Social Innovation: It's about Systems Change

By Robyn Kalda

On September 26 I went to a Social Impact Generation session at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) on "The culture, passion and how for social innovation".

I couldn't immediately remember why I had thought it so important to attend, but it became quickly apparent: several of the guests were from Australia and would talk about TACSI, the innovation lab there, and another guest had been involved in the Kafka Brigade which I've always enjoyed.

We hear the word "innovation" a lot in health promotion, often applied somewhat haphazardly, but I was pleased to hear that TACSI's innovation focus was on system change. They believe all people should have the opportunity to have a good life and to have a say in what that looks like. Health promoters will recognize a close echo of the WHO definition of health promotion in that statement, altough TACSI doesn't call themselves health promoters.

They see system change developing through four channels:

1. Understand the problems and opportunities people experience and built empathy for people and systems. Unpack the assumptions.
2. Consider how you design for that truth. What approaches, methods and tools might you use?
3. Take a capability-building, mutual-learning approach.
4. When the first three aren't enough, accept that you're working on a profound systemic challenge. This is the most intangible level, and you'll need to experiment to shift systems so poeple can live good lives.

Several points struck me as interesting for health promoters to consider:

- The use of the word "capability" where we would typically use the word "capacity". I think we may wish to consider using "capability" more often -- it's more easily understood and sounds more active.
- One presenter emphasized that while we are often good at collaborating with people with like minds, to really change systems we need to learn "conflictual collaboration" -- that is, to collaborate across difference and disagreement, and to be more comfortable not liking each other.
- All presenters agreed that lots of failures are part of the process in systems change. Innovation labs can be useful, not only as places to encourage ideas and experiments but also as places where people can learn from the failures of others instead of repeating them.
- They noted that idea generation is not an end in itself and doesn't change the world. You have to act, even knowing that most of your experiments won't succeed with any rigour. So connect and act!

A video of the evening is now posted.