With deficits soaring and continuous cuts of public budgets, it’s high time to catalyze social innovation by challenging old dogmas and assumptions. All government reforms or innovation will continue to fail if they are only focused on improving the same old activities. Adding new ideas on a stable base of inefficiency cannot enable social innovation. Transformative social progress is only possible if we take advantage of tacit knowledge, citizen networks, communities of practice, and civic entrepreneurship. What we need is to build relationships across the public, private and civic sectors – promoting civic engagement and community problem solving.
The complex problems we are facing today go well beyond the vertical silos of knowledge, expertise and management. Social problems in health, education, employment, etc., are increasingly complex and interlocking and are impossible to solve with a few experts, program officers or small “control” elites. The key question all governments must NOT avoid, is how innovation can emerge in social services in the current model that is dominated by top-down approaches and driven to avoid change?
The creative civic entrepreneurs
What are needed are fresh perspectives of a problem and creative solutions. We need to accelerate social innovation by understanding together with the key stakeholders how something really works, in order to determine what they need and to transform this tacit knowledge of the community, early adopters and users into innovation. The key question is how we foster all the civic entrepreneurs and creative social activists, and how we can provide them with innovative spaces to enable bold responses, catalyze change and generate the conditions for broad community solutions that cause systemic change.
The new role of governments
The challenge to engage civic entrepreneurs requires governments to embrace and develop a new role regarding the social services (health, education, etc.) beyond the means of production. They need to focus on how to leverage and facilitate the production of value, how to sett up systems to ensure quality outcomes, and to push the bounds of how to address public problems in an innovative way.