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Where Innovation Meets Social Needs

How do we gauge the impact of scientific innovation on social welfare? Are all innovations benefiting society?

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Every month we will be featuring an article written by our team members about their fields of interest and what motivates them to change the world. For the third instalment of #ElephantsSpeak we have a post from Associate Naia Jiménez and Analyst Max Kaczor.

Innovation is a word that is used to describe new and emerging technologies and methodologies. It is often placed into papers and texts to enhance the description of what is being portrayed in the piece so that it can compare favourably against the current market. Measuring innovation in the past was simple, creating a new tool to make daily tasks easier. But in the modern world, with innovation around us every day, it has become more difficult to see what is truly innovative and beneficial.

Innovation can play a fundamental role in mitigating social inequalities and advancing society. However, all the investment made will be inadequate if a social perspective is not taken from the outset. Utilising the social perspective as a tool can help guide researchers towards areas that require more attention than others. For example, desire paths can be used to assist with urban planning. A desire path is a walkway that has been created by pedestrians, usually the shortest distance between two points, that tends not to be the intended walking area. If you’ve ever set foot on a university campus, a park, or anywhere with green space and constructed space co-mingling, you will see trotted areas of grass, these are the desire paths. Seeing where people walk to maximize their own efficiency can also be applied to the greater population.

A major roadblock for innovation is the procurement of funds. In some cases, there are innovative ideas that could have a lower impact on the environment or community compared to other projects. But, this does not mean that the smaller project is not important. Innovations that may not have a direct impact on your daily life could still have an impact on someone else’s. When it comes to funding, this idea is difficult to convey to potential investors. Creating a project that gives the greatest return on investment, both financially and socially, has a measurable impact, and can compete with other more obvious investment opportunities with an innovative idea is often a difficult task.

Being aware that this social perspective involves the interaction of various stakeholders and complex organisational and institutional systems, collaboration is a key step to ensure that innovation and scientific research have a measurable impact on future societies. This multidisciplinary and multi-level collaboration brings together ideas from areas that may not normally be interacting. It provides the opportunity to break down each aspect of the proposed project to secure the proper funding to accomplish the goals of the development and make sure that the innovation will have a positive impact on the community.

So consider this scenario, the innovators of the future and those accompanying them must try to answer key questions in their path to the market: How to finance technological and organizational innovations whose impact on social welfare is greater than their costs? How to reduce low, no, or negative marginal value interventions? How to stimulate the investment in beneficial interventions that are not produced?

Whatever your opinion, we now invite you to step back and analyse how you and your company are applying a societal perspective to your innovation path.