SSI Review: Social Innovation Needs Design


Cheryl Heller, the chair of the new MFA program, Design for Social Innovation, at the School of Visual Arts in New York, writes at the Stanford Social Innovation Review about how design and social innovation are inextricably linked. Social Innovation is increasingly being talked about, thought about, and practiced. But, as Heller writes,

Because social innovation is everywhere, it’s also all over the place. New silos of experts crop up all the time, each slightly restating the jargon. Added to the confusion of similar words, conflicting methods complicate and make simple truths obscure. The race to impact and scale often ignore business fundamentals; and there is not enough focus on unintended consequences. We are accelerating, incubating, and funding on the fly—before we know what works. Talk of collaboration is constant, but talk is still cheap and we continue to struggle within the organizational boundaries of the industrial age we’re trying to shake.

So how do we overcome this chaos of methods and this entrenchment in jargon? Can we instead propose a practicable, valuable methodology? Yes, we can, says Heller, stating that “If social innovation is our relationship with purpose, design is the means and the method to make that purpose manifest.”

Social innovation needs the contributions of people who are creative, visually inclined, curious, and willing to experiment and take risks. It needs methodologies that allow for mistakes, prototyping, risk-taking and thereafter, testing, redesigning and enhancing. It needs design.

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