Social Innovation in Established Settings

Jo-Louise Huq (PhD, MBA) May 2019

Social innovation is about creating and introducing new ideas and solutions to address persistent, complex social and environmental challenges — things like housing insecurity, the opioid crisis, climate change, poverty.

These and other issues “hamper economic growth … heighten inequality, increase the need for expensive public services, and result in a profound human cost, both in terms of individual lives and social cohesion” (

People are coming together to explore what social innovation could mean and how it could be encouraged in Canada. National (e.g., Social Innovation Canada ( ) and regional networks are being formed to encourage collaboration, explore and test new ideas, and accelerate social innovations. The emergence of networks is a promising first step: new ideas often emerge from the intersection of sectors, organizations, communities, and people who traditionally have not worked together.[i]

However, alongside the promise of social innovation are some challenges. In this blog post, I want to talk about a challenge that does not often get addressed in the social innovation literature (and a challenge I explored in a recent publication[ii]):

The challenge of encouraging social innovation in sectors or settings where traditional solutions to social problems are very established, and the people who deliver these solutions (or services) are professionals and occupational experts.

In these sectors and settings (e.g., healthcare, addiction and mental health service, justice, violence against women) social innovation can involve introducing new frameworks that require professionals and occupational experts to work with each other and clients in new ways. Social innovation can also involve asking professionals and occupational experts to themselves develop new ways of working. Both are easier said than done.

Professionals and occupational experts tend to have established—even taken-for-granted—understandings of social problems and what solutions should be applied. New solutions can challenge these established understandings and ways of working, sometimes leading to resistance, which can negatively affect social innovators’ efforts. Recognizing that sometimes resistance is warranted, for social innovation resistance can limit the ability to even explore and experiment with new solutions.  

My research suggests that there are different ways that social innovation can be encouraged in established sectors and settings. It points to:

… the need for social innovators (including leaders and managers in organizations) to disrupt professionals’ established ways of thinking about and solving problemsAnd, to do so through disrupting actions that interrupt professionals’ traditional ways of thinking about and solving problems. [iii]

With social innovation a growing focus in Canada, it will be necessary to develop an understanding of how these ideas can be introduced and encouraged in established sectors and settings. I look forward to exploring this puzzle in more depth in future blog posts. Until then, please connect if you have questions or comments.

#socialinnovation; #professions; #professionals; #ccigsolutions; #systemchange

[i] Nicholls, A., & Murdock, A. (2012). The nature of social innovation. In Social innovation (pp. 1-30). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

[ii] Huq, J. L. (2019). Conditioning a professional exchange field for social innovation. Business & Society58(5), 1047-1082.

[iii] Huq, J. L. (2019). Conditioning a professional exchange field for social innovation. Business & Society58(5), 1047-1082.

Published by CCIG | Collaborating, Changing, Innovating, EnGaging

I am a 'pracademic,' a practitioner of collaborative change and innovation who also conducts and publishes research on collaboration, change, and innovation. This is my personal blog, and I use it to communicate about my and other's research, publications, and ideas related to change, innovation, and collaboration.

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