Over the last few decades, much work has gone into attempting to measure what is sometimes called social, public or civic value – the value created by NGOs, social enterprises and social ventures, and the related value associated with social programmes and policies. Much of this assessment is by its nature retrospective. But it has also become important to assess and even measure future value, the potential social impact of new ideas, ventures and programmes, and more broadly the socially innovative capacity of different societies. It is widely accepted that 50–80 per cent of economic growth comes from innovation in its widest sense – the creation and use of new knowledge – and this awareness has spurred improvements in the measurement and assessment of innovative capacity in the economy.1 There is probably a comparable relationship between social innovation and social progress, although there are even fewer accepted measures to test this assumption. There are also links between economic innovation and social progress on the one hand, and social innovation and economic growth on the other. Research by William Nordhaus (2003), for example, has shown that health gain accounts for as much of the gain in human welfare over the last century as economic growth. But we still lack robust theories, let alone measures, that can map the ways in which societies seek and adopt novel ideas to address challenges such as those associated with ageing populations, youth unemployment, social conflict and climate change.
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