The social business office for social change

Social innovation and what MIT Sloan Management Review calls social business technologies are emerging with different missions. Why not combine these two world-changing thought and tech platforms together for bigger, deeper transformation?

For the 2013 A Better World by Design (ABWxD) conference, the student management team chose a social business solution, Podio, to communicate programming issues. ABWxD brings together hundreds of Providence, RI area students and leaders in engineering, business, design, politics, and academia. The ABWxD 2013 theme is “Pause + Effect”, the intent being to dig deeper, contemplate what’s working and what isn’t, and look further between the lines of existing design for social good.

City of Providence pride comes from strategies balancing design creativity and social entrepreneurship with sustainability and economic development outcomes. Students, alumni and faculty of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design partner each year with the City of Providence, local businesses and various design experts to create a unique take on turning design towards social and environmental challenges with a multidisciplinary mindset through ABWxD conferences and workshops.

Hannah Bebbington, Brown economics major and ABWxD co-chair believes the local, Rhode Island, national and global social innovation ecosystem will only benefit from comprehensive social business platforms. Bebbington says, “Social enterprises like ABWxD are possible due to the strength of the networks they grow up in. They all run on people, ideas, conversations, and connections.”

The ABWxD team believes more and more that great social business tools that help foster innovation out of these networks, expand these networks, or strengthen these networks will only serve to better the social innovation ecosystem. As we develop collective impact over the social innovation ecosystem, a common platform is only logical.

Image 1: ABWxD team Podio workspace Projects app and app forms in badge view with a highlighted project (Full Size):

ABWxD Projects (Small)

Defining social business and its logic in social innovation work

MIT Sloan Management Review defines social business as information and communications technologies (ICT) with social functionality and business model elements like comment entry, idea ranking, project and knowledge management and network building capabilities; as well as ease of use (fast adoption) and a free/low cost price point. Standard consumer-facing social media like Facebook and Twitter become social business strategy tools when an organization and its mission inserts into another personal or B2B network through information or article links and conversation.

But that’s the marketing level. Social business can reflect other business model and management system components.

This is where social business and standard social media depart as the social business choices are constantly expanding today. Third party platforms for open innovation like InnoCentive and open learning like Coursura—as well as general productivity and project and knowledge management tools like combinations of Yammer, Jive, YouTube, Basecamp or the combined package of Podio—form internal-facing examples of social business. Realizing the value of social business is a new aspect of strategy.

Social business can be transformative in a positive direction, or a waste of time. The results are about motivation and willingness to explore. With tools like Podio working in a new more effective, efficient and truly collaborative way becomes habit after a few hours of committed use. Doing things in a new way is one definition of innovation. And social innovation should benefit in the same way.

Brown computational biology major and ABWxD co-chair Alexander Hadik, says about social business, “We’ve been using Podio with fantastic results. For us, the biggest attraction has been the social, natural ‘get things done’ flow of the product. In terms of efficiency, we get almost a 1:1 replacement of email traffic with Podio’s unifying design.”

While there are plethora social business tools available, Podio was selected by the ABWxD team for design and price. The flexibility of Podio’s ‘DIY’ app building platform combined with new for 2013 features like Podio Chat, which includes instant messaging, audio and video chat, provide a competitive Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution… with an ongoing free account option similar to standard social media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

Hadik adds, “Unlike tools like Basecamp that are more static Podio is more of a network. It’s crucial for a large team that’s working around the world.”

Image 2: ABWxD team Podio workspace Meetings app and app forms in badge view with a highlighted project (Full Size):

ABWxD Meetings (Small)

Millennials leading the way to the future of social innovation work

A committee of current Brown and RISD students and alumni support ABWxD program activities. Alumni of the ABWxD committee team include graduates now at companies like Google and Apple as well as students that travel internationally throughout the year. Effective virtual collaboration across the globe is a premium that organizations with lower volume budgets and a high impact social mission are looking to employ as force multipliers.

Like the conventional private sector and a hoped for innovative government of the future, tight calibration is essential to successfully accelerate individual, organization, and LoRNG (local, regional, national and global) social innovation ecosystem performance. Good strategy and management systems on social business platforms promote:

  • Focus
  • Context
  • Eliminating complexity and clutter
  • Eliminating redundancy (rework)
  • Collaboration to drive innovation

Leaders are at the focal point of complexity. Their jobs are supported by efficient and effective information that drive the development and deployment of strategy. The issue of complexity is more and more apparent in an increasingly risky world. The risk mitigation portfolio should include efficient and effective collaboration. Despite the overall advancement of management science since Ford and Alfred P. Sloan’s time external-internal collaboration—let alone internal collaboration—can be elusive, especially regarding innovation.

Bebbington says, “When Alex and I were thinking about how to create the most effective planning committee, we focused most of our energy on how to inspire a collaborative environment. Organizations that are the most dedicated and with the deepest legacy are those that have a system in place designed to encourage collaboration.”

Face-to-face interaction matters in innovation work, and ABWxD is an example of that. But these Millennials understand Future of Work tools like Podio and the results MIT SMR, McKinsey & Co. and Frost & Sullivan see in social business and its collaboration value. McKinsey’s report The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies predicts $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in new productivity in activity areas not dissimilar from social innovation needs.

Frost & Sullivan uses the term unified communications and collaboration (UCC) to describe social business tools. Similarly, open innovation and idea management are possibilities with Podio.

Portions of these estimated productivity profit figures could be translated into social impact when more organizations like ABWxD are exploiting social business ICT. But the next generation wants more than just basics like efficiency and productivity. They want business to be about community and positive, ethical value.

Bebbington says, “Through online systems such as Podio, face-to-face weekly committee meetings, and other committee-wide events like potlucks, we were able to create a team that was supportive, innovative, loyal, and most importantly efficient.”

An emerging taxonomy challenge

Social entrepreneurship, and social innovation are both terms that describe activities with a Triple Bottom line, straight nonprofit, or low profit human value proposition. The use of the term social business is being used more and more to describe these technologies not unlike EPR, but that benefit from the low adoption cost/high value trends found in the consumerization of IT.

Enterprise 2.0 is another term for social business ICT, but even that sounds like the new kind of business represented by the social enterprise.

A solution to relaying the new value of mixing social business ICT with the social innovation agenda—while making the strategic and technical differences distinct—seems worth developing further. Clarifying tactics by those in communications and project management specialties would add to this ‘social tools/social strategy’ definitions challenge. One option might be the term “digital project and knowledge management for social innovation”… or not.

In the meantime tools like Podio are supporting big ideas like ABWxD right now. The Future of Work supporting social innovation strategies has arrived.

Image 3: ABWxD team Podio workspace Standups app and app forms in table view with a highlighted project (Full Size):


Grant Millin is an innovation strategist and owner of InnovoGraph. Twitter: @InnovoGraph AboutMe:

Written by

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: