Research & Publications

Our
 goal 
at 
the
 University 
of 
Waterloo
 is 
to 
generate
 and 
share
 new
 knowledge 
about 
social 
innovation
 practices
 and 
processes
 through 
action‐oriented
 research. In 
particular 
we 
seek
 to 
understand
 more 
deeply
 the 
dynamics 
of 
learning,
 adaptation
 and
 innovation
 on
 the 
following
 themes:
 linking 
social
 and
 ecological resilience
 to 
strengthen 
the
 environment,
 and 
re‐engaging
 vulnerable 
populations
 to
 strengthen
 our 
communities.


At 
Social 
Innovation 
Generation, 
we 
have 
defined
 Social 
Innovation
 as 
“an
 initiative,
 product,
 process
 or 
program 
that 
profoundly
 changes
 the 
basic
 routines, resource 
and
 authority
 flows
 or 
beliefs
 of 
any
 social
 system
 in
 the 
direction
 of 
greater 
resilience.” 

Through
 our 
Working
 Paper
 Series and Case Studies we
 hope 
to 
share
 with 
you 
some
 of 
our 
preliminary
 research
 and 
findings
 conducted
 by 
an 
interdisciplinary 
array
 of
 faculty
 members
 and 
graduate 
students
 at 
the 
University
 of
 Waterloo.


 This page also includes presentation slides from various events and workshops led by members of the team.


Report from Ola Tjornbo
2013-12
Early this fall, the community of researchers at the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) met to design a research strategy to pursue in the near term. The core goal of the institute remains to generate new inter-disciplinary knowledge about social innovations and the social innovation process (the dynamics of learning, adaptation and resilience) in Canada and internationally. Currently, we are focusing on three related research areas in pursuing this goal: Indigenous...
Frances Westley
2013-07
The Stanford Social Innovation Review, which is known for informing and inspiring leaders of social change, has published Frances Westley's article entitled "Social Innovation and Resilience: How One Enhances the Other" Read the full article here
On the desks of our researchers
2013-04
Our multi-faceted research agenda at Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) continues to build and strengthen our international and community-based partnerships as we explore social innovation from new perspectives, both academic and practitioner. We are exploring new sources, following new avenues of research, and building new syntheses of social innovation. One of our ongoing major projects has SiG/WISIR researchers...
Frances Westley, Sean Geobey, Kirsten Robinson
2012-02
In this paper we propose the creation of a Social Innovation Change Lab, what such a permanent process would entail and what it would aim to achieve. We discuss the multiple theoretical origins of Change or Design Labs, as the confluence of group dynamics and group psychology, complexity theory, design, and computer modelling and visual language. Change Labs provide a physical and intellectual space designed to encourage and facilitate cooperation and the co-creation of meaningful and...
Sean Geobey, Frances Westley, Olaf Weber
2011-05
In this paper we will explore social finance as a new form of investment and a new field for risk assessment. We will briefly review microfinance, social banking and impact investing as forms of social financing and their common inability to measure non-financial risk. The growth of impact investing in particular is stifled by this challenge. We will explore why risk assessment is so challenging in social finance and suggest three reasons: the difficulty in setting boundaries, the difficulty in...
Frances Westley, Nino Antadze, Darcy J. Riddell, Kirsten Robinson, & Sean Geobey
2011-04
Abstract: Social entrepreneurs and non-for-profit organizations often attempt not only to make a difference on the local level, but also to challenge and possibly alter the overall system that creates the social problems. The pathways for system change that social entrepreneurs adopt are different and depend on the initial conditions, opportunities and barriers, as well as the motivation behind the decision to scale up. The article explores different pathways that social entrepreneurs pursue by...
Michele-Lee Moore and Frances Westley
2011-02
Introduction: With numerous intractable problems facing the world today, calls for innovative solutions have become increasingly commonplace. Frequently, these calls are accompanied by suggestions that government policies need to be responsive, flexible, and adaptive to keep pace with the rapidity of changes taking place across the social, ecological, and economic spheres. This thinking has long been encouraged around technical innovation. Is social innovation different? With a range of policy...
Michele-Lee Moore & Frances Westley
2011-01
Abstract: Complex challenges demand complex solutions. By their very nature, these problems are difficult to define and are often the result of rigid social structures that effectively act as “traps”. However, resilience theory and the adaptive cycle can serve as a useful framework for understanding how humans may move beyond these traps and towards the social innovation that is required to address many complex problems. This paper explores the critical question of whether networks help...
Reinette Biggs, Frances R. Westley and Stephen R. Carpenter
2010-12
Abstract: Addressing the environmental challenges of the 21st century requires substantial changes to the way modern society views and manages ecosystems. In particular, many authors contend that fundamental transformation of the largely sectoral, expert-centered ecosystem-management institutions of modern, Western societies is needed. There is increasing agreement that more adaptive, integrated, collaborative ecosystem-management approaches, interlinked at multiple scales, would improve...
Frances Westley, Milena Holmgren, Marten Scheffer
2010-12
A case study of the role of social marketing in promoting novel restoration strategies for degraded dry lands. Abstract: This article focuses on the role of social marketing, in particular the analysis of the motivations and capabilities of stakeholder groups, in encouraging acceptance of an innovative experimental approach to semiarid shrub land restoration in Chile. Controlled scientific experiments involving herbivory control during El Niño events have proved promising, but have not yet been...
Stephen Huddart
2010-12
Summary: Examining how social innovation opens up new approaches to addressing complex problems, this article looks at some of the complex issues and related social innovation, including demographic problems; technology-enabled social innovation and how it has restructured work and expanded human intelligence; how conflict has been reframed as collaboration; and new types of volunteering. The article concludes with a review of some of the new social innovation tools and processes. Click here to...
ed. Frederick Bird and Frances Westley
2010-11
Voices from the Voluntary Sector contains reasoned reflections by practitioners on some of the significant challenges faced by today's not-for-profit organizations in Canada. Broad in scope, these essays present a rich, multi-dimensional set of vignettes that as a whole express the vitality and humanity of the voluntary sector in Canada. The contributors discuss organizational and managerial challenges, social entrepreneurship, and how to foster effective global movements. The essays include a...
Nino Antadze & Frances Westley
2010-09
This article takes issue with the most dominant approach to interpreting how and why social inventions go to scale – the analysis of social innovation diffusion and impact as an aspect of market growth. This “supply-demand” approach is most clearly represented in the work of the Young Foundation in England, a group of scholars and researchers who have done a tremendous amount of documentation and research on social innovation. Market growth is the reflection of an increase in both demand and...
Clara Bird
2010-06
The Notes of a Newcomer project began in late 2008 and is both an investigation into social innovation at the local level and an exploration of Waterloo Region specifically. Told through the experiences of a young person newly arrived in the region, it was also an opportunity for SiG@Waterloo to build, and build upon, its relationships in the local community.
Frances Westley
2010-05
In this video, Frances Westley gives a presentation at the SiG Social Innovation Lab in Toronto. Her presentation, entitled Scaling Out for Scaling Up: Pathways for System Change, showcases a typology of community sector organizations and offers insight about their methodologies for scaling up.
Ola Tjornbo, Frances Westley, Darcy Riddell
2010-01
The Great Bear Rainforest Story Introduction to the Case Study The Great Bear Rainforest campaign has made a huge impact on the province of British Columbia in the last twenty years. It is a process that is still ongoing, but which must now be acknowledged to have enjoyed huge success. Radical shifts have taken place throughout the social, ecological and economic systems of the area, empowering new groups of actors, creating new decision making processes, allowing for the emergence of new...
Michele-Lee Moore, Frances Westley, Ola Tjornbo, Carin Holroyd
2010-01
Abstract Social innovation is an important component of being resilient – new ideas will keep a society adaptable, flexible and learning. Therefore, the better the understanding of the conditions that enable innovations not only to emerge, but to take hold, become routinized within our broader social structures, and then to face disruption or disturbance, the greater the capacity humans will have to be resilient. One of these conditions provides space for the role of the state and public policy...
2009-08
In March 2009, a Canadian delegation of federal and provincial government officials and non-profit sector leaders visited London, England, to gain information, insights and real-life examples of how innovative approaches to dealing with intractable problems are being conceived and financed in the UK. The UK Study Tour arrived on the heels of the Skoll World Forum. Over the last several years, the United Kingdom has vigorously experimented with new models of prompting corporations, industry and...
Kirsten Robinson & Frances Westley
2009-06
This working paper draws on Kazimierz Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration as well as theories of resilience, to propose a new interpretive framework for understanding mental illness. In the last 50 years, increases in the effectiveness of pharmacological drugs have dramatically increased the manageability of symptoms, resulting in a psychopharmacological approach that has come to dominate. However, we argue that the psychopharmacological approach is a simple approach to a complex...
SiG@MaRS
2009-04
Introduction Social entrepreneurs are mobilizing talent and capital from both the public and private sectors to address complex societal challenges. However, the marketplace for these ventures is emerging and traditional investment vehicles struggle to accommodate the investment opportunities presented by the social entrepreneurs in their efforts to combine a positive economic return with a social impact mission. As a result, many promising social ventures fail to achieve their true potential...
Frances Westley & Nino Antadze
2009-03
This paper explores the strategies and dynamics of scaling up of social innovations for greater social impact. Included is a definition of social innovation and its relationship to complex environments and systems, as well as an exploration of the related concepts of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship. The model of scaling up as simply requiring ‘more’ (or the market model), is questioned and deemed unreliable in understanding the complex nature of social innovation. Rather, readers...
Andrew Dilts & Frances Westley
2009-03
This case study and attached teaching notes were created from a series of interviews and the subsequent integration of multiple perspectives on both sides of community-university research projects. The issues, opportunities and challenges raised by community organizations, academic researchers and project funders underline the complexity of such cross-sector collaborations. Common problems and questions that emerged from the interviews are highlighted; these focus generally on such aspects as...
Frances Westley & Nino Antadze
2009-02
This case study of the journey to establish the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), reviews the nature of complexity and inter-relationship as it applies to social innovation. The RDSP is a real-life Canadian innovation and this fascinating story offers lessons for anyone interested in wide-spread social change, or for those interested in how new financial mechanisms can be used to achieve positive social impact. This case study provides an illuminating look into the years of exploration...
Ola Tjornbo & Frances Westley
2008-09