Project Innovation is a teaching and learning resource to support the advancement of social innovation among non-profit organizations, charities, governmental agencies, and for-profit ventures that are working to improve the conditions and experiences of vulnerable populations. Individuals and communities who are self-advocating to improve their living circumstances will also find this resource useful.
The goal of Project Innovation is to encourage people to deeply understand the underlying causes of these varied social issues and seek out creative strategies that might redefine their goals, reframe their programs and ventures, and suggest unique solutions that have greater impact than more traditional approaches.
A theory of change for social innovation, informed by organizations that are already successfully engaging in innovative approaches to create social change.
A series of tools to teach indispensable research, facilitation, and collaboration skills that will enable users to implement and create new social approaches.
Project Innovation began with research. The design team had conversations with a wide range of organizations and individuals who are successfully reshaping their fields and achieving great impact to improve social conditions. This research has led to three major assumptions that serve as starting points for this toolkit.
Organizations, teams, and individuals get stuck in patterns of working, thinking, and interacting. These patterns help us get through the day, the budget crunch, or the next deadline. However, established patterns usually come from selected strengths, problems, and possibilities. It is easy to stay in the comfort zone, focusing only on what is easy to manage and avoiding thoughts and actions that lead down unexpected, and therefore time consuming or challenging paths. We get so caught up in our own work that we sometimes forget the basics. We forget how to engage deeply with the common sense skills, such as, dialogue, brainstorming, or facilitation that help us refocus on what truly inspires us. The toolkit provides numerous starting points to help an individual, a facilitator, a team, or an organization think differently, ask unexpected questions, and try new approaches.
Thought and action go hand in hand. Both are necessary to address problems, reimagine impact, and fuel initiative. Therefore, the methods and tools in this toolkit are practical and grounded in particular problems and contexts that we believe are common around the globe, and ask users to do hard thinking about assumptions, expectations, and work processes. The structure of the toolkit reflects this assumption that thinking and acting are integral and need to be united in innovation efforts.
Work processes, approaches to problem solving, and divisions of labor are embedded in power relations. That means that people exist in relation to others, and the realities of status, voice, and access create differing levels of power. Attempts to change ways of thinking and doing are met with explicit and tacit feelings that can range from excitement to resistance depending on how issues and solutions are defined. If a new approach means more work for a leader, she may respond with a thumbs down. If an innovative plan gives the members of one team more discretionary budget and greater decision-making, co-workers may feel short-changed and resentful. We work within broader networks of power and influence that may provoke change as well as refusals to change. Pay attention to the power dynamics and the discomfort of proposed change, because such material and felt responses can undermine efforts to innovate.
The toolkit stories occur across the globe and may, on the surface, seem dissimilar from your current situation. Nevertheless, think about ways that the stories and problems intersect with your organization or team. What are the points of connection? Are there different kinds of parallels? How do the linkages emphasize particular aspects of the tools?
Project Innovation presents a challenge to approach this resource with an open mind, creativity and imagination. Adapt and adjust the materials, too. The toolkit encourages users to face “core” questions that challenge existing structures and hierarchies. This serves as a starting point to innovations unimagined.
Project Innovation welcomes your feedback on the toolkit:
Please email your thoughts to us.
Project Innovation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.