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Innovation, Change, and Technology Strategies for Success as Social Entrepreneursby@experimentalcivics
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Innovation, Change, and Technology Strategies for Success as Social Entrepreneurs

by Experimental CivicsJanuary 31st, 2018
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<strong>How does social change happen? | Social Innovation Blog Series</strong>

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How does social change happen? | Social Innovation Blog Series

Sarah Sharif (r), Founder and CEO of Experimental Civics based in Austin, Texas and Charlotte van Oostrum (l), freelance consultant and researcher in content strategy, design and management and Community Developer for Offcourse.io based in Rotterdam Area, The Netherlands met each other at SXSW 2017 and started to churn over this question.

Charlotte van Oostrum and Sarah Sharif

Charlotte: “In the fall of 2017, I travelled to the Black Forest in Germany for a mini-holiday with my partner and dog. We stayed at a family run guest house in a cherry orchard. We hiked, visited waterfalls and ate Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte and spätzle. The forest was at its most beautiful this time of year — green, red, brown and yellow leaves decorated the skies everywhere you looked. And to our joy, almost every farm roof was covered in solar panels.

But while driving on the serpentine roads through the valleys of the region, we continuously ran into alarmingly yellow and red signs with big black letters saying “NEIN ZUM WINDPARK” (no to the wind park). “Why”, my partner at one point remarked, “are people always opposed to change?” “Because they’re people,” I said.”

Change, Innovation, and Time

Mostly, people resist change. Whether it is to have a windmill in their backyard to change desks at the office. Why is that? And why, on the other hand, is innovation often seen as cool and hip?

Maybe this is because change is painful. Change can be defined as “to cause to be different, to transform.” Change leads us away from what we know, and towards something that we don’t. Innovation can be defined as “the art of introducing something new.” While change takes place in the past and present, innovation seems invokes the future. In other words, innovation doesn’t happen in our backyard as we know it. It happens in the future, a future where there’s a blank slate waiting for us to start over and do things differently.

Stages of Technology

When we compare change and innovation, it’s easy to oppose the two. But for an innovation to make it from our labs or computers into the real world, people will have to change in order to accept the introduction of the new. We both read Industries of the Future by Alec Ross, who points this out:

“The degree to which [innovations will permeate society] will eventually be determined not by whether it is feasible technologically and economically –at some point [something] will be–but by whether humans accept the changes they bring about.”

So maybe we should regard change and innovation as two phases that both need to take place for something to make an impact. In the rest of this blog post, we will therefore attempt to define change and innovation as two of three phases that lead to impact. And we will come up with strategies for both.

Next Nature Network, an international network for anyone interested to join the debate on our future based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, designed the Pyramid of Technology. The pyramid explains how technology becomes nature in the seven following steps:

  1. Envisioned: when it’s still just an idea
  2. Operational: here, you have a prototype or proof of concept
  3. Applied: your idea is adopted by an early majority
  4. Accepted: your idea part of our daily lives
  5. Vital: we can’t live without it
  6. Invisible: it’s no longer recognized as technology
  7. Naturalized: it’s part of our nature

Technology is defined as anything that humans have interfered with at some point. From rice fields to clothing to robotics — these are all technologies.

When we put the concepts of innovation and change next to the Pyramid of Technology, we could argue that a technology is in a phase of innovation in steps 1 through 3. Moving through stage 4 and 5 requires change. Until it has reached 6 and 7, when a technology has become second nature and we no longer see it as something new, or see it at all.

Strategies for Impact

The above may seem like an academic exercise. But as a social entrepreneur, you can use the stages of technology as tactics for your strategy. We need those tactics and strategies to make real, meaningful impact.

First, innovate. Then work to have people accept your idea. Until they can’t live or imagine a life without it anymore. Breaking it down in small steps makes the idea of innovation less daunting. And it provides you with the tools to go and be the change you want to see in the world.

Innovators are excited about things that are envisioned and want to use something immediately when it’s operational and/or applicable. But they often face resistance in the next phase of acceptance which is the transition from Step 3 to 4 in the model.

One identifiable problem is that in order to move the innovation into the next phase, the story of the benefits needs to be told by the actual end-users, and not the marketers.

Innovators have to intentional place the product in the hands of others who they are serving and this bears the questions: Should everyone be part of the innovation? Is that even possible? Is that where we are heading?

Sarah: “When I think about what Charlotte shared with me in regards to the stages of technology adoption, I immediately thought how we collectively create visions. For our lives, our roles, our friendships, our dreams…the first step is usually a visual representation by asking: what do I want this to look like?

I’m always actively connecting the dots for how hackathon sprints can play a larger role in crafting the space where folks can start moving from envisioning ideas to operational technology or solutions in a fast-paced, high-energy environment.

I understand that the sequential steps of acceptance takes time (we’re fighting against our own human behavior), and having the technology being a part of our natural routine requires a longer committed effort.

Hackathons hit the sweet spot by being the viable bridge between social innovations and actual change within a community by inviting innovators and the community to engage in production to adoption.

They are a powerful launchpad to an ever-growing canyon between the technology space and the people sphere.

Producing seamless pipelines between the technology and people spheres ensures that innovation won’t just be the fantasy of a few, but it will encompass the voices of many and become the model of the future.”

Building the model for the future is a daunting task and we don’t have all the answers as social entrepreneurs for what works effortlessly. We’re people and we shall always have our complexities about us. But, by understanding the intersection of innovation, social change, and technology, we can start building towards foundational systems that can bring sustainable impact. Thanks for reading!