Creating social innovators/entrepreneurs: Site ontology as the framework for conceptualising social innovation programmes and pedagogy

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Conference Proceeding

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There is an increasing hope among various constituents of society including governments, academia, media, and general public, that social innovations emerging from different parts of the world will finally offer sustainable solutions to many of the complex societal and environmental problems that threaten the future of our world. Development of social innovators and entrepreneurs has become an area of priority for many governments, developmental agencies and practitioners alike.

Many universities world over have responded to this by starting dedicated programmes on social innovation/entrepreneurship. Social innovation/entrepreneurship programmes typically consist of major/minor/certificate offerings, interdisciplinary courses/programmes, projects/experiential learning, seminars, internships, student clubs, competitions, mentor networks, etc.

In this paper, we argue that programmes and pedagogies for creating social innovators and entrepreneurs need to be embedded in supportive ecosystems to truly fulfill their purpose. An innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem refers to the community of organisations and individuals beyond the innovator/entrepreneur that may include government, schools, private industry, small businesses, investors, banks, other entrepreneurs, social leaders/innovators, research centres, military, labour representatives, students, lawyers, business consultants, cooperative associations, private foundations, international actors, etc. While there are several frameworks available to assess and track the development of entrepreneurial ecosystems, they are limited in their ability to capture higher order interactions and embeddedness which are critical to ecosystem success. We argue for evaluation of the programmes and pedagogies in terms of their level of ecological embeddedness as means to ensure their effectiveness.

We offer Schatzki’s (2005) site ontology as the framework for conceptualising and evaluating ecological embeddedness social innovation/entrepreneurship programmes and pedagogy. A site is composed of nexuses of practices and material-structural arrangements. Practices are organised human activities. Any practice is an organised, open-ended, spatial-temporal manifold of actions. The set of actions that composes a practice has three factors: understandings of how to do things (tacit), rules (explicit) and teleoaffective structure (an array of ends such as social impact, financial survival etc., and even emotions of the participants). Understandings or rules or teleoaffective structures do not cause actions, but actions express understandings, rules and teleoaffective structures. Which understandings are expressed by a given action depends on several factors: other actions that actor performs, their mental conditions, the situation of the action, the wider social context. Therefore actions related to social innovation practice depends on the social, historical, and material context in which the activity transpires. So the practice of social innovation must be examined in the context of material-structural arrangements. Material and structural arrangements include resources and physical location. Resources include social, material, and cultural dimensions. Structures are collective vehicles but they also shape the practice. They are emergent and evolving. They are nested and interconnected: government, non-government, for-profit industry, education/universities, regional economic entities, and so on.

Using two universities in different ecosystems, New York Institute of Technology and University of San Diego, as examples we demonstrate how site ontology can be utilised for conceptualising and evaluating social innovation and entrepreneurship programmes.

Publication Title

2016 International Social Innovation Research Conference