Empowerment: collaborative innovation with people in the creation of meaning and value
Joan Vinyets, March 2012
Societies in today’s economy have to reinvent themselves in order to adapt to increasingly complex and dynamic social challenges, especially in a new situation of scarce resources with diminished budgets in most countries and governments. Today’s challenges facing public services such as providing care for elderly, health care for chronic diseases, improving our education system, etc… cannot be solved by a single agent, with one-dimensional solution and implemented top down (example: traditional quantitative approach to healthcare proposing more doctors and nurses… instead of education and prevention; the failure of One Laptop Per Child, etc.).
This complex challenges with many actors involved and multiple interconnected relationships require a new form of collaborative creativity to enable innovation with people, focusing on the quality of the relationships between people: to mobilize social capital, know-how, resources and expertise distributed across communities, and not only with the isolated and fragmented professional expertise located within institutions.
Within this context, the concept of co-creation has become a dominant idea in the domain of innovation but as a term is used fairly indiscriminately. To be meaningful and useful, especially for social innovation, I believe it is important to move ahead this concept for a truly involvement of people to collaborate in generating value, rather than just enabling co-creativity and only compelling experiences. Co-creation is not a one off event, like neither a referendum in which the community decides what should be done, nor a question of participating to brainstorming or to give people a chance to voice their opinions on a limited number of alternatives. Often this type of innovation approach leads to many negative and unpredicted side effects.
We need an alternative approach to the current fragmented innovation, led by preset categories, and fragmented contents and only aimed at finding the preconceived solutions. The new approach is a truly empowerment of the people to be recognized as active citizens, producers and participants, not just as passive agents. We need to build up the confidence and knowledge of the people: to address their particular needs and circumstances and to take action themselves in a collaborative partnership with professionals and all the stakeholders; but also, I believe that should be recovered and re-launched the cultural dimension and social values deeply embedded in all the complex issues that our society is facing.There are several examples to illustrate collaborative innovation enabling empowerment from building local networks for exchange and get informal support, like in many countries in Europe as in Greece to exchange goods and services — language classes, baby-sitting, computer support, home-cooked meals (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/world/europe/in-greece-barter-networks-surge.html?pagewanted=all), to recovering social values like the rural schools drawing support from their communities at Mediapolis, Iowa, where the sense of community –that social values- translates to strong support for their students, because everybody knows everybody and helps support everybody.(http://edition.cnn.com/2011/US/09/13/rural.community.education/index.html?eref=rss_us&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign). For empowering social innovation we need to rethink reciprocity as a human resource with a great potential to solve many of our current problems. #social innovation