As has been reported recently, President Obama has established a new Office of Social Innovation (OSI) at the White House. While the goals, structure and other details of this new entity are yet to be announced, the very fact that such an office was created indicates the considerable importance the new administration has assigned to social innovation.
Two questions are likely to arise
when one hears this news.
I think these are two important, valid, and related questions and the answers to these questions should help shape the agenda of this new office.
I believe the federal government has a critical role to play in promoting and facilitating social innovation, but not in directing social innovation initiatives. More importantly, if the government plays the right role, then it would also minimize the potential risks associated with introducing bureaucracy into the social innovation process.
Social innovation has become more important now than at any other time in the past as we face a host of complex social issues in areas ranging from public school education and health care to disaster management, energy, and environment. At the same time, it is also quite evident that the solutions to most of these social issues are unlikely to come from the government (or the nonprofits or the private sector) acting alone. Instead, organizations in all three sectors would need to collaborate in identifying, evaluating, and implementing potential solutions. And, the Federal government may have a key role to play in promoting and facilitating such collaborative social innovation.
My ongoing research in this area has revealed the importance of and the need for establishing different types of platforms to facilitate collaborative social innovation. In an article forthcoming in the Summer 2009 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, I describe three types of collaboration platforms for social innovation (more on this in a future blog).
If the new Office of Social Innovation focuses on establishing the right conditions (and the infrastructure) for public sector organizations, private companies, and nonprofits to come together and pursue collaborative social innovation, then it would be making a big step in the right direction. On the other hand, if the OSI intrudes upon the collaborative innovation process and inhibits nonprofits and private companies from deploying their own unique capabilities and perspectives, then it is not likely to advance the cause of social innovation.
We will need to wait and see as the agenda for this new Office of Social Innovation unfolds over the coming months!