On Technology and Social Innovation

Oftentimes, when we’re talking about innovation, what it is and how it can be learnt or taught (which happens often over the lunch table here in our office), we end up talking about the different kinds of innovation – technological, social and others – and how the approaches therein would also be different. However, maybe that isn’t always true, and as Patricia Morizio of the Huffington Post writes, these themes aren’t always dichotomous:

There are so many ways technology is intersecting with the non-profit world. This combination of business, design, and world changing innovation is as much fascinating as it is game-changing as far as our traditional conceptions of technology, international development, aid, philanthropy, and collaboration are concerned.

In fact, many of the projects we work on here at CKS lie at this very intersection, including mobile-based healthcare and financial services, internet-based health consulting, and more. And of course, the social innovation world is full of many more such technology-driven examples, spanning agriculture, education, and a host of other sectors. See the infographic below for a great visual depiction of the use of mobile phones for social development projects.

The big data revolution is driving this forward as well, in ways that haven’t fully been explored or imagined yet. Moreover, open source technologies and open forums on the internet and social networking sites have enabled collaboration and communication that in turn have led to major breakthroughs, as Morizio writes:

Think about it this way: For 10 years, HIV scientists had been struggling to crack an extremely difficult problem (to produce an accurate model of the crystal structure of the M-PMV retroviral protease by molecular replacement, to be exact), hindering their progress in the research of the virus. Then in 2011, the puzzle website, Foldit, published the HIV problem to the public and, in less than a month, the gaming community had solved the conundrum. It is common knowledge that the best people at innovating are individuals, but also that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Collaboration is key, and in today’s world, with the proper forums and communication tools at our disposal, it has become even easier and more efficient. It just takes a little out of the box thinking to achieve sometimes.

There are many more examples of tech-driven social innovation, including crowd-sourced innovation, ideation and funding and social-network driven innovation. But, while technology is certainly a great tool to enable social innovation, and a great catalyst to drive it forward, it is not a silver bullet that will solve all social problems, and needs to be used strategically and only where appropriate, in ways that respond to the specific context.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
This entry was posted in Design!publiC and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *