisage adaptive, evolutionary shifts in our social, economic, and environmental systems.
Consider: May 25-27, MaRS Solutions Lab (MSL) hosted Labs for Systems Change—the world’s first gathering of practitioners leading this type of work, with individuals from 30 countries. In her remarks to the gathering, Frances Westley— J.W. McConnell Chair in Social Innovation at the University of Waterloo—described how our understanding of psychology and group dynamics; design thinking; and complex adaptive systems theory—together with data analysis and computer modelling—affords us new ability to examine and improve institutional behaviour, and to generate testable solutions to wicked problems.
Meanwhile, May 26-30 was Social Innovation Week in Vancouver, produced by BC Partners for Social Impact and SiG. A public Ideas Jam and an academic conference were among several events surrounding the global Social Innovation Exchange, which Canada was hosting for the first time. The gathering was opened by BC’s Minister of Social Innovation—Canada’s first—who predicted that in five years every government will follow suit—crowdsourcing ideas, introducing hybrid corporate structures, employing new social finance measures, and supporting civic engagement in the search for solutions to our most pressing challenges.
With its recent announcement of a $1 billion endowment for social and cultural innovation, Alberta is also moving in this direction.
This is not just work for governments, corporations, philanthropic foundations, and community organizations. A recent blog by Joe Hsueh, of Foundation partner Second Muse, titled Why the Human Touch is Key to Unlocking System Change, quotes Peter Senge: “What is most systemic is most personal”. A reminder that change begins with ourselves—with shifts in our own habits, and our customary ways of seeing and dealing with others.