In this post, we are reporting out on the International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC) 2021. ISIRC is normally a major fall event for the research & scholarship team, but given Hurricane Ida, dealing with ISIRC shifted to the back burner with our own households facing no power or internet, parents supervising kids out of school, and other distractions.
As I (Laura) started drafting this, it was a steam, smelly day in New Orleans. Over 3 weeks after a major hurricane (Ida) hit the region (16 years to the day after H. Katrina), the residential trash bins are overflowing and ripe. Regular collection seems a distant dream. Tree branches and construction debris litter sidewalks, and shops are not all open. City leaders are fielding complaints about the privatized energy utility (Entergy) following catastrophic loss of electricity. These are among the on-going collateral damage in the city, which is getting back to a sort of new normal. In the southern rural and coastal parishes, many homes and livelihoods were destroyed by storm surge and wind. Normal looks impossible. What are useful ideas, sources of hope and inspiration from ISIRC 2021 to suit the season?
Taylor Representation in ISIRC
First, let’s showcase the work of several members of the Taylor team and Taylor Center alum who contributed and/or participated in ISIRC 2021 across diverse streams.
Rebecca Otten and Maille Faughnan contributed to the Social Innovation & Education stream. They shared their research (conducted with co-authors Megan Flattley and Samantha Fleurinor) in the session on “Social Innovation Education and the Polity”. Their presentation, Integrating Equity, Diversity and Inclusion into Social Innovation Education: a Case Study of Critical Service-Learning (see Figure 1) highlights the transformative learning students experienced in a section of the Introduction to Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship course (taught at Tulane as part of the SISE Minor) that partners with New Orleans-based organization Grow Dat Youth Farm. The session featured compelling case-based research on community engagement, ranging from how service-learning catalyzes grassroots innovation in Nairobi, to how the Community Impact Lab at Rollins College utilizes tools like human-centered design and participatory action research for community-engaged scholarship.
Anna Monhartova presented in the Social Innovation & Complexity stream her research titled Operating in the Back-Loop: Emergences and Unforeseen Opportunities. This paper is applying the concepts of panarchy and adaptive cycles to analyze the tennis industry, called “Tennis Panarchy”. It is analyzing a New Orleans based non-profit organization, A’s & Aces, as a case study and assessing the dynamics of this smaller adaptive system in relationship to a larger system (the tennis industry) and other cycles, and opportunities that emerge for the organization at the backloop stage. Figure 2 shares a draft sketch of the “tennis panarchy” cycle.
Elsewhere in the conference, the design thinking stream comprised four separate parallel sessions with presenters from Europe, Asia and the US sharing practices, critiques, and perspectives on design thinking as an approach to social innovation. I was co-chair with former Taylor design thinking professor Lesley-Ann Noel, and Jay Friedlander of College of the Atlantic, a fellow Ashoka U changemaker campus.
Prof. Noel also presented original research with Taylor Center alum and recent Tulane graduate, Dr. Shaymaa Abdalal, on critical utopian action research, in the stream for theoretical and methodological futures. It was also great to see Dr. Alicia Bilfield, Tulane graduate and Changemaker Institute and social entrepreneur, now faculty at U. Washington, share her research insights into fair trade and reverse innovation, in the health & wellbeing stream.
Making sense of social innovation in an era of continued disasters, Covid + Ida
The ISIRC event on 9/8-10 coincided with extended post-Ida power outages in the region, and our own households’ evacuations from New Orleans. This led to necessary adaptations for those of us on the road; for example, “participating” after the fact, by watching recordings of parallel sessions and keynotes. I am looking for lessons about our region’s experiences with Ida. What are tools and insights relevant to our situation? Here are two ideas so far:
Mutual aid showed up, of course! Social support groups galvanized to support neighbors lacking shelter, food, water, a cellphone charge in the days after the storm – and for some coastal communities who lost everything, all this and more, for weeks and months to come. Such grassroots action is inspiring, and common sight after storms and floods—and thus also dispiriting, if that’s all that they have. Lauding community-based action in an absence of organized government response is an excuse for inaction and poor planning. How might we all support efforts as a collective actions of care so as to challenge and reform dysfunctional systems? How might these local networks scale up to become a transformative social innovation — social innovations that involve changes in social relations to challenge, alter and/or replace dominant institutions and structures” of disaster preparedness, response, and recovery?
Expecting the unexpected and preparing for predictable surprises: Tropical Storm Ida gained power faster than ever, such that there was no time to issue mandatory evacuation. Yet we do know that climate change is real and the gulf is very warm, so we should not be surprised to see storms intensify quickly into Category 4 hurricanes. We need tools to adapt the municipal public sector to be more responsive and support long-term genuine resilience that can handle surprises. For storms, let’s revisit the default policy of evacuation: it privatizes the burden and benefits of staying safe, sending citizen spending power to other states, leaving less fortunate households overheated and miserable, with sometimes fatal results. Tulane professor Richard Campanella’s post is a good place to start for considering alternatives to evacuation. An ability to adapt intelligently in the face of (expected, but surprising) crisis was a theme of the sessions on Sustainability and Social Innovation in the Pandemic Era (stream #20), with Brazil offering a case of what not to do, and conversely Hong Kong non-profit (pivoting to create affordable 3d printed UV sanitation for high-rise split apartment residents) among examples of responses to the pandemic and its disruptions since early 2020.
As researchers/scholars, we are trying to make sense of the field of social innovation as part of our academic work in teaching and adding new knowledge about how to promote positive social change. Part of that work includes embracing, exploring, and absorbing the range of topics across 21 streams: The span substantive topics (ageing, migrants in Europe, health & well-being, climate change, waste and circular economy). They reflect long-standing questions (Financing, Hybrid models for social entrepreneurship) and new methodologies and paradigms (Complexity, Orchestration networks). Streams explore actors and factors, from Public institutions and universities, to religion and geography. The Africa stream packages up diverse research in, on, or from Africa. Reflecting on the streams and papers within, the stream titles themselves may be less useful than specific research within, to characterize models of social innovation. We hope to follow up on this brief report with deeper reflections and insights for our work. Stay tuned, and please send ideas.
As a final note for now, we thank the ISIRC 2021 team, who organized a compelling hybrid experience, with some local attendees in Milan (and able to enjoy breaks and aperitifs), but most people connecting remotely, joining from around the world. We appreciate their adaptability (and English language abilities).
Looking ahead: next year’s ISIRC 2022 will be hosted (hopefully on-site) in Halifax, Canada, by St. Mary’s University’s Center for Leadership Excellence with the theme of Leading Change Through Capacity Building for Social Innovation, with involvement of the Ashoka Canada changemaker campuses. Start planning your trip to Halifax for the last weekend of September, 2022! Learn more at ISIRC 2022 Halifax.
Laura Murphy, for the R&S Team