Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

IDEAS | For the greater good …

Our work often crosses the seeming society-business divide and our approach is ever inquiring into diverse approaches. More recently, ideas about social impact, collective impact, shared value, social economy and social innovation have become ingrained in the way we work and plan with places and communities. These are important ideas to grasp as they are integral to the reshaping of value creation and social capital in integrated ways. Here we collate some of the definitions of these important ideas and practices sourced from credible sources.

Social Impact can relate to any initiative, such as an infrastructure proposal, a business activity or a mining project, and refers to “the net effect of an activity on a community and the well-being of individuals and families” (Australian Centre for Social Impact). That is social impacts can be negative and positive – they might create employment, yet exacerbate other aspects of inequity or access. Therefore, in considering and assessing social impact, it is important that cumulative and negative impacts are understood and mitigated. This often means they need to be measured over time – as one planning aphorism notes, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”. As part of infrastructure and mining project and some development projects, social impact assessments are undertaken in accordance with state and local government regulations. These studies ascertain the risk and social impacts of the proposal for the community, usually include community consultation and offer mitigation measures.

We first heard of Collective Impact via a Stanford Social Innovation Review article by John Kania & Mark Kramer (Winter 2011). It refers to the success and endurance of organisations that adopt collective and collaborative modes of working. The authors define Collective Impact as involving:

the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. Collaboration is nothing new. The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinctly different. Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure a dedicated staff and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.

The authors identify five conditions of Collective Impact:

  • a common agenda
  • shared measurement systems
  • mutually reinforcing activities
  • continuous communication
  • backbone support organisations.

Developed by economist Michael E. Porter, Shared Value recognises a greater purpose and role for firms and companies. In the Harvard Business Review (January 2011), Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer describe Shared Value as:

creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress. Shared value is not social responsibility, philanthropy, or even sustainability, but a new way to achieve economic success. It is not on the margin of what companies do but at the center. We believe that it can give rise to the next major transformation of business thinking.

Shared Value is closely related to Social Impact in the sense that there is recognition that social and business dynamics are interelated. Incidentally, we’ve also just registered with the Shared Value Initiative to participate in a community of practice that examines the potential of shared value in creating thriving communities and business. Such ideas also have bearing on how we might approach developing community capacity and social capital.

According to the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance, the Social Economy is comprised of:

organizations which are animated by the principle of reciprocity for the pursuit of mutual economic or social goals, often through social control of capital.  This definition would include all co-operatives and credit unions, non-profit and volunteer organisations, charities and foundations, service associations, community enterprises, and social enterprises that use market mechanisms to pursue explicit social objectives.  It would thus include for-profit businesses, where those businesses share surpluses and benefits with members (and/or the wider community) in a collectively owned structure (e.g. a co-operative).  In this definition it would not include those non-profit and voluntary organizations that are entirely grant or donation dependent (though some do include such organizations in their definitions of the social economy).

Social economy organisations often develop innovative business models and processes.

Social Innovation refers to new strategies, concepts, ideas and organizations that meet social needs of all kinds — from working conditions and education to community development and health — that extend and strengthen civil society (Wikipedia). More importantly, social innovative often seeks to address wicked and complex problems through collaborative, integrative, systems and design thinking. Social Innovation can refer to innovation in the social economy particularly in relation to new products and services including those developed through crowdsourcing and open source approaches. The European Commission defines Social Innovation as:

innovations that are social in both their ends and their means – new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and create new social relationships or collaborations. They are innovations that are not only good for society but also enhance society’s capacity to act. Social innovations take place across boundaries between the public sector, the private sector, the third sector and the household.

In our work, we are often challenged to work with clients to develop innovative approaches to services, products, systems and infrastructure. Social and community planning and regional development is increasingly concerned with innovative and enterprising approaches, often requiring intersectoral partnerships. Community and stakeholder engagement can and should encourage collaboration and co-design for the creation and maintenance of inclusive communities and vibrant places.


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