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World Forum for Social Innovation

Provisional Programme: Social Engineering; Human Resource Development; Social Catalysis; Human Development; Social Transmutation ?

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Provisional programme for a forum to be held in Paris in 1976 under the auspices of Mankind 2000 (Brussels) and the Centre d'étude des consequences générales des grandes techniques nouvelles (CTN, Paris). Earlier variants appeared as: Social Transmutation Conference: details of possible themes (Revised notes, March 1974. PDF original); Proposed Conference Series on Social Catalysis (Revised notes 6-8, February 1974, PDF original), Proposed Conference Series on Social Engineering (Preliminary notes 1-5, November 1973, PDF original)

A. Challenge

It is widely acknowledged that mankind is faced with an increasingly complex challenge. The number and diversity of problems and crises with which society is confronted continue to increase. The interrelatedness of these problems and their cumulative negative effect on human beings become daily more apparent. Complexity and the large scale of many problems are forcing decisions to be made at levels where individual participation of those affected is increasingly remote, producing a crisis in political and social development which threatens the whole future of society.

The quality of individual human life and that of the community is changing rapidly and in many senses deteriorating ; foreseeable technological developments will have a still greater influence, presenting both opportunities for a richer life and a multiplicity of attendant dangers.

Humanity, in its struggle against hardship, has succeeded in creating institutions whose objectives are material affluence (through agriculture, industry and commerce). ButA because of the difficulties resulting from increasing social complexities, institutions have not yet been created which are capable of aiding the vast mass of people to find the means for their own development in the direction which each desires.

Many of the most serious conflicts facing mankind result from the interaction of social, economic, technological, political and psychological forces and can no longer be solved by fractional approaches from individual disciplines. The time is past when individual programmes can be promoted without consideration of social consequences and when technology can be allowed to develop without consideration of the social prerequisites of change or the social consequences of such change. Diagnosis is often faulty. Remedies proposed often merely suppress symptoms rather than attack the basic cause or else lead to unforeseen interaction between programmes, which only serves to aggravate further the problem complex. M ere modification of policies already proved to be inadequate will not result in what is right. Science in planning to-day is too often used to make situations which are inherently bad, more efficiently bad. New approaches are required, sensitive to the needs and the potential of the whole person.

In the face of this challenge there is general bewilderment, hopelessness and frustration on the part of the individual. Conventional organizational responses have to a large extent failed and are no longer perceived as having a significant or adequate effect on the new problem complexes. The lack of creative initiative results in the present atmosphere of bankruptcy. Might not social innovation for personal development offer the equivalent of what was accomplished in the century past by technical innovation for material affluence ?

B. Intended response

Conscious social innovation is an emerging approach. It is undoubtedly already present in the form of techniques, con- cepts and prototype projects. But these are often isolated, unknown and difficult to locate and interrelate. They are often difficult to bring to the attention of decision-makers and the general public upon which the latter depend for their support.

The purpose of the World Forum on Social Innovation is to offer a framework and focal point in time, possibly once every two years,

It is intended that this framework should offer a means of obtaining an overview of t he range of social change techniques available (and their side-effects and centra-indications) to render more explicit the methods of :

C. Forum themes

The exhibition stands, site visits , conference presentations and meetings arranged through the Organizing Committee will respond to social innovation themes which stress the following :

These themes will be considered in connection with projects focussing on one or more structures such as :

In every case, preference will be given to :

- "Blueprints" for projects which can be distributed widely and used, whether :
- low resource projects, - decentralized, open, high resource projects, - centralized, open, high resource projects.
- the concept and design of "catalytic" products or devices which can be made widely available to stimulate and facilitate the social innovation process by the manner in which they change the user's relationship to his social environment.

The Forum will be an open framework - a marketplace for innovation projects for all budgets - within which organizations and individuals looking for projects which respond to the social problems in their own environments can be exposed to other organizations and individuals together offering a wide range of project blueprints. The assembled expertise should help to initiate and facilitate the evaluation process by which a particular project or approach is finally selected.

(There is an international display every two years at Le Bourget of the range of technological innovation in the field of the materiel available for air transportation and space-exploration - an occasion which is a world market, a meeting-place for specialists, and also an attraction for hundreds of thousands of people. The organizers of the Forum have been impressed by the urgent need for some equivalent occasion at which to display and discuss the range or projects available for organized action against social problems).

D. Direction and interrelationship of innovation themes

Innovation of what ? In what direction ? In response to what type of problem ?

The double diagram below attempts to interlink a number of dimensions to provide a framework within which such questions can be answered. Of course, other presentations are conceivable. The essential is to keep in mind that the social domaine is in dynamic evolution and does not lend itself readily to static representation. The double diagram is however one attempt.

E. Structure and participation

Provisional size and direction.


50 large stands for organizations and enterprises to present their approaches and achievements, particularly for large-scale projects.

100 smaller stands for other organizations to present their approaches and achievements, possibly in more specialized areas.

(In both cases, the nature of the presentation to be made will be approved in advance by a committee to ensure that the stands together give an adequate overview of the range of social innovation trends. It is important to distinguish clearly between techniques and projects based upon an explicit methodology and awareness of the social variables to be taken into account and more conventional projects which are essentially an adaptation of the results of past experience.)

Further space, and stand units, will be made available for other groups to present their perception of social innovation projects (and their failures).

Smaller organizations with common interests are encouraged to combine into viable groupings for the purpose of presenting their separate achievements on a joint stand and servicing the stand during the exhibition.


Each morning in the main conference hall well-known personalities will make presentations or act as panelists. This series of 10 sessions (2 per morning) will give an overview of the social innovation process and direct attention to expected, and desirable future developments. The results will be published in book form. Some sessions may be by invitation only.


Each afternoon (or possibly in parallel with the morning conference) in the many committee and small conference rooms , a variety of meetings will be held on topics related to social innovation. These meetings may be of the following types :

In each case such meetings may be by invitation only, or also open to observers3 or conceived purely as a means of dialogue with any interested in the chosen theme.


Interested participants will be able to take conducted tours of selected sites in the neighbouring area which illustrate the consequences of the social innovation process.

F. Forum dynamics


The Forum is itself an exercise in social innovation:

To succeed, therefore, the Forum must itself be the subject of social innovation techniques and devices.

Intended response

The objective of the organizers is to ensure that whatever the background and immediate interests of the Forum participant (whether member of the general public or visiting decision-maker), the dynamics of the occasion will enable the person to make mutually beneficial contact quickly with those people and organizations with which he shares a common interest and style of action. This contact process will be nurtured by the setting to ensure that the maximum number of such contacts lead to the conception and implementation of further social innovation projects.

Facilitative methods

1. Spatial juxtaposition of exhibition, conference, symposia facilities, and informal discussion areas (restaurants, cafés, bars) to facilitate movement from one meeting mode to another.

2. Parallel programming of symposia and conferences on the main aspects of social innovation to permit participants to follow directly related themes. Emphasis on making available a space/time framework within which related or unrelated meetings can be pre-arranged or spontaneously set up in response to the emergence of new discussion themes.

3. Stimulation of meeting dynamics. Increasingly the weak points in meeting dynamics are the speaker and the chairman (however brilliant or prestigious). Their strategic advantages permit them to sidetrack the debate onto issues perceived to be a waste of time for the majority or for an enthusiastic minority, and to discourage and frustrate participants interested in greater interaction with the speakers and with participants holding interesting views. A new device will be available to permit participants to develop new communication patterns within each Forum meeting in parallel with (and as an additional input to) the formal operation of the meeting.

4. Facilitation of participant contact. Extensive use will be made of computer profiles of the participants (distinguished by background, function, interest and contact types desired), the pre-arranged meetings, the spontaneously emerging meetings, the exhibit stands, and the site visits. Each participant will periodically be able to obtain personalized suggestion lists identifying :

G. Sponsorship, support and participation


Each initiative in response to any range of social problems is bedevilled by the well-known conventional pattern of functions between the organization and individuals who believe themselves to be principally concerned. The positive support or leadership offered by any given organization or individual tends immediately to provoke the negative response of others, however complementary their functions may be. However justified, such dynamics threaten the viability of any initiative, irrespective of any general consensus on the gravity of the problems faced in this time of crisis.

Just as innovation is required in the content of organized response to social problems, so it is also required in the manner in which seemingly incompatible organization and individuals can combine their efforts and resources in support of any such response

Intended response

The Forum is conceived as an open framework which can attract the support and sponsorship of a wide variety of organizations and personalities. It is hoped that genuine differences (whether of approach, level of expertise, style of action, etc.) can be contained by the framework and reflected in the different exhibits and presentations or in the dynamics of the meetings scheduled by each school of thought and representative grouping.

Sponsorship and support

The following are being approached with a view to sponsorship or active support of the Forum as a whole :

Key national organizations with expertise in social innovation are being invited to function as coordinating centers to promote participation in the Forum from each such country. (They themselves are encouraged to use innovative technics to respond creatively to the challenge noted above.)


An appropriate structure of Committees including a Scientific Committee is being established (principally from the above categories) in order to focus operational and financial support for the Forum and ensure the quality of the final result.


Organizations (or possibly governments in the case of developing countries) with innovative social programs are invited to participate individually or collectively as exhibitors or sponsors of their own meetings within the Forum framework (and whether or not they wish to sponsor or support the Forum as a whole). They will include :

Both decision-makers concerned with social program formulation and members of the general public affected by them are invited to participate actively in the Forum. Their presence, interaction and satisfaction will be a principal measure of its success.

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