Driven by the trend of social innovation as the engagement of citizens and organizations in policy and management practice, the adoption of social innovation has been rapidly spurred in scholarly research, despite its conceptual ambiguity and diversity of definitions and research settings. However, as an increase in social innovation has the potential to alter the structure of innovation systems, corporate identities and strategies, employee motivation, as well as public and private governance (Robert and Luis, 2016), it can dramatically change the organization’s operation and the services, then ultimately deliver social impact.
Researchers and scholars have had a rising interest in social innovation in recent years, but the definition of it still remains debated and yet to be solved. Much of the discussion of social innovation is vague, and there are many competing definitions of social innovation that attempt to delineate a field of study (Jenson and Harrison, 2013).
Up to date, the research literature that focuses on social innovation specifically is limited, albeit growing (Nicholls et al., 2015). The main focus of this study could be listed as follows from 1990 till now:
- Community psychology: This approach demonstrates how to leverage the power of innovative interaction to achieve social change and solve social problems. Robert and Luis (2016) looked at the community psychology literature discussing the Experimental Social Innovation and Dissemination (ESID) model to promote innovative social and behavioural change. A key issue here for innovation research is how widespread changes manifest in society.
- Innovation policy: From an economic perspective, innovation policy requires different agents’ adaptation to new innovative demands to capture economic growth. It mainly focuses on the relationship of social innovation and policy implementation, from bottom to up, analyzing the behaviour facing the societal challenges as an innovation driver, together with other stakeholders to build innovative policies. Slavo Radosevic (2020) developed the Innovation Policy Index (IPI) as both a monitoring tool and an instrument to facilitate policy dialogue, programme coordination and promotion of good innovation policy practices.
- Public sector innovation: Public innovation is more focused on developing innovation model theory and enhancing its ability. Jason and Tim (2010) have proposed a practical model of public sector innovation that is more cognizant of the scientific method of randomized controlled experiments. Later, Hanna, Victor and Lars (2016) developed an empirically based framework of potentially important antecedents and effects of public sector innovation. Moreover, Jacob (2018) suggested that public innovation could be enhanced by multi-actor collaboration.
- Social challenges: Social innovation as a means of innovative solutions to social problems, so that some research papers focus on public management and cross-sector partnerships (e.g., non-profit collaborations) to ensure its sustainability (Robert and Luis, 2016). Weerawardena and Mort (2012) also show a clear relationship between social entrepreneurship and social innovation.
The definition of social innovation often applies to innovative practice or intervention with social change and social impact, and yet the relationship between them is undefined, which poses a challenge and opportunity for researchers. Overall, there is no established paradigm of social innovation (Nicholls, 2010). But as simplistic it could be, social innovation is perceived as novel ideas that resolve social problems and meet social needs, finally creating social impact.
In practice, social innovations can take the form of specific ideas, actions, frames, models, systems, processes, services, rules, and regulations as well as new organizational forms (Nicholls et al., 2015). As far as we can see that social innovation relies on innovative ideas, social processes, and social outcomes. Interestingly, according to Daniela Papi Thornton, she claimed that social innovation or social entrepreneurship is beyond generating new ideas and putting them into practice, it is to finally create a social systematic change that relevant stakeholders will benefit and long-lasting change is foreseeable.
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