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Theories of Social Innovation

Danielle Logue

As we grapple with how to respond to some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as inequality, poverty and climate change, there is growing global interest in ‘social innovation’ as a potential solution. But what exactly is ‘social innovation’? This book describes three ways to theorise social innovation when seeking to manage and organize for both social and economic progress.
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Chapter 3: Social innovation as polysemous

Danielle Logue


In Chapter 3, I argue that understanding social innovation as polysemous means recognizing the different values – within different institutional logics – that guide different societal domains that often participate in socially innovative arrangements. In describing the domains of public sector, private or business sector, and not-for-profit sector, and their understandings of social innovation and rationales for participating, we can see how values may not align or how cross-sector partnerships try to align or integrate different moral values as to responsibility, roles and desired outcomes. As such, a polysemic view of social innovation reveals the plurality and complexity in navigating social values for social innovation, and presents an inherent conundrum: it is these differences in understanding that are both a source and barrier for social innovation. In this chapter I suggest that recognizing the polysemous nature of social innovation affords a more critical inquiry of social innovation, requiring scholars to consider the multi-constructions of social problems and solutions (and their prioritizations) and the role of power in determining how multiple meanings (or views) of problems and solutions are established and what (and whose) values dominate.

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