October is for ~innovation~ - Generocity Philly

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Oct. 5, 2016 12:57 pm

October is for ~innovation~

We're focusing part of our reporting on it this month. But what the heck does the word mean?

Can innovation come from within City Hall?

(Photo by Julie Zeglen)

“Innovation” sounds flashy. But what does it actually mean in the social impact space?

Some people hate the word, such as Bread & Roses Community Fund’s Amanda Morales Pratt, who thinks funders are too focused on tech and data — the kind of innovation that costs a lot of money. In other words, the kind that’s not accessible to small, grassroots nonprofits.

On the other hand, some people think of it as the ultimate goal, such as Mayor Jim Kenney, who wants people to automatically associate the city of Philadelphia with the word.

We’re focusing a portion of our reporting on it for the month of October — read more about our editorial calendar here — and because it’s a tough word to define, I asked a few experts, including my colleagues at Technically Media, what they thought it meant.

Editorial Director Christopher Wink said it’s about “new approaches to old challenges.” Technical.ly Associate Editor Juliana Reyes described it as “embracing of risk and failure, collaborating with partners you normally wouldn’t, iterating when things don’t work.” Technical.ly Philly reporter Roberto Torres offered the very quotable, “innovation is making room for improvement where others see perfection.”

"Innovation means trying something new, learning from the experience, evolving the idea, and continuing the cycle so you’re always improving."
Eliza Erickson and Andrew Buss

Generocity Community Manager Mo Manklang echoed Morales Pratt: “Generally, I hate this word because it’s allows people to be vague, [but] I always hope it’s about moving past the status quo to solve problems.”

The real experts, of course, are the staff of the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology. In a joint email, Program Manager Eliza Erickson (née Pollack) and Director of Innovation Management Andrew Buss said: “Innovation means trying something new, learning from the experience, evolving the idea, and continuing the cycle so you’re always improving.”

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And Patrick Morgan, program manager of the Knight Foundation’s local arm, who’s currently pushing the innovation-heavy Knight Cities Challenge, defined it as “thinking big and acting big to help make new connections and break down divides.”

All of these definitions generally hit on the idea of doing things differently in the hopes of making better impact. It’s about organizations being smarter about how they enact their missions. It’s about efficiency.

In the social impact space, innovation can take on many forms. It might be a huge-scale, little-tested funding model involving the state, nonprofits, foundations and impact investors working together to tackle recidivism. It might be a handful of high schoolers building a green structure out of found materials under the guidance of a grassroots org in a challenged neighborhood.

Or — maybe — it can even come from within City Hall.

So, how do you define the word “innovation”? What do you think it looks like in Philadelphia’s social impact community? Tell us to help us shape our coverage for the month.

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