Social innovation is here to stay

11 Nov, 2016
L-R: Joel Umali and Dr Maggie Buxton

It’s the new buzzword for ‘doing good well’, but New Zealand has strong roots in social innovation that predate the movement.

Dr Maggie Buxton, a lecturer in Creative Technologies at Colab, a community of transdisciplinary practices at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), says New Zealand has a history of social change, activism and reform – from women’s suffrage to same-sex marriage.

“The work that social innovation describes has been around for a long time – it reflects the way that people talk about innovation in work and society. Now, it describes anyone engaged in new, different or disruptive change within communities, from grassroots to large systems,” she says.

Dr Buxton spoke at Social Innovation South at AUT South Campus on November 10.

The public event examined the key issues, research and projects in social innovation, with a lens on Manukau – one of the country’s fastest growing and diverse cities.

Joel Umali, Project Leader Strategic Community Initiatives at Auckland Council, hosted a Pecha Kucha presentation with local innovators.

Umali is an advisor to The Southern Initiative (TSI) – Auckland Council’s plan for social, economic and physical regeneration in South Auckland.

“We’re seeing innovation on the fringe. Things are happening organically, including community-centred initiatives. There’s a resurgence in the belief that communities need to be part of the solution,” he says.

In New Zealand, social innovation is gaining popularity with institutions, public and private, as a strategy for tackling societal concerns – ranging from ageing populations and healthcare, to liveable cities.

Bureaucracy is linear, but messy problems often require messy solutions.

This includes attempts to actively involve all stakeholders in the design process, to ensure that the end result meets their needs.

Dr Buxton says there are more complex partnerships in play. A critical framework is also emerging.

“The focus is shifting from outputs to outcomes. We need a robust process to measure the real change for individuals, because there are vulnerable groups involved,” she says.

Dr Buxton believes that social innovation is here to stay.

“People are wanting to better their circumstances and those of their neighbours. They’re realising the importance of basic attitudes like kindness and generosity. And, if those things aren’t here to stay, then we’re all in trouble,” she says.

AUT is the only university in South Auckland.

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