Do government + social innovation mix?
It was fascinating to see a city government as the primary host of a conference on impact-oriented innovation. Innovation–by nature–involves doses of failure. Governments, as entities, generally tend to be risk-averse in policy-making—opting for tried and tested solutions over highly-experimental ones. It was hopeful to see that governments realize that if we want the most innovative, most impactful solutions requires an ecosystem of innovation. With that comes the best of innovation (i.e. viable solutions) and its worst (i.e. huge failures). That this event implicitly acknowledged that pendulum swing was a telling sign about the reach and increasing maturity of those who embrace social innovation.
After opening remarks, attendees entered a room with plenty of butcher paper, markers, and tape to suggest new topic ideas. After making the 20 second pitch of their unconference session idea, participants voted on their favorite ideas.
Hosting an unconference session
Having recently co-hosted a social innovation unconference of our own recently, I was excited to try the similar problem + solution brainstorming we utilized there in this setting. I proposed a session on identifying problems we see in our local areas and identifying solutions available and how those solutions could be improved upon. About a half-dozen folks participated in the session and after introductions about our areas of interest and expertise, we dove into identifying issues we see that are ripe for innovation. The exercise was eye-opening because individuals were approaching it from very different vantage points and perspectives. Students viewed the issues of San Jose from a completely different lens than the City Councilmember who also participated.
Since the session was brief, we didn’t have a chance to dive very deep into brainstorming solutions, but it was empowering to connect on the topic with a small group of people focused on identifying local issues with specificity, and creative solutions they have seen or considered.
Here are a few resources on the SJ Social Innovation Leadership Forum.