At CHS we teach and support social innovation as a powerful strategy for creating healthier communities. Over the past 25 years we have helped hundreds of organizations apply social innovation principles to improve health and health care at the state, regional, and community level. The results can be seen in creative strategies for optimizing the reach and impact of community services and supports. Learn more about our social innovation supports below, and contact us to discuss the possibilities.
If you check the literature you will see a range of definitions for social innovation. Many of these definitions are more complex than they really need to be. We offer this working definition as a guide, based on our 25 years of experience in the field of social innovation:
Social innovation is innovation intended for public and social good. It can be applied to improve services and supports for health, education, housing, nutrition, safety, social connection, economic empowerment, and more. Social innovation can come from any sector, and it’s key dynamic is bringing people together for collaborative learning and action. This makes social innovation an essential strategy for addressing the complex challenges facing our communities today.
To expand on this definition:
The goal of social innovation is positive impact for a defined population at the neighborhood, community, or societal level.
The population could be any group of people who share common needs or aspirations.
The focus may include health, education, housing, nutrition, safety, economic empowerment, and other factors that influence individual and community health and well-being.
The scope could include any aspects of the system affecting the people involved (policies, programs, services, supports, practices, processes, systems, structures, culture).
The innovators may come from any sector, including nonprofits, government, business, philanthropy, and advocacy.
The guiding principles include creativity, collaboration, inclusion, effectiveness, equity, scale, and sustainability. These principles are essential for assuring focus and producing results.
The relationships developed through social innovation have value in themselves, and ideally provide a foundation for ongoing collaboration and innovation.
Social innovation is not something entirely new or off the shelf. The fact is, social innovation is an evolving concept that is being applied to solve challenges in just about every community across the country. The work of social innovation is rewarding, but it can also be challenging. It helps to have a process model to help streamline and accelerate this vital work. We outline a proven process model for social innovation in the next section.
Social innovation can be applied to address a wide range of challenges that affect groups of people at the neighborhood, community, or societal level. At CHS, we focus on social innovation to improve health and well-being for individuals and communities. To illustrate just some of the possibilities from our sphere of work, consider this list of real-world innovations produced by our client partners at CHS:
New access points for healthy food in underserved neighborhoods.
A new service to help uninsured community members access dental care.
A program to help people in recovery gain and sustain employment.
A simpler technology for helping people manage diabetes and hypertension at home.
A school health program that incorporates physical activity throughout the school day.
A telehealth program that helps veterans in rural areas access mental health services.
A complete street design that improves access and safety for people with disabilities.
A community network that coordinates delivery of health care and social care for a defined population.
All of these initiatives are practical examples of social innovation. The full range of possibilities is much more expansive, and could include social innovations for health, education, housing, nutrition, safety, social connection, economic empowerment, and more.
Social innovation is not limited to the nonprofit or government sector. Nonprofits, public institutions, philanthropic organizations, business entities, and consumer advocates can all play a vital role in generating social innovations. The possibilities for innovation expand when people collaborate within and across sectors to innovate for a shared social purpose. Potential partners in social innovation could include the following, and more:
Social innovation works best when people come together with a deep commitment to solving a challenge in creative ways. It helps to have a process model or framework to provide focus and keep the process moving. At CHS we collaborate with our client partners to apply a proven process model for conducting social innovation. We have tested and refined this model over 25 years of experience with hundreds of organizations. The basic steps are outlined below.
In this step…
We can help you…
Select a focus for community innovation (health, education, housing, nutrition, community safety, economic empowerment, other)
Engage key stakeholders as partners in exploring innovation
Assess community needs and assets, and consider possibilities for innovation
Design and test innovation ideas using design thinking strategies
Develop capacity for implementation (people, policies, processes, practices, systems, resources)
Implement and optimize the innovation based on experience and feedback
Demonstrate effectiveness based on impact, equity, and feasibility
Bring the innovation to scale based on reach and impact relative to cost
Sustain the innovation for continuing operation on value-driven resource models
Spread the innovation to new populations or communities based on documented design and performance