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Learning from innovation: join the debate

Mark Walton

We have an exciting new research project looking at what social enterprise management of environmental assets can learn from previous social innovations. How have they scaled, and to what extent have they retained or grown their social impact? We want you to get involved.

We know there is a great deal of interest in the community management of public spaces. There are some great examples already in existence where local people are developing enterprising approaches to managing their local woodlands, waterways, coastal areas and parks.

Right now, this is a relatively new and undeveloped sector, with enterprises creating new and developing environmental management models. These enterprises will need to establish new markets, services and innovations in practice in order to thrive while delivering social and environmental benefits. However, our experience from other sectors tells us that there are risks commonly encountered by social enterprises developing new ways of delivering services and products.

We want to learn from the experience of previous social innovations in order to understand how social enterprise environmental management can grow without losing its social impact. In particular we want to understand how it can develop as part of a viable local supply chain that delivers added social, economic and environmental benefits at each stage.

In order to explore this issue we have secured funding from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to undertake a research project: “Learning Lessons From Social Innovation”. The research will critically examine the development trajectory of other community-led social innovations, including community food growing, the Fair Trade movement, community recycling, asset transfer and HIV health services. It will draw lessons about how innovations can scale sustainably and retain social value.

These conclusions will inform the development of social enterprise led management of environmental assets.

Our methodology consists of conducting desk research on a long list of previous social innovations before selecting a shortlist of five (listed above) that we will explore further by conducting interviews with key stakeholders. We also be comparing the current extent of land-based enterprise in the UK with the position in France and the USA.We will be posting our thinking online as we go, inviting comment and debate from anyone interested in this work. We hope to develop a “knowledge commons” around community led social innovation. Watch this space for updates and discussions over the next two weeks!

Click here for our first blog post, reviewing the literature on social innovation, and in particular that related to the scaling of impact.

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