We present an integrative approach to social innovation research to build a unified understanding of this emerging field. Based on a systematic literature review of articles about social innovation published in top-tier journals from2003 to 2021, we argue that a “social innovation trap,” resulting from disciplinary silos, has limited our inquiries thus far. We contend that the social innovation trap has led the field to overlook three key insights. First, fragmentation across disciplines obscures the particular advantages of different sectors to social innovation. Second, the dominance of management within the social innovation field has led us to ignore the extent to which social innovation is embedded in space and place, which makes scale a fundamental dimension in need of exploration. Third, the management bent within social innovation scholarship has favored market perspectives over more democratic approaches. We call attention to two competing schools of thought—the instrumental and democratic perspectives—that open the field to broader inquiries into the role of innovation, knowledge, participation, and outcomes in social innovation. We conclude by delineating a research agenda that incorporates these three insights, to build the foundation for a more comprehensive social innovation field.
The Social Innovation Trap: Critical Insights into an Emerging Field
Academy of Management Annals