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Tracking Social Innovation Through Organizational Forms: The Québec Experience

Tue, July 10, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Room, 5A 24


Interested in social innovations as “the implementation of new social and institutional arrangements, new forms of resource mobilization, new answers to problems for which available solutions have proven inadequate, or new social aspirations” (Klein et al., 2012: 11), this article seeks to analyse their trajectory in the context of Québec (Canada). To that end, we focus our analysis on the organizations having generated social innovations, as part of the third sector.

Social innovation is addressed from two main different perspectives. According to the first, these innovations involve a new idea or combination of ideas responding to concrete social needs (Murray, et al., 2010; Nicholls, 2010). Developed primarily in the field of organizational studies, this approach favours a more functionalist conception of the phenomenon, emphasizing the process of “creative destruction” promoted by social entrepreneurs along with the role of philanthropy and individual solutions to major social problems through business initiatives (Austin et al., 2006). From this perspective, social innovation is a tool giving disenfranchised members of society access to market and the ability to increase consumption or production. The second perspective addresses social innovation as the spark of social transformation processes providing access to experiences and bottom-up initiatives that challenge and attempt to change dominant economic systems. From this perspective, social innovations play an important role in development dynamics by “[i]ncreasing the socio-political capability and access to resources needed to enhance rights to satisfaction of human needs and participation” (Moulaert et al., 2005: 1976).

Based on this second perspective, we track the evolution and changes of organizations that have initiated or nourished in an important way the process of social innovation in the Québec context. Drawing on the works from Rousselière and Bouchard (2011) and Bouchard et al. (2015), our analysis explores how organizations mobilize different ressources and the variation of organizations forms around four key dimensions pertaining to such organizations: ownership, governance (power), distribution of profit and organized production of goods and services.

Using data collected over more than 30 years by researchers from the Research Center on Social Innovations (CRISES), we identified five key organizational forms marking the trajectory of social innovations in Québec : cooperatives, integration enterprises, social economy enterprises, social enterprises and social innovation initiatives. Each of these organizational forms characterizes different moments of this trajectory.

While the organized production of goods and services as well as the underlying « social mission » appear as constants, ownership, governance and distribution of profits show significant variation. This variation suggests a displacement in the social issues these organizational forms try to address.