Summer Course on Social Innovation in Colombia

21. Aug. 2013

Two weeks of idea generation and project development: July 15 - 26, 2013

Since "Social Innovation" is an established relevant issue in science, research and policy debate, it increasingly becomes a topic of education and training as well. This is indicated by rising numbers of summer schools and workshops on social innovation taking place in many regions of the world, including last year's SOQUA Summer School of ZSI in Vienna, and not least the course of study M.A. in Social Innovation at the Danube University Krems (Austria).

In July 2013 the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNAL) organized and carried out an ambitious two weeks summer course on social innovation. It took place in fact at three venues:

The physical locality of presentations and lectures provided was the Caribic branch of UNAL on the island of San Andrés, yet there was a permanent live streaming video connection to groups participating also at UNAL premises in Bogotá and in Medellin. This was due to the fact that there were too many applications for participation, much more than could be accepted to come to San Andrés. Therefore the University decided for connecting three locations by live streaming so that in total 58 students were admitted to participate. These included actual students of UNAL, a number of post-graduates as external professionals, and also several professors of the university. All together they represented a very broad range of disciplines and diverse professional background.

Actually it seemed very unlikely to convey sufficient information and content by video streams from learning in a setting of largely inter-active learning from San Andrés to the sites in Bogotá and Medellin. However, because of extremely disciplined work and intense collaboration within each of the three classes the collective performance turned out applaudably productive. 

This is why the process and results shall be documented here in some detail:

1. Programme of the summer course and faculty

The programme consisted in four major modules, which were taught each with a pair of lecturers per week. It proved very effective to involve such a small faculty, because their full resonsibility for either one week - in which they would always work together in class - lead to high coherance of contents and of methods of teaching. The whole programme is attached in the original Spanish language ('Curso Innovación Social'). Following I provide an overview of the basic modules of week one and week two. Modules I and II were lectured by myself and Dmitri Domanski from Sozialforschungsstelle (sfs, University of Technology Dortmund), whereas in the second week Maria Elisa Bernal from CEPAL and Nicolás Monge from the University of Chile, Santiago de Chile, took care of Modules III and IV.

Module I: Concepts and current perspectives on Social Innovation (Dmitri Domanski / Josef Hochgerner)

  • Orientation in the topic of social innovation: definitions, concepts etc.
  • The making of social innovations
  • Perspectives of social innovation

Module II: Successful experiences in social innovation from abroad (Dmitri Domanski / Josef Hochgerner)

  • Tools and instruments enabling and supporting social innovation
  • From Europe to Latin America

Module III: Methods for the development and implementation of innovative solutions for social problems (Maria Elisa Bernal & Nicolás Monge Iriarte)

Module IV: Social impact and transformation from the Latin American perspective (Maria Elisa Bernal & Nicolás Monge Iriarte)


2. The process

Prior to the event the modules were agreed, as well as the attachment of modules I and II to the lecturers from Europe, and of modules III and IV to the colleagues from Latin America. Concerning the working language the University of Colombia wanted to involve an international faculty, and to also make the students better acquainted with using English as a working language. In practice the first week was held in English, while in the second week (which by intention included even more interactive group work than the first week) the participant's native language Spanish was spoken.

According to the division of work and focus in terms of contents of modules I and II, I may offer here some impressions and indications pertaining to the output of work from the first week.

For modules I and II Dmitri Domanski and I had prepared a great number of slides with theoretical and empirical information on the tpoics to be dealt with during five days, including a set of five major exercises to be carried out by the participants - cf. the attached document "ALLslides ...".

The most demanding involvement of participants, however, was their assignment to write down a draft proposal on how to identify, develop, implement and estimate possible effects of a chosen social innovation project. This assignment was based on the concludions from Exercises #1 and #2, after which working groups (of two, three and up to seven participants) were formed and had their respective topic of an intended social innovation determined. Attributed tasks were based on the assumption, that these groups should consider themselfs working groups not only for the time of the summer course, but rather for future professional collaboration in executing the project.

As a guideline to structure their text they should follow the "4-i" process (explained in a lecture) from picking an issue on to potential impact of the proposed social innovation.

  • Ideation: Analysing the social issue to be solved and searching for a new or better idea (in comparison to existing or other, competing, ideas and methods) for solution.
  • Intervention: How to intervene in the given situation and environment? Which may be the best methods to be applied and how to find allies?
  • Implementation: Following the analysis of potentially favourable as well as detrimental factors and the roles of various stakeholders, an assessment of the probability and time-line towards expected success should be provided.
  • Impact: Who is going to benefit from the social innovation envisaged, may undesirable side effects occur? What about the duration of impact and dissemination ('life cycle') of the social innovation?

We presented the assignment on Wednesday (3rd day) with moderate expectations of receiving rather sketchy drafts on very few pages, as the time frame was very short. In addition, besides reading etc. for the course there was - at least in San Andrés - the very competition from hot caribbean sun and seductive beaches ;-) Because of the different programme of the second week students were asked to provide their written drafts (considered a sort of pre-proposal) by Tuesday of the following week, which also would allow to provide immediate reading and feedback within the remaining days until Friday of the second week. This all worked out very well. Even more, demonstrating the willingness of participants to factually work together towards realising the project ideas generated, they set up a facebook group for continuing communication: Curso Innovación Social UNAL San Andrés 2013

3. Results

As expressed in my feedback (cf. document "Feedback_comprehensive-overview", att.), the drafts delivered went beyond expectations. Certainly there are differences in quality of analysis and conceptualization, but all went through the stages of the 4-i, and presented more or less informed and sound ideas, considerations of potential interventions, and anticipations of implementation and impact.

A total of nine papers were provided by the different working groups, substantiating the fruitful collaboration of 41 of the participants in San Andrés, Bogotá and Medellin.

From a European point of view several observations are outstanding to be noted:

  • Taking Colombia as a significant example from Latin America, social innovation in this context does not mean to complement or to substitute components of what may be missing or becoming ruined in welfare state systems we know from Europe. The discussions and written results of the Social Innovation Summer Course taught me that in Colombia (and most likely in other parts of Latin America) social innovation of all kinds actually may act as precursors and sort of a brew from which a future social system may arise.
  • Several groups refer to the Colombian Constitution of 1991 in urgent pleas supporting its thrust to really establish the rule of law. In fact, the constitution has been widely acknowledged internationally to be a progressive (termed "Human Rights Constitution") move towards improving security, participation and the overall well-being of Colombians. At the main objectives of the new constitution are briefly summarized: "The demand for a new constitution was driven by the need to establish modern democratic institutions that would encourage greater participation in the democratic process, strengthen the rule of law in order to defuse political violence, and to secure human rights by establishing mechanisms for the protection of these rights." It seems significant to me, that students consider social innovations appropriate to realise the positive potentials of the country's constitution - which actually promises participation, and was itself in its making the final result of a civil society movement.
  • Similar hopes are attributed to the United Nations' "Millennium Development Goals". The UN MDG aim - among other tartget set out in the year 2000 - e.g. at halfing extreme poverty in the world until 2015. In Colombia extreme poverty (living on less than 1 US $ per day) does not appear as an objective on paper or a matter of statistics. Much more and far beyond, it represents a real issues of society and its development. By figures of 2009 no less than 29% of the whole population was counted in extreme poverty, and even 40% of those living in rural areas.

This is why a social innovation approach to meet social issues not only is obviously different compared to perspectives of change and modification in welfare systems of wealthy societies in (the better-off parts of) Europe. Moreover, social innovation in Latin America (and, presumably, in most parts of Africa and Asia) is connected to different socio-cultural patterns, values and frames of reference. Therefore, starting points to develop social innovations may be as distinct as the expected and - potential - outcomes realised.

To conclude, the future numbers of social innovation projects and people involved, the overall range and relevance of social innovations in countries like Colombia will be much higher and produce more impact than in Western Europe or North America.  This certainly will apply mainly to social innovations with the "social demand" and "societal challenges perspective". It may hold less true concerning social innovations with a "systemic change perspective" (distinctions proposed in the BEPA Report, 2010), as in these cases the industrially most advanced countries probably should take the lead.


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Tags: Latin America, social innovation