We are drowning in jargon and we lack clarity on definitions. Three days in Vancouver (Social Innovation Exchange), three days in Saskatoon (Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum) and two days in Lowell, Mass (Desphande Symposium – campus enterprise) brings a focus not on definition but on the operational uses of our diverse terms.
On se noie dans notre jargon et nos définitions manquent de clarté. Trois jours à Vancouver (SIX – Social Innovation Exchange), trois jours à Saskatoon (Forum canadien sur la mobilisation des connaissances) et deux jours à Lowell, au Massachusetts (symposium Desphande sur l’entreprise et l’université), ont mis en avant non pas les définitions, mais les usages opérationnels de notre terminologie.
We spend lots of time focusing on definitions but that doesn’t help us understand how we use these terms. We will never agree on definitions since those are as much branding as they are substantive. Definitions also lack simplicity because the systems or processes they seek to describe are themselves complex. See my earlier blog on trying to keep definitions simple.
I roll my eyes whenever I see a presentation that starts out with a definition of one of our terms or when I am asked to address a question seeking a definition. We will never agree. And even if I tell you my definition will that really help? Better I tell you how I use these terms so you understand not just the words but how I use them in which contexts.
After two weeks of listening, presenting, asking and answering questions I have come to understand (I think) how our terms are used and how they intersect to form systems of thinking and action all focused on social, economic and environmental challenges.
Social innovation focuses on the problem – it seeks to understand and then change the systems that result in economic, social and environmental challenges.
Social enterprise focuses on the solution – it seeks to provide products and services that create novel approaches to economic, social and environmental challenges.
Knowledge mobilization is a process of connecting campus to community so that researchers and students can collaborate with individuals and organizations that are focusing on these problems and solutions.
Knowledge mobilization can feed into and enable both social innovation and social enterprise.
These are not synonyms and should not be used interchangeably. Focusing on the use of these terms instead of their definitions we move to operational action rather than getting stuck in theoretical debates.
And don’t get me started on acronyms!
David Phipps, RIR-York