Social innovations are often seen as the product of social entrepreneurs. This paper instead asserts that social innovations are also routinized. This is the result of the appearance of a new type of actors: Knowledge Intensive Social Services (KISS). Like Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS), KISS are consultancy organizations that provide their clients with specific knowledge to assist them in their innovation efforts.
This paper argues that the social economy presents characteristics of both entrepreneurial and routinized regimes. For instance, its nonprofit nature makes patenting difficult, which favors entrepreneurial search. On the other hand, social innovation cases reveal that success demands
a deep understanding of the needs and modus operandum of local communities. Such an understanding favors established actors – hence, a more routinized search.
Instances of entrepreneurial and routinized searches should, then, be common-place in the social economy. Yet social innovation literature tends to over-emphasize the stories of individual entrepreneurs. In this paper, we have documented cases of routinized search in which some agents specialize in providing knowledge, methods, social capital and funding to social innovators.
In light of the empirical evidences gathered in this paper, the resulting networks are very much centered around their initiating KISS, leaving them vulnerable to the disappearance or defection of this agent.
Yet interestingly, this vulnerability weakens over time, since social innovation networks are able to interact with others to form larger, more robust networks. Such interactions are not necessarily initiated by the initial KISS agent.
Entrepreneurial and routinized searches are being conducted in nonprofit activities, just as they are in every other sector. It is probably not the right moment to assess which behavior is responsible for the
larger share of social innovation. However, a number of signs indicate increasing routinization.
According to Baumol (2002), a distinctive feature of modern economic growth (in comparison with pre-19th century expansions) is the routinization of innovation.
This routinization allowed the emergence of sustained trends of hitherto unseen productivity gains. In this context, national differences in education systems, R&D budgets, and in the relative importance of in-house R&D and contract laboratories (among other institutions) gave rise to different national innovation systems. It would be of interest to determine whether what we are witnessing in the social economy corresponds to the emergence of what we might call “national social innovation systems”.
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To cite this article: Desmarchelier, B., Djellal, F., & Gallouj, F. (2020). Mapping social innovation networks: Knowledge intensive social services as systems builders. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 157, 120068.
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2020.120068
This publication has been prepared within INDIGISE project. The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of the project coordinator and may not always reflect the views of the European Commission or the National Agency.