Unfortunately, the word “innovative” may be at risk of being the next good word to lose its meaning in the morass of overuse. It appears in all too many reports, documents, promotional materials and websites, and now it’s being used by governments to reframe complex societal and environmental issues as if they were simple targets for re-engineering instead of systemic, interrelated problems caused by “downstream” thinking.
“Social innovation” however, is also used for some incredibly progressive work being done by non-profits and inter-sectoral organizations aiming to make lasting, systemic change that benefits people and the planet, instead of focusing on actions that benefit corporate or financial interests first. What strikes me about this work is the way that courageous, creative thinking gets combined with practical, grassroots action to allow the best of a community to emerge and grow in new and self-sustaining ways.  In these initiatives, the inherent “logic” or infrastructure of a community is respected, the needs and drivers are “seen” and “listened” to, not judged and edited by external forces, and the energies within the system are nurtured and expanded so that reasonable and sustained growth is possible. In short, there is grounded theory, there is praxis, and there is creativity.
As a result, innovation does in fact stay fresh and flexible, not just as a buzzword but as a continual renewal of an ever-changing system. The innovation does in fact remain unique to the circumstances that fostered the initiative in the first place, even if learning can be taken into other situations. The learning, at its very core, is to spend more time listening and watching and asking questions that allow thoughtful, connected actions to emerge by the community within which the action is taking place.
Here’s some inspiring work by the Centre for Social Innovation:

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