Welcome to the WISIR learning modules on Social Innovation for Complex Problems
In a complex world, making positive change isn't easy. Understanding social innovation and having simple, useful tools for analysis will help.
Here, you can learn about ...
- What are complex systems and how do they work?
- How can I analyze my complex system?
- How can I describe my complex problem?
- How can I see what's going on in my system?
- What are the phases and dynamics within my system?
- When and where could I intervene?
- What is the role of a system entrepreneur?
- What is social innovation for system change?
- How do I decide when and how to collaborate for the most impact?
If you complete all the activities as well as the lectures in the three courses, by the end, you'll have learned a lot about social innovation and complexity theory, and the basics of complex systems thinking and mapping. More specifically, you will understand:
- How and why complexity thinking and systems thinking are useful in fostering social innovation.
- The characteristics and dynamics of complex adaptive systems.
- How simple rules can underpin complex phenomena, which are greater than the sum of their parts and go across scales.
- What social-ecological resilience means.
- The difference between invention and innovation.
- Some ways to analyze potential innovations.
- Some ways to identify innovative spaces and opportunities to shift systems.
- What a system entrepreneur does and some of his/her important roles.
- How to embrace and manage paradox.
- What generative relationships are, and why they're so important for system change.
You'll learn to use some key tools for thinking about complex adaptive systems, such as:
- The adaptive cycle.
- System mapping and feedback loops.
- Journey mapping.
- The nemesis exercise.
- The horns of the dilemma.
- The generative STAR.
And, through the exercises and activities, you'll be able to apply all these to problems on which you're working or about which you're curious.
Each course has its own page and, within each, you can navigate by:
- scrolling down to find everything in its learning sequence, or
- clicking on the links in the sidebar to jump to units or to see lists and links of all videos, resources, activities, or coaching segments.
Throughout, we use the following icons to help you navigate easily:
Lecture videos are core course material. They default to HD on desktop browsers. If you're having bandwidth issues, HD can be turned off using the button at the bottom right of the video player. Videos can also be toggled to view full screen. The videos have links to PDF transcripts for your reference.
Resources indicate supplementary material to which you'll get access through links or by downloading or viewing PDFs.
Web video indicates a link to a video on an external site.
Coaching indicates video coaching to reinforce concepts covered in a video lecture. The videos have links to PDF transcripts for your reference.
Activity indicates an exercise to complete to increase your understanding and to apply concepts to your situation.
TED Talks indicates a TED Talk.
If you run into technical problems or notice a glitch (e.g., a broken link), please contact Nina Ripley.
We would like to thank the McConnell Foundation for their vision and generous support of this project. You can find out all about the foundation and its programmes on the McConnell Foundation site.
Your course experience will be enhanced if, before diving in, you prepare with some readings that will help you understand key concepts. We'll introduce readings along with the course content to which they most directly relate; but, of course, you can skip forward or go back at any time as you delve into what you find most useful.
We'll focus on those resources that are freely available; but, for those who want to go further, we also provide information on books for purchase that will go more in-depth, and academic articles which you can find in university libraries (we've provided links to the full citations so you can find them).
- Donella Meadows, Dancing with Systems
- Donella Meadows, Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System
- Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From whiteboard talk
- Steven Johnson, The Slow Hunch: How Innovation is Created Through Group Intelligence
- Tim Brown, Change by Design YouTube talk
- Tim Brown, Change by Design TED talk
- Rachel Botsman, The Case for Collaborative Consumption TED talk
- Roman Krznaric, The Power of Outrospection RSA talk
- Karim Harji, et al., Redefining Returns: Social Finance Awareness and Opportunities in the Canadian Financial Sector (PDF)
- Michael Quinn Patton, Evaluation for the Way We Work (PDF)
- Frances Westley, Social Innovation and Resilience: How One Enhances the Other
If you want to buy:
- Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed, Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Patton
- Edgeware: Lessons from Complexity Science for Healthcare Leaders, Brenda Zimmerman and Curt Lindberg
- The Thinker's Toolkit: Fourteen Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving, Morgan D. Jones
- Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson
- Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, Lance H. Gunderson and C.S. Holling
- Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, Tim Brown
- Developmental Evaluation: Applying Complexity Concepts to Enhance Innovation and Use, Michael Quinn Patton
At the library:
- Howard Perlmutter and Eric Trist, Paradigms for Societal Transition
- Charles Hampden Turner, Charting the Corporate Mind: Graphic Solutions to Business Problems
- Frances Westley, et al., Tipping Towards Sustainability: Emerging Pathways for Transformation
- Lisa K. Gundry, et al., Entrepreneurial Bricolage and Innovation Ecology: Precursors to Social Innovation?
- Karl E. Weick, Improvisation as a Mindset for Organizational Analysis
- Silvia Dorado, Microfinance Re-imagined: Personal Banking for the Poor
- Frances Westley, et al., A Theory of Transformative Agency in Linked Social-Ecological Systems
- Julie Battilana, et al., How Actors Change Institutions: Towards a Theory of Institutional Entrepreneurship