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SD Research Focus on Innovative Commuities

Elements of "Innovative Communities"

Hari Srinivas
Concept Note Series E-181. May 2020

One innovation does not indicate an innovative community. An innovative community is one that has developed and can sustain a wellspring of innovation that does not stem solely from one or two isolated individuals. It must have the organizational capability to stimulate, nurture, develop and productively harness the inherent innovative qualities of its people to create sustainable lifestyles.

Innovation is about people. Communities cannot innovate - people innovate. Innovation is quintessentially a human activity; It is natural; It is proactive; It is innate; It is non-linear, and in its purest form for the individual, it represents a pinnacle of self-actualisation. In most cases, innovation has become a threshold for success.

An Innovative community is not one founded to produce and distribute products invented by a single individual. Nor is it a community with several innovative individuals within it (although it would hardly qualify as innovative if it hadn't). It must have the means to stimulate, nurture and develop innovation in its people. Finally, unless it can productively harness its people's innovativeness in such a way as to compete successfully in the marketplace, it cannot, as a community be considered innovative.

Innovative communities, therefore, are able to bring in new methods, ideas, etc. to improve their environment, and initiate changes through human intelligence, especially of imaginative thought or artistic ability.

Innovative Communities ... stimulate, nurture, develop and productively harness the inherent innovative qualities of its people to create sustainable lifestyles.

Community sustainability is "the ability of a community to utilize its resources to ensure that present and future members of that community, as well, as those in adjacent communities, can attain a high degree of health and well-being, economic security, and a say in shaping their future while maintaining the integrity of the ecological systems on which all life and production depends." Community sustainability is based in part on the resiliency of that community to respond to changes in the larger environment. It is innovative communities that are in a position to foster and achieve community sustainability.

Innovative Communities attempts brings together two key concepts: innovativeness and the community dimension within the overall orbit of environmental management.

In managing the local environment, 'innovativeness' is - among other things - the capacity to understand and analyze problems; partnering to bring in different resources (internal as well as external) and adapt it to the local context; involvement and active participation of all relevant stakeholders; respecting history and culture of the local area/region to find new solutions; etc.

Innovation is a fundamental element of any successful community as it inspires collaboration, fosters creativity, and drives talent and economic growth within and for the community. It offers forward momentum in all areas of life - Innovation fosters inspiration, leading to beneficial results all across a community.

The all encompassing term 'community' is used in different contexts for different meanings - here, it is simply a group of people, coming together for internal purposes (as opposed to those created by local governments or NGOs). It is bound together by an issue or feature that can be geographic (same street, city ward, or settlement); social (a disaster, culture, religion, gender, age or art); economic (microfinance, workplace etc.). It is not necessarily a formal organization or may not be registered as an NGO.

Bringing 'innovativeness' and 'community' together creates a comprehensive picture for local environmental management that -

  • understands the natural and man-made resources held by the community within its local environs and looks as itself as a part of local ecosystems
  • has high knowledge - intellectual capacity and awareness of the local environment within the community. it encourages and respects diversity within the homogeneity of the community
  • develops a strong identity and clear forward-looking visions. it is able to reflect and articulate the desires, needs and wishes of the community.
  • initiates and sustains political dialogue at the city, state, national and international levels.

Thus, there are a number of characteristics that define an Innovative Community. Key among them is the ability to take risks in managing their local area, in not necessarily depending on solutions that were "always done that way" Innovativeness is not a goal-oriented end-product - it is in fact a iterative process that adds layers of new ideas to expand current/existing understanding of the local ecology and environment.

Innovative communities have a number of "champions of change" and work with a passion to improve the local conditions and qualities of life of their community's residents. For this to happen, proper and adequate communication remains the key glue that provides a sense of community and an opportunity for the community's residents to share ideas and knowledge. Innovative communities therefore also learn from history and past events - avoiding mistakes that previous generations had made.

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