General introduction: the return of social innovation as a scientific concept and a social practice
Collective Action, Social Learning and Transdisciplinary Research
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In recent years, social innovation has become increasingly influential in both scholarship and policy. It is the conceptual foundation for community-based trusts, think tanks, corporate management practices and government funding programs in every continent, leading to a wide range of projects and international networks which recognize past failures of conventional service delivery to tackle poverty and social exclusion, and seek to promote new ways of doing things, grounded in the social relations and experiences of those in need. It is the great inspiration for many social movements, associations, bottom-up initiatives to claim improvements in their human conditions, their community life and their place in society. It has found a home in policy at the highest level, for example in the US Whitehouse’s Office for Social Innovation and Civic Participation, through the creation of the National Secretariat for Solidarity Economy in Brazil and in the European Commission’s Innovation Policy programmes. It has become a lead term for corporate social responsibility, business ethics and the revisiting of the role of social enterprise and the social economy in socioeconomic development. The growing importance of the idea reflects wide and profound dissatisfaction with recent directions and outcomes of ‘innovation’ in technology, markets, policy and governance systems, and particularly a sense – to remain polite – that the benefits of such innovations have not been distributed as generally or as equitably as they should (see Jessop et al., Chapter 8). This also holds for changes in socio-political regimes.

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