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Potentialities and constraints in the relation between social innovation and public policies: some lessons from South America

Ariel Gordon, Departamento de Economía y Administración (DEyA), Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (UNQ)
Lucas D. Becerra, Instituto de Estudios sobre la Ciencia y la Tecnología (IESCT), Universidad Nacional de Quilmes (UNQ), Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (Conicet)
Mariano Fressoli, Centro de Investigaciones para la Transformación (Cenit), Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (Conicet)


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Social innovation (SI) can offer alternative forms of organization and novel solutions to complex problems faced by contemporary societies. As governments face increasing pressures from mounting societal challenges, it is assumed that SI can provide bottom-up solutions in ways that can create transformative change. However, the dialectic relation between bottom-up initiatives and government can be difficult and sometimes contradictory. Even more, assumptions about the diminishing powers of government can be misleading and overstress the role of SI. Based on the study of the recent South American experience, we have departed from this assumption, seeking to understand what the role of public policies as initiators or supporters of SI could be.
We analyzed two top-down initiatives promoted by public policies that ultimately fostered SI in Argentina, the subsistence agriculture “Pro-Huerta” program and the policies of the National Technology and Social Innovation Program, and one complementary case study of a bottom-up SI experience in Brazil, the One Million Cisterns Program, which was later inserted into public policies. Together, these cases have allowed us to understand the potentialities and limitations of SI and the kind of dialectic relations they established with public policies. In particular, we have considered how public policies can foster and support SI.

Key words

public policy; social innovation; South America; state

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087