More than markets

With their extensive training in social context and complex social dynamics, you might think that social workers were leaders in the burgeoning fields of social innovation and social entrepreneurship. But they’re not, as business and design schools have muscled them out.

We took this message to current and future social work academics in an effort to help them develop their own more socially-oriented approach to innovation.

“There’s a secret about social innovation,” Jeff Leitner told the Islandwood Roundtable on Innovation in Social Work. “The people who teach it, facilitate it and reward it don’t know anything about social systems and how they work. Worse, it doesn’t occur to them that a grounding in social systems is the least bit relevant.”

Unlike the innovation model commonly espoused in business schools, a social work version would look beyond markets and technology as methods of diffusion and would be grounded in legitimate understanding of human systems and institutions.

Developing a more legitimate model for social innovation is part of our work as Innovator in Residence at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, where we have helped launch the nation’s first doctorate in social innovation.