Doing Social’s Inaugural Conference on Inclusive Innovation

On 20 July 2016, Doing Social launched our ideas for inclusive and frugal innovation at our inaugural conference which was hosted by the Centre for Social Innovation at University of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Judge Bus Sch bic

At the conference, we explored the possibility of pursuing a different approach to innovation in Britain. One which works with people who are on the margins of society to meet their needs, so that everyone in Britain has a better chance of benefiting from innovation and its processes. We suggested this should be a universal approach taken by all sectors. This would help to cultivate a stronger sense of belonging to Britain across communities. It would increase social inclusion and shared prosperity which would help to improve the lives of people from disadvantaged groups and solve unmet needs.

Doing Social is a start-up social enterprise, disrupting the innovation space through propagating an inclusive and frugal approach to developing innovation and initiatives especially for social change in Britain. We exist to challenge, change and create systems that enable people from disadvantaged groups to meaningfully participate in, contribute to and lead innovation and change initiatives that lead to better outcomes for more people across Britain. Doing Social also works with organisations to help them to embed co-creation principles within both their innovation and organisational processes.

We believe co-creation, frugal and inclusive innovation is the future of innovation for social change. So we have started to explore what this means in practice for those who will be developing it in different sectors. We are developing the tools, opportunities and resources to help make this a reality.

The issues

Our main concerns, which have led us to do what we do, include that: (a) social innovation is not inclusive; (b) most innovations, particularly “social innovations” seeking to solve (unmet) social needs, are not created by or co-created with the beneficiaries; (c) the social innovation space and processes appear obscure and remote to those on the margins of society because they are neither engaging nor accessible; (d) as a country we aren’t valuing and doing enough to proactively seek, identify and nurture hidden ingenuity within poorer deprived communities.


The conference

The theme of this conference was ‘the role of universities in developing inclusive innovation’ and we discussed the possibilities for co-creation with communities and the benefits to universities and students.

We also discussed the challenges and importance of inclusivity and heard from leading experts and practitioners who shared their thinking and best practice from the UK, India and other countries. They also shared insights on the significance of co-creation and a frugal approach. Our speakers also talked about the importance of listening carefully to the needs and preferences of people from disadvantaged groups, both to achieve effective inclusion within innovation processes and for addressing unmet social needs.

Solving societal challenges

Today, many institutions and entities, such as universities, NGOs, civil society organisations, public and private sector organisations and government departments are concerned with tackling issues of poverty and disadvantage. But how far do they actively involve people from local disadvantaged, low-income groups within their innovation processes, or support their staff, members of students to identify and co-create with local grassroots innovators to help solve grassroots issues? What access do disadvantaged groups have to expertise within these organisations which can build their capacity to innovate themselves?

If we are to solve issues of poverty, social exclusion, and inequality in this country, and achieve transformational change in the lives of some of the poorest (and alienated) in society we need to do much more to engage the ‘untapped potential’ and ingenuity that exists within our communities, and not be satisfied with what is often token involvement.

People from disadvantaged groups must be meaningfully included within innovation processes and within organisations (across sectors, in all areas). Their contribution should also be valued in a way that leads to real social and economic improvement in their lives.

Additionally, it is vital that we address the barriers and challenges faced by people from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the potential to become innovators but who do not have access to opportunities and resources which can empower, enable and support them to progress their ideas. Britain does not have a truly inclusive innovation ecosystem that is proactive in encouraging and nurturing the creation and growth of innovation by those who are outside the mainstream. But inclusion is a goal that all proponents of social change should be actively pursuing.

Pursuing inclusive innovation

‘Inclusive innovation’, is an approach that offers a chance to achieve meaningful participation of excluded groups within innovation processes. It is an opportunity for innovation to be developed both by, with and for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, which leads to them being able to access products and services that can improve their quality of life. It creates a level playing field for innovation where a person’s socio-economic status is not a barrier to his/her involvement and this brings great possibilities for addressing adversity, improving incomes and well-being and for social mobility.

Inclusive innovation offers organisations real opportunities for learning, for effective decision-making and for the development of novel models of innovation which can lead to business growth, and stronger social outcomes.

However, in order to achieve inclusive innovation, we have to create the conditions which will enable it to emerge and flourish across Britain, which includes developing innovation policy that encourages ‘inclusion’. For this to happen and for it to be sustainable, all sectors will need to be involved. Doing Social is currently developing a framework and toolkit which will offer guidance, leadership and support to this end.

Our speakers included: