September 5, 2009

How the government can help spur social innovation

White House push for social innovation from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

By JD Lasica

At the Social Capital Markets conference this week, one highlight came in the opening keynote and panel discussion with Sonal Shah, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, who spoke about the federal government’s support for innovative, bottom-up social and community programs. Above is a 2 1/2-minute snippet. Some highlights of her talk:

• She talked about allocating resources toward high-impact models through the Social Innovation Fund that was part of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The Foundation Center has the details.

• She underscored the need for working across sectors, with the federal government playing a role to bring together nonprofits, the private sector and government agencies.

• Shah also pointed to the need to identify tools to help foster a culture of social innovation. (Perhaps Socialbrite can play a role here.)

I had my hand raised throughout the Q&A session but wasn’t called on. I would have said: Many people in the audience no doubt have some ideas on how to move this agenda of social innovation forward. Aside from the handful of foundations and nonprofits in contact with your office, how can we do so? What’s the best public forum? Where should these conversations be taking place?

By Beth Kanter

I was fortunate to have a press pass to SoCap09 this week, which got me a front row seat for the keynote address by Sonal Shah and panel discussion with Andrew Wolk, Root Cause; Vanessa Kirsch, New Profit; and Carla Javits, REDF, moderated by Jeff Bradach, Bridgespan Group.

Sonal Shah gave an overview of the goals and strategies for the Office of Social Innovation. Nathaniel Whittemore of, who was sitting next to me, has a great write up of the keynote. Marco Puccia has notes here as well.

I live tweeted the key points.  The main themes that resonated for me:

  • Don’t get distracted: Sonal Shah warned, “Don’t think about us as the ‘office that does cool stuff.’  She was warning against shiny object syndrome and used a different “s” word.
  • Government and feedback loops – how can they take the field’s learnings and incorporate in theirs?
  • Measurement is the major theme as the sector grows up. There was an emphasis on finding consistent or standardized quantitative benchmarks.
  • However, there was also a plea not to make evaluation painful, collecting huges amount of data and not using it to improve a program.
  • Continue reading