Dip into Institutional Entrepreneurship

“Complexity science embraces life as it is: unpredictable, emergent, evolving and adaptable – not the least bit machine-like. And though it implies that we cannot control the world the way we can control a machine, we are not powerless, either. Using insights about how the world is changed, we can become active participants in shaping those changes.” “Getting to Maybe; how the world is changed”, Westley, Zimmerman, Patton.

As the quote above states, social innovation requires the active participation of individuals (or networks of individuals). And although much is ‘unpredictable’, there is a place for strategic intervention, even though impact is rarely easy to accomplish. There are many elements in a system that must align just so; timing, knowledge, communication, relationships, and opportunity are all involved. Individuals who pay close attention to connecting various elements in a system are referred to as institutional entrepreneurs. Take a look at this slide deck that speaks to this particular role and how it supports social innovation. One of the final frames outlines key activities for these institutional entrepreneurs at different stages of the Adaptive Cycle.

The following collection of brief case studies examines individuals and organizations across one community, the Waterloo Region, that worked as, or with, institutional entrepreneurs (either alone or within networks) to enhance the innovative capacity for positive social impact in the place that they call home.

In the following presentation to a group of scientists, Frances Westley emphasizes the value of the role of the institutional entrepreneur. The first half sets the context; at about the 10:55 minute mark, she begins to specifically speak to the role of agency for systems change. Dive in to institutional entrepreneurship to read the full paper that accompanied this presentation.