The purpose of this paper is to better understand the process of social innovation, as well as exploring what lessons can be transferred from general business innovation theory and practice. We have conducted interviews with ten innovators in the UK who have each taken an unusual approach to a social or environmental problem and created solutions that were initially seen as peripheral and unlikely to work. The interviews were transcribed, coded and analysed to identify recurring patterns in the data. The innovations researched have diverse social benefits and outcomes, ranging from creating employment for the homeless through to designing electric sports cars. The data revealed four themes: changing the lens, building missing links, engaging a new ‘customer’ base, and leveraging peer-support. We also identified techniques to address the problems associated with each theme, including scanning the periphery, taking a reflective and systemic approach, identifying niche segments and joining or creating networks.
Keywords: social innovation, social enterprise, disruptive innovation, networks, information asymmetry