Innovation. Collaboration. Prototyping. Scale. Iteration. Emergence.

Jargon and buzzwords can help or hinder communication. If the vocabulary is understood to mean the same things, these words can speed the transfer of information and the building of ideas. If the words are foreign, they can create confusion or be a turn off. In an attempt to get on the same page as others and open the dialogue about social innovation lingo, I'm logging (and unpacking as I understand them) the most common words I hear used and misused in the field.


Co-Design & Co-Creation. 

coming soon


Co-production flips a social service on it's head. Where end users are generally in a receiving role with no expectation of offering anything back, Co-production is about making end users an integral part of service delivery. And by being part of the service, they are improving their outcomes (be it to become more self confident, have a more positive future orientation, or get more connected to the community). Roles may be paid or volunteer. The point is that lines are blurred between service user and service deliverer. Lot's more about Co-production here.

Design Thinking vs. Strategic Design vs. Human Centred Design.

Design thinking = when non-designers adopt or borrow from design practices. Here is a nice write up exploring this.

Strategic Design = a deliberate process that leads to creating something physical, has a clear intent and is designed with a specific audience in mind.

Human Centered Design = a type of design that takes the end user or beneficiary's wishes and needs as the top priority. 


coming soon


User-centred designers are generally big fans of empathy. It is believed that getting into someone else's shoes enables a designer to discover previously unmet needs in order to come up with a fresh solutions. Empathy makes designs more accessible, understandable, and easier to navigate for the end user.

However, in the social sciences, too much empathy is frowned upon. It is believed that over identifying with a subject without critical analysis may hamper one's ability to think objectively, may create an urge to intervene inappropriately, or may cause one to act unethically.

Rather than being about good or bad, empathy is about balance. Here's a great animated video with the voice of Brene Brown, explaining empathy.

Group Dynamics.

coming soon

Prototyping vs. Piloting.

coming soon

Social Entrepreneurship vs. Social Enterprise.

coming soon

Social Innovation.

coming soon

Systems Change.

The idea that our systems and institutions are a century old and need to be modernized. However, they are lumbering and slow to change. Systems change is about "tipping" systems, figuring our how to acheive critical mass for things to flow towards a new normal. 

Here are some of my favourite systems change quotes:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” - Buckminster Fuller

“We act like systems in creating large-scale problems but we act like individuals in trying to solve them” – Eric Trist

And, Donella Meadows is poetic and profound in her essay on systems change, Dancing With Systems. I'm pasting the 14 elements below. See here for the full essay.

The Dance

1. Get the beat.
2. Listen to the wisdom of the system.
3. Expose your mental models to the open air.
4. Stay humble. Stay a learner.
5. Honor and protect information.
6. Locate responsibility in the system.
7. Make feedback policies for feedback systems.
8. Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.
9. Go for the good of the whole.
10. Expand time horizons.
11. Expand thought horizons.
12. Expand the boundary of caring.
13. Celebrate complexity.
14. Hold fast to the goal of goodness.

Wicked Problems.

Social problems that are complex, interlinked, and have no owner.

For example, Poverty is interlinked with housing, and mental health, and trauma, and addictions, and systemic barriers. No one can agree on what is the problem let alone what caused it or how we may develop a solution. And, who's problem is climate change - the entire human race and planet earth. It's everyone's problem so responsibility falls between the cracks.

Wikipedia has a helpful write up about the concept here.


Also, check out these great jargon busting books and papers:

image credit: "The Where, the Why, and the How"