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Information Centre on Social Innovation

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My function is to talk briefly about the nature and purposeof an information centre in support of social innovation. It is Important to emphasize that much information on social innovation already exists. It is not a question of wasting time in an effort to rediscover America. The problem isthat such information takes a wide variety of forms:secondly, that it is diluted with a great deal of non-innovative information thirdly, that it is currently associated with specific types of projects in many different sectors or problem areas.

The question then is what is the precise function of any information activity ? What can be usefully done that is both practical end to a large extent financially self-supporting.


The basic objectives of an Information programme in support of social Innovation might include the following:

1. To define the nature of social innovation as it works out in practice, as Illustrated by current innovative projects and proposals, in many different contexts and under many different names. By its very nature, the innovative quality of new projets cannot be satisfactorily pre-defined. It must emerge progressively by the accumul- ation of comparisons within a relatively open framework of information on innovative project"

2. To distinguish social Innovation fron related initiatives which lack the innovative. integrative and practical approach to complex psycho-social situations in which safeguarding human valuesis a major consideration

3. To ensure recognition of the necessary degree of Interration and sensitivity for social Innovation project"by drawing attention to features of satisfactory approaches to complex social problems and contrasting them with the features of less satisfactory, approaches. 4. To provide aframework or range of project prototypes which, through their common features and interrelationships draw attention to tested possibilities and highlight the existance of unexplored avenues.

5. To record the kinds of intellectual tools considered necessary and which have proved useful the types of problems for which the projects have proved suitable; the types of environment in which they have been applied and in which they can (or cannot) be applied: the organizations which have the skills and proven experience to implement such projects and the kinds of negative consequences which may have to be taken into account

The emphasisin connection with each of these objectives isnot on information on specific projects but rather on any specific innovative package of methods, approaches,or procedures which has proved its worth in identifiable projects through which it has been developed. It must be stressed that it is the possibility of using the same approach in other (possibly very different situations), namely the polyvalent nature of such approaches, which is of interest. Innovative aproaches, which is of interest. Innovative apporaches which are unrepeatable are of relatively little interest.

Information tools

A. Reference Information

1. Data base

This should hold the descriptive information noted above for all identifiable innovative approaches to social problems, together with information on the associated projects or prototypes through which their value has been demonstrat- ed. Any such data base should have an immediate use (which should make it financially self-supporting to the extent possible) and which should respond directly to objectives outlined above. It should not constitute an accumulation of data for the private advantage of anarrow elite, One immediate use, which could in part determine the organization of the information, is the publication in areference book of the information collected.

2. Reference book

As an information tool, a reference bookhas the advantage that it may be widely disseminated at relatively low cost in order to facilitate access to information held in the data base. The periodic preparation and publication of such a book (or extracts from it) has the advantage that it can be financial- ly supported from salesof the book, once the investment in the first edition has been achieved. Any errors or comissions stimulate a dialogue with users who provide a stream of new information.

A substantial coherent collection of information, regularly updated,does much to legitimate a new approach orperspective such as social innovation, particularly if each edition carries reports and articles summarizing the current state of the art.

Such a publication can be produced from a data base held, updated andindexed on computer systems, as is done with the 1000-page Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential (on which Mankind 2000 is working jointly with the Union of International Associations, publishers of the Yearbook of International Organizations). This also facilitates the extraction of specialized reference books by subject, by problem, by method, by environment, ets.

3. Newsletter

This is a possibletool but perhaps not necessary if a reference book is regularly produced. Caution is necessary in envisaging the production of a newsletter which can be costly in time, personnel, printing and distribution. without significantly furthering the informationobjectives

B. Other Publications

1. Special reports

Special studies, reports, or evaluations may be usefully produced asthe occasion arises and usually with the aid of special funding

2. Collection of papers

As the number of articles on social Innovation increases, it maybeuseful to publish them together in a series of books in order to facilitate access to theintellectual framework of the social innovation process and the tools which are available.

3. Journalistic representation

In order to achieve amuch wider understandingof the social innovation process and its possibilitiesit would be useful to have selected portions of the above information examined by journalists, researched in greater depth, and developed into publications with more popular appeal.

C. Question/Answer Service

A formal service could be developed (as opposed to the natural developnent of an informal service) as a means of responding to queries about specific points connected with social innovation end its support. This should perhaps be done with caution because, as with the Newsletter, it can be costly in timeand personnel, without significantly furthering the information objectives, particularly if much of the information requested is available in the pulications.

Many of these possibilities could be achieved either through one or more central international secretariats, or at the regional or national level, or even under contract where appropriate.

New understanding

There is a danger in simply responding to new problem dimensions by the creation of new information system. There is a certain unreflective automatism to any such reaction, based on the doubtful assur^tlon that more information necessarily lends to better action. Such information, to be significant as an aid to any new approach must above all facilitate the emergence of a new understandingtbased on points such as the following:

Profile of social innovation approaches

(A basis for organization of information for inclusion in a data base and reference book)

  1. Entry number: a numerical identifier for each approach located
  2. Project/Approach name(s) or abbreviations 3. Address of originatingbody 4. Other addresses 5. Aim of approach
  3. Description of project
  4. Background of project and approach
  5. Scale of funding and methods of funding
  6. Range and level of skills required
  7. Argument in favour of the approach
  8. Counter-argument(s) critical of the approachand its effects
  9. Environment necessary for the project to be successful
  10. Availability of package of procedures, etc. which constitute the documentation in support of the approach
  11. Countries in which the approach has been used
  12. Cross-references
    • 1. Organizations which have used the approach
      2. Skills
      3.Nature of problems which the approach to remedy
      4. etc.

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