How Do Ideas Change the World? Patterns in Social Innovation


Guido Enthoven
Instituut Maatschappelijke Innovatie, Zoeterwoude


Social innovations are everywhere. Examples of social innovations are grand ideas like human rights, suffrage, parliament, separation of powers, but also more concrete innovations as Red Cross, mediation, carpooling, street art and energy cooperations. The field of social innovation has developed primarily as a field of trial and error, but there has been relatively little attention to its history, theory and working mechanisms. The central question in this chapter is: What are patterns in social innovations? Is it possible to ‘peel off’ social innovations to their basic working mechanisms and to identify patterns in social innovations on vitalising democracy, environmental policy, reducing crime, or creating employment? 

This article starts with a definition of social innovation and a description of the various sectors in society which play a role in social innovation. Attention is focussed on the process and the diffusion of social innovation. The core of this chapter is a list of 33 patterns in social innovations like: communicate, represent, collect, exchange, equalize, cooperate, share, celebrate, regulate, control, insure, standardize, protect, separate, choose, experiment and grow. The list is completed with concrete examples of social innovations throughout the ages. Clustered, there are four basic mechanisms that include most of the found patterns: Secure, Divide, Connect and Evolve. Finally, some concluding remarks are being made, especially about the role of networks in innovation and the possible impact of using these patterns in future social innovation. 

December 18, 2023
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