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We’re building a new Foundation Course in Social Innovation

Ever been curious about the practice of social innovation but not sure how to put it into practice? It’s a question we get asked a lot (and even ask ourselves!), which is why we’re building a foundation course focused on expanding social innovation capability that can be adapted for all kinds of organisations.


By Chris Vanstone

In January, we onboarded a new cohort of social innovators to our TACSI family

As usual, they came from a diverse set of backgrounds, including designers with social motivations who had worked predominantly in commercial settings, as well as practitioners with a long career history of working in social innovation, yet had never spent a day in ‘innovation school’.

After people have spent somewhere between six months to two years at TACSI, it’s common to see them experience a few wobbles of professional doubt, especially as they became aware of the full range of thinking and practice at play in social innovation, and begin to apply their capabilities in entirely unfamiliar environments.

All this isn’t helped by the fact that social innovation – despite renaming and recombining what many have been doing for decades (centuries, millenia) – is still a discipline in its early stages. It wasn’t until last year that you could pick up a textbook that did the breadth of the subject justice. It can be hard to find your place in a universe when the edges are fuzzy, and it keeps expanding.

That’s why, over the last five months, we’ve been developing and trialling a new Foundation Course in Social Innovation

The course will consist of 10 modules that introduces key concepts, and will be a precursor to three more detailed courses that will delve deeper into three different topics: social innovation in services; social innovation and systems; and creating the organisational conditions for social innovation.

To begin with, we’re testing it on ourselves and our new TACSI folk, before rolling the curriculum out more broadly as part of a new set of resources, courses and networks focused on building social innovation capability for all kinds of organisations.

Our starting point for creating this course is a definition that appeared on the very first TACSI website, which stated that social innovations are ‘innovations that are social both in their ends and in their means’1, as well as a more recent reflection by my colleagues that defines TACSI’s particular flavour of social innovation as work that’s ‘systemic, human and experiential’.

Diagram of relationship between Human, Systemic, Experimental and Social ends and means

1The Open Book of Social Innovation, 2010, p3 pdf

What you can expect from the foundation course

The learning materials included in the course will all be rooted in practice, and use source materials created by experienced practitioners. We’ve taken care to use plain language, and maintain a healthy scepticism for trends, even if they’re being talked about in the twittersphere. The learning experience combines a podcast, a purpose written course book, fortnightly small group reflection sessions and assignments to interview fellow practitioners about their practice.


Modules from the TACSI Foundation Course in Social Innovation

What is good social innovation?

Explore TACSI’s perspective on social innovation: systemic, experimental and human in ends and means.

Participatory processes 

Explore the options for participation in processes of design, delivery, evaluation and planning. Includes:what it takes to address power imbalances, how to make participation safe, ethical and even therapeutic, and considerations for the effective participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in social innovation processes.


Being a social innovator

Explore what it means to be a social innovator, and how to address the inevitable challenges of the work. Includes working with trauma, triggering events, addressing your own privilege, addressing intractable issues in intractable systems and working in an interdisciplinary and evolving field.

Rigorous innovation

Explore the fundamentals of innovation, and how social innovation differs from commercial innovation, and typical approaches to government reform. Explore how to bring evidence into projects, how to be rigorous about creativity and how to ensure work leads to learning.

Thinking in systems

Explore ways to think in and about systems, common patterns of behavior in systems, and how that relates to social systems and inequality.

Systems that keep getting better

Explore how to systematise innovation, so that systems themselves can more effectively evolve and learn.

Acting in systems

Explore common practices and emergent approaches to work systemically, to intervene in systems and to accelerate the transition of whole systems.

Making social innovation better

Explore how to design projects to generate transferable knowledge and how to share that knowledge, to build the field of social innovation.

Best-fit social innovation

Explore how to identify the best-fit approach for a given problem/situation, considering all the aspects explored in this course.

If we’re going to move social innovation into the mainstream, and we believe strongly that we need to, then democratising the approach and engaging in constructive debate about what’s ‘good social innovation’ is a cornerstone.


If you’re interested in learning more about our Foundation Course in Social Innovation or any of our other tailored learning experiences, we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with us here.

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In addition, we recently launched our new Social Innovation Learning Network for the Third Sector, designed specifically for managers and leaders of teams in the Third Sector. The network aims to strengthen relationships across the system by connecting innovators so they can collectively build capability and share learning.