Social innovations can be understood, most simply, as new and original approaches to tackling pressing societal needs and problems that lead to lasting improvements in people’s lives.
Social innovations are necessary precisely because many of the key challenges facing society – such as educational underachievement, antisocial behavior and criminal activity, child abuse and neglect, obesity and low physical health, or poor mental health and addiction – have been stubbornly resistant to change.
For many of these social problems there is now a long list of interventions that have been tried over the years. Remarkably, we have limited robust evidence of whether many of these actually work in leading to positive and measurable improvements in the lives of those involved.
This lack of evidence means that social innovation can often take place in the dark and be characterized by the recycling and reinvention of particular approaches, with limited learning over time.
At the heart of our work is a belief that social innovation needs high quality evidence. It is only through the generation and application of evidence that we can learn from previous efforts, be challenged to think differently and to identify and demonstrate the effectiveness of novel approaches to social problems.
The creation of robust evidence requires the use of a wide range of social research methods. Our approach to research falls into three core types, that cut across our nine core programmes of work:
- Exploratory research that seeks to understand the nature of particular societal problems and help identify where social interventions need to be focused, drawing upon a wide range of innovative qualitative and quantitative methods.
- Evaluative research that seeks to determine whether particular social interventions are effective in tackling social problems and leading to measurable improvements in the lives of children, families and communities, typically involving the use of randomised controlled trials or equivalent robust methods.
- Evidence synthesis that seeks to draw together and learn from the wider evidence base regarding particular social problems and the effectiveness of various approaches to tackling these, most commonly using systematic review methods that follow the rigorous standards of international organisations such as the Campbell and Cochrane Collaborations.
The success of all of these methods depends on the meaningful and long-term partnerships we develop with a range of key stakeholders. It is only through their active involvement in research, at all stages, that we can ensure that our work is relevant, effective and will lead to real and long-lasting change.