The approach developed by TRANSITION has been a journey into social innovation incubation: an evolving sequence of actions, activities and tools tested by the TRANSITION Scaling Centres with the aim of helping incubators and practitioners develop their own paths of scaling social innovation. The TRANSITION Social Innovation Journey (SIJ)* is an ‘action format for social innovation incubation’ developed by partners to meet some commonly identified needs for the social innovators – access to networking, clarifying their value proposition, access to finance, business modelling, etc. – while fitting into the different demographic situations, capacities and skill sets involved in delivering support.
A clearer understanding of the SIJ can be based on the following premises:
- Social innovations often emerge from bottom-up initiatives, from citizens’ activism, from spontaneous group of neighbours. TRANSITION action format aimed to support innovators from the very early stage of an idea, to empower communities to grow solutions to social needs and raise awareness around them. Moreover it aimed at delivering supporting activities to groups and innovators usually excluded from traditional path of incubation.
- Social innovations find ‘fertile ground’ in hybrid spaces where the public sector, the private sector and communities overlap and intersect. TRANSITION aimed to experiment with social innovations coming from a range of sources, including new ventures, as well as innovations based within existing organisations, or delivered through strategic partnerships, voluntary initiatives or campaigns.
- Social innovation overlaps with, but is not the same as, social entrepreneurship. Supporting social innovation is a broader task than supporting social ventures to scale and grow.
- Social innovations aim, by definition, to meet social needs. The goal of maximising social impact must be placed at the centre of each process of social innovation incubation. TRANSITION aimed to support both initial concepts but also mature organisations in increasing their social impact, by designing new solutions or re-orienting existing ones.
- Social innovations produce innovative social forms and value creation systems. They often base their processes on co-creation and peer-to-peer collaboration, local empowerment and capacity building of society at large. TRANSITION geared itself to include tools and methods of stakeholders’ engagement and co-design.
The Social Innovation Journey was conceived as a progressive spiral taken by both the social innovator and the incubator, who were/are able to recognise the different entry points, the subsequent steps to be followed, the expected outcomes and the activities needed to achieve them.
The SIJ consisted of two main circles/stages of incubation:
- the external one involved social innovation at an early stage of maturity, helping them move from an intuition or an idea to a structured proposal and a pre-prototype ready to be tested within a community of stakeholders;
- the internal circle worked with more formalised and mature social innovations, supporting them to achieve a more structured and replicable solution.
Within both circles, the activities of the SIJ were organized around five main areas:
- Who (Stages 1 and 6) – supporting a mix of people in becoming a group and a team, thus working on raising awareness, engaging stakeholders, building capacity and skills and outlining roles.
- What (stages 2 and 7) – helping the social innovator to transform a first vision into an idea and to formulate the idea into a proposal, defining the social value proposition and the design of the solution.
- How (stages 3 and 8) – looking at the viability of the social innovation, by investigating its sustainability, business model and financial plan, thus developing the proposal into a more structured organization and into a form of social enterprise, if suitable.
- How (stages 5 and 6) – looking at the feasibility of the social innovation by verifying and testing its technical and operational model, thus trying to move the social innovation from being a series of hypothesis to one or more prototypes.
- Why (centre of the circle) – the social impact at the centre of the model as the goal of the overall Social Innovation Journey and a condition to be assessed in all stages of the journey.
This is, in brief, the action format TRANSITION scaling centres referred to when defining their scaling programme for cohorts of social innovations. Built on the SIJ model, each scaling programme reflected and responded to the needs that emerged from the assessment and selection process. Each scaling centre openly called for social innovations in their catchment area: innovators were requested to fill in an assessment form which aims at understanding the innovation, its expected social impact, the sectors of interest, and the type of social benefit it was going to create; the social innovation’s current position against the SIJ and the applicants’ expectations.
Once selected, social innovators and the scaling centre together defined their path across the SIJ: this resulted in a set of support services that could be delivered during 1:1 coaching sessions or collective workshops in cohort formats.
Just as we have found that scaling is not a unilinear path (and social innovators may find they are working at a number of the scaling stages simultaneously), the SIJ is also a non-linear process, where a social innovation project can find itself moving both forwards and backwards along the Journey. In some cases this was even encouraged, to ensure that an innovation became as effective as possible.
The SIJ also has multiple entry and exit points – a social innovation project did/does not have to go through all the stages, but may enter and exit along the Journey according to their stage of maturity, and experience and needs. Each progression requires the adoption of specific tools and competences, provided through professional advices from the scaling centres.
The Transnational Start-Up Lab (TSL) is a third and final scaling support designed by the TRANSITION programme to identify and accelerate the implementation of high-potential social innovations in another location. The TSL offers social innovators dedicated support services from ‘smart take-off’ to ‘soft landing’ to ensure that scaling into new contexts are introduced to the country’s business practices, culture and opportunities more effectively.
At the end of each scaling programme, social innovators were asked to repeat the assessment exercise to evaluate the impact TRANSITION (either the SIJ or the TSL) had on their projects.
“We first availed of support from TRANSITION in the form of mentoring from Seamus McCormack. This was extremely beneficial, as it came at a time when we were considering the possibility of winding-up the enterprise, due to market conditions and emerging competition. Seamus enabled us to see the positives of our venture, and to refocus to build on those. We also availed of very useful mentoring from industry experts through TRANSITION. Seamus’s advice and support was very helpful during ongoing discussions regarding a possible joint venture or buyout by a major publisher. The TRANSITION programme has been much more beneficial to our social enterprise than any grant aid would have been, and we would highly recommend it to other enterprises”.
Eamonn Toland, The Maths Tutor, Social Enterprise
Check out the Learning Outcomes Section for more in depth information
*Social Innovation Journey (SIJ): name issued under creative commons licence by scaling centre “Polimi Desis lab”