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Christian Bason

Why should government care about social innovation?

By July 25th 2009

Returning from the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX) summer school, which was held in Lisbon on July 14-17, I am feeling energized and confident that social innovators hold the key to many of the new ideas and solutions that our societies so desparately need. From health care to education to climate change, their efforts create real value to citizens, every day.

MindLab presents at SIX Summer School

MindLab presents at SIX Summer School

However, to┬ámost people in government, at least in Denmark, social innovation is still a broad and vague term that doesn’t elicit much enthusiasm or even recognition. In a welfare state where every third person in employment works for the government, there isn’t a lot of consideration of potential social solutions coming from outside government…

So why should government care? Following my conversations with fellow innovators at the Lisbon event, I would suggest at least three pressing reasons:

First, bureaucrats aren’t smarter than anyone else. So, to get the best ideas to tackle wicked social problems (or, in SIX terms, “Fixing the Future”), we need everyone to contribute — not least savvy social entrepreneurs.

Second, social innovators are close to the citizens. One of our key challenges here at MindLab is to get citizens and businesses involved directly in the public sector innovation process. To most social innovators, a deep understanding of the underlying, implicit or explicit needs of citizens is at the very heart of their work. For government to remain legitimate and relevant, it has to support those that make a difference in people’s lives at the local level.

Third, a critical challenge for any innovator, whether in government or beyond, is to not only get the ideas but turn them into practice. Social innovators possess the skills and dedication to get their visions implemented, and not only can government learn from that, government can benefit from creating mutually positive alliances and partnerships with organisations whose ideas have already stood the hard test of meeting reality — but who may need the power and scale of government to make the solutions available to many more.

Social innovators at work

Social innovators at work

Even if we succeed convincing our colleagues in government of these benefits, I still see a major challenge that must be overcome: How do we empower government to not just understand, but also to support and strengthen social innovators? Perhaps part of the solution is that government itself must become more innovative. That was at least MindLabs message at the SIX event. What do you think?

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