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Open Book Of Social Innovation

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This volume – part of a series of methods and issues in social

innovation – describes the hundreds of methods and tools for

innovation being used across the world, as a first step to developing

a knowledge base.

It is the result of a major collaboration between NESTA (the National

Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) and the Young

Foundation – two organisations that are committed to the role that

social innovation can play in addressing some of the most pressing

issues of our time.

The Open Book presents a varied, vibrant picture of social innovation

in practice and demonstrates the vitality of this rapidly emerging

economy. It is fantastically rich, and demonstrates the diversity of

initiatives being led by entrepreneurs and campaigners, organisations

and movements worldwide.

Together with the other volumes in this Series, we hope that this

work provides a stronger foundation for social innovation based on

the different experiences and insights of its pioneers.

Like the social ventures it describes, we want this work to grow and

develop. Your comments, thoughts and stories are welcome at the

project website:

Dr Michael Harris, NESTA

Published March 2010

This book is about the many ways in which people are creating new and more

effective answers to the biggest challenges of our times: how to cut our carbon

footprint; how to keep people healthy; and how to end poverty.

It describes the methods and tools for innovation being used across the world

and across different sectors – the public and private sectors, civil society

and the household – in the overlapping fields of the social economy, social

entrepreneurship and social enterprise. It draws on inputs from hundreds of

organisations to document the many methods currently being used around the


The materials we’ve gathered here are intended to support all those

involved in social innovation: policymakers who can help to create the right

conditions; foundations and philanthropists who can fund and support;

social organisations trying to meet social needs more effectively; and social

entrepreneurs and innovators themselves.

In other fields, methods for innovation are well understood. In medicine,

science, and to a lesser degree in business, there are widely accepted ideas,

tools and approaches. There are strong institutions and many people whose

job requires them to be good at taking ideas from inception to impact. There

is little comparable in the social field, despite the richness and vitality of social

innovation. Most people trying to innovate are aware of only a fraction of the

methods they could be using.


Hands, courtesy of Old Ford School, Room 13.


This book, and the series of which it is a part, attempt to fill this gap. In

this volume, we map out the hundreds of methods for social innovation as a

first step to developing a knowledge base. In the other volume of the Social

Innovator series, we look at specific methods in greater depth, exploring ways

of developing workable ideas and setting up a social venture in a way that

ensures its financial sustainability; and that its structures of accountability,

governance and ownership resonate with its social mission.1 We have also

launched an accompanying website,, to gather

comments, case studies and new methods.

We’re also very conscious of what’s not in here. This is very much a first cut:

there are many methods we haven’t covered; many parts of the world that

aren’t well represented (including Africa and the Middle East); and many

which we’ve only been able to describe in a very summary form.

The field we cover is broad. Social innovation doesn’t have fixed boundaries:

it happens in all sectors, public, non-profit and private. Indeed, much of the

most creative action is happening at the boundaries between sectors, in fields

as diverse as fair trade, distance learning, hospices, urban farming, waste

reduction and restorative justice.

Nevertheless, definitions have their place. Our interest is in innovations that

are social both in their ends and in their means. Specifically, we define social

innovations as new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously

meet social needs and create new social relationships or collaborations. In

other words, they are innovations that are both good for


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