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Economic success requires ability for large-scale renewal

The study "Social innovations and society’s capacity to renew itself" links social innovations with society’s ability to renew its structures.


Press release 8 November 2004 Sitra’s report Sosiaaliset innovaatiot ja yhteiskunnan uudistumiskyky (Social innovations and society’s capacity to renew itself), released on 8 November 2004, presents the results of an extensive research project on social innovations, carried out between 2002 and 2004.

The study links social innovations with society’s ability to renew its structures. Global economy is currently undergoing a transition that can be considered the third industrial revolution. The debate on globalisation has approached this complex process mainly as a threat.

The rapid changes in our operating environment can, however, also be seen as an opportunity. This approach requires ability and readiness to change. “The economic and social success of societies in the transition of the global economy depends on their capacity to structurally renew themselves and innovate,” says Risto Heiskala who headed the research project.

In Finland, innovation has traditionally meant technological or commercial innovations. This is no longer enough, as the transition in the world economy is challenging the entire Finnish society to renew its structures. The lively debate on this issue should also involve social innovations.

Social innovations improve society’s capacity to function

Social innovations mean reforms of regulative systems, politics, organisational structures and operating models that improve society’s economic and social performance and viability. Social innovations may concern the activities of the public sector, but they can also be produced by the private sector and by citizens.

The work now released examines the development potential of (using so-called means they don’t learn) learning organisations in all three sectors of society. The aim is to help organisations form practices that can facilitate change without throwing it into a crisis. One such crisis was the economic recession that hit Finland in the early 1990s. It forced the country to make rapid changes, which eventually lead to new success in the form of the economic boom in the latter half of the decade. This process did, however, bring about a sharper division between different segments in society.

How can societies renew themselves without being compelled to by crises?

Towards a policy of social innovation

The authors present three scenarios of structural change: 1) atrophy, 2) crisis and chaos and 3) proactive renewal. In a positive scenario, a society’s structures are renewed constantly through predicting the changes in the operating environment and assessing their impact on the society’s viability.

“The proactive approach gives policymakers enough time to analyse and plan the changes that need to be made,” says Timo Hämäläinen, who was responsible for the project at Sitra.
“We are creating processes in which new answers are sought to the questions societies are faced with to facilitate social innovations and reforms.”

Social innovation policies involve measures that can improve a society’s ability to make structural changes. The main challenges have to do with strategic prediction and evaluation, pilot projects, research, media and communication policies, the education system, cultural policies, common envisioning and strategy-making processes and organisational cultures. In these areas, Finnish policymakers should identify the improvement of society’s capacity for renewal as a key goal.

The study also introduces a vision of a forerunner society, which Finland being small, flexible and competitive could easily be envisaged as. A forerunner society is a genuinely learning society in the vanguard of social development. It can offer businesses an operating environment in which to succeed, now and in the future. This success would also serve as the foundation for the well-being of all Finns.

The study was carried out by a broad group of Finnish and international experts.

Further information

Sitra, Timo Hämäläinen, Director, tel. +358 (0)9 618 991
University of Jyväskylä, Professor Risto Heiskala, tel. +358 (0)14 260 2821

Publication details

Timo Hämäläinen & Risto Heiskala:
Sosiaalaiset innovaatiot ja yhteiskunnan uudistumiskyky.
(in Finnish)
Sitra 271.
ISBN 951-37-4334-9, ISSN 0785-8388 (Sitra).
Edita Publishing Oy.
Helsinki 2004.
Rrp 28 euros.
Available at Edita customer service and bookshops.