Having just finished a scoping study on faith-based anti-poverty projects, we’re now looking at our next research steps.
One of our conclusions was that some faith groups in the UK are increasingly moving from traditional forms of charity and giving to more innovative solutions to social problems. Rather than simply meeting a material need, the emphasis is now on “transformation” and more rounded social interventions. Soup runs, by way of example, are struggling to remain active while faith-based debt counselling (such as Christians Against Poverty) flourishes.
This has led me to tentatively suggest that some faith groups, particularly evangelical Christians, are embracing the notion of social innovation (even if they’re not consciously engaged with the concept).
The problem comes when I have to define social innovation. There has been so little academic research that at present it probably lacks rigour and is more than a little slippery. I like to keep things simple so I’ll start simply: social innovation refers to new social practices which enhance socio-political capabilities or modes of participation.
Unlike technical innovation, social innovation cannot be evaluated economically but on the level of social patterns, behaviours, and practices. Ultimately, social innovations necessarily involve collective, collaborative action. That’ll do for now!