The Environment and Social Innovation, what we can learn from resilience theory

Abstracts and Articles

Navigating the back loop: fostering social innovation and transformation in ecosystem management, Biggs, R, F. Westley, S.R. Capentar 

Social innovation and resilience: how one enhances the other, Westley, F. 

Navigating the back loop - fostering social innovation and transformation in ecosystem management


Addressing the environmental challenges of the 21st century requires substantial changes to the way modern society views and manages ecosystems. The authors explore ecosystem-management transformations using a social-innovation framework. Based on three local-level case studies of transformation in freshwater management, they provide a pilot assessment of factors that may promote the emergence and adoption of integrated, collaborative ecosystem-management approaches. Their analysis suggests that ongoing environmental degradation, increasing environmental awareness, and shifting societal values are creating fertile ground for the emergence and adoption of new approaches to ecosystem management. Based on the case studies examined, the authors suggest that initiatives that foster environmental awareness and attachment to local ecosystems, develop capacity for social entrepreneurship in the environmental arena, promote dialogue between key stakeholders, and provide institutional support to new institutions may facilitate the emergence of integrated, collaborative ecosystem-management approaches. 

While situated within an environmental context, there are many relevant takeaways for funders.  First the paper delineates the concepts of social innovation and transformation through the adaptive cycle framework – which has application for other issue areas.  Second, it highlights the role of bridging organizations in the transformation process – a role potentially played by funders.  Third, the authors argue that innovations can be evaluated along three dimensions (1) the trigger or impetus for innovation, (2) “bricolage” and the sources of new ideas and approaches, and (3) “diffusion,” whereby new ideas and approaches became adopted and implemented – a useful construct for understand social innovations transformations.  Finally, the factors that facilitated transformation may be applicable to other issue areas.  The factors included; crises, fragmentation, reframing perspectives, engaging stakeholders, social entrepreneurship and institutional support.  

Navigating the back loop (PDF)


Social Innovation and Resilience - how one enhances the other


This paper looks at how to effectively cultivate the conditions that allow social innovation and resilience to contribute to one another. Social innovation often uses the process of bricolage to build resilient social-ecological systems. Part of building resilience in complex systems is about strengthening cultures that invite innovation and value diversity. Resilience theory focuses on the balance between continuity and change and offers the reminder that problems need to be looked at systemically. There is a growing need for innovative solutions that take into account the complexity of the problems and then foster solutions that permit our systems to learn, adapt, and occasionally transform without collapsing. Understanding resilience can also help social innovators balance top-down and bottom-up approaches to crafting solutions. One of the most important attributes that a social innovation approach offers is that it helps people understand the process by which social systems adapt or are transformed. In particular, the approach highlights the various actors (such as social entrepreneurs and system entrepreneurs) who help these processes happen. The skills of the system entrepreneur are quite different from, but complementary to, those of the social entrepreneur. The system entrepreneur’s role is geared toward finding opportunities to connect an alternative approach to the resources of the dominant system. 

Social innovation and resilience (PDF)