Author: Dover, Graham John
There is increasing interest in the practice and study of social innovation to tackle complex problems in society. Our understanding, however, of innovations that are transformative - they lead to significant shifts in the way a social problem is understood and managed - is still underexamined. In this dissertation, I explore transformative social innovation by focusing on the relationship between social innovations and existing ways of thinking about social problems. I adopt an institutional lens, which highlights the processes and structures that affect how people talk about and act towards social problems. More specifically, I ground this institutional perspective by focusing on the roles of places and place-making in transformative social innovation. Empirically, I examine two cases of innovations, the Tri-Cities Mat Program and the Dr. Peter Centre, that address the needs of the “hard-to-house” - individuals with complex health and social needs who have difficulty in maintaining stable housing and risk becoming or are homeless. I found that places and place-making played key roles in these social innovations: places acted as mediators, containers and portals that shaped how social problems and solutions were understood; place-making included mapping, engaging and connecting work that played foundational, enabling and extending roles for each social innovation. My study presents a different perspective to the prevailing view of transformation in the social innovation literature, one based on replication. A social innovation may gain its transformative effects as much from the process to create, implement and maintain it than from its technical characteristics. Rather than focus on transformation as solution replication, I argue the transformative impact of a solution should be measured in terms of whether it generates more solutions, more recognition of the social problem, and more change in existing ways of thinking about the social problem.
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Thesis advisor: Lawrence, Thomas B.
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