User-Driven Social Innovation

This paper integrates theories on user-driven innovation with research on social innovation in order to argue that social innovation is often driven by users. Recent research about innovation suggests that many of the world’s new creations are created by their users. Examples of this range from the invention of snowboarding to the design of a wide range of baby products by new parents. Traditional theories about entrepreneurs believe that it is first necessary to identify a gap in the market before creating a new product, service or system. However, research on user-driven innovation makes clear that sometimes people (or firms) are motivated primarily by solving a problem for their own benefit rather than by the promise of profit. Based on a Rockefeller Foundation funded study of social innovation in North Brooklyn, we found that social innovators are often the “users” of their innovations and that they are motivated by social change rather than by profit. In North Brooklyn, examples of social innovation include cohousing, coworking, urban farming and food cooperatives as well as transportation and water rights activists. What are the limitations of user-driven innovation in this context? How and why might social innovation be different from traditional notions of innovation? How might designers enable and amplify user-driven social innovators?

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