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Social Innovation: Buzz Word Or Enduring Term?



One of the striking features of our society is the incessant urge for the creation, adoption and diffusion of innovations. Innovation takes many forms: technological, organizational, social, artistic, for example. The term ‘social innovation’ has come into common parlance in recent years. Some analysts consider social innovation no more than a buzz word or passing fad that is too vague to be usefully applied to academic scholarship. Some social scientists, however, see significant value in the concept of social innovation because it identifies a critical type of innovation. In this paper we suggest a working definition of social innovation that captures the common denominator of the existing definitions of the term. We show that when its empirical meaning is distilled, the term is of great importance. We distinguish social innovation from business innovation, and identify a subset of social innovations that requires government support. A subsidiary message of the paper –obvious, but often forgotten– is that interdisciplinary communication may be more fruitful if we realize that terminological discipline is a necessary condition in the search for improved knowledge.

Suggested Citation

  • Ville, Simon & Pol, Eduardo, 2008. "Social Innovation: Buzz Word Or Enduring Term?," Economics Working Papers wp08-09, School of Economics, University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia.
  • Handle: RePEc:uow:depec1:wp08-09

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    More about this item


    Business innovation; Social innovation; Quality of life; Pure social innovation; Bifocal innovation; Government support;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • O31 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Innovation and Invention: Processes and Incentives
    • O38 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Government Policy

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