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Let's talk about social innovation!

Updated: Feb 16

By Norma Wong, postdoc researcher at Centre for Intercultural Communication (SIK), VID Specialized University, Stavanger.


On a bright Saturday morning, 4th December last year, I let out a small scream of excitement (!) as I scrolled through my social media to see that my colleague Gerd Marie Ådna had made the announcement that our op-ed[1] was published on Stavanger Aftenblad.

Titled “Smart technology needs smart community” [Smart teknologi trenger smarte, lokale fellesskap! (aftenbladet.no)], the op-ed was a short piece about social innovation in the local context. The main argument is that social innovation could bring great benefits to the community and is therefore as worthy of support and promotion as technological innovation. In the article, we raised three examples to show the wide range of different projects within social innovation. First is the “I am your neighbour” [Eg er Naboen Din] public act/community-building project, where founder and VID Alumni Steinvor Bråtveit with photographer Lasse Osvoll Larsen uses a large scale portrait installation as a platform to drive for a more caring neighbourhood. Second is the new community garden experiment at Bergelands bydelssenter which was created as a hub for social activities while promoting sustainability and community resilience. Lastly is Stavanger Volunteer Centre [Frivilligsentralen], a publicly funded civil society organization that connects worthy community projects with volunteers and those who need them the most.


(Photo by Per Olav Haarr)

The idea of this op-ed was sparked in a conversation I had with my colleagues Gerd Marie, associate professor at VID, and Sigurd Haus, senior researcher at SIK. We talked about using this op-ed to raise the profile of VID’s new Masters’ programme in Community Development and Social Innovation. As a teacher on this programme, I have been on the look out for local cases of social innovation as class materials and was only too happy to take the task as an opportunity to talk to the three amazing women driving these projects. One of them, Sunniva Roberts, also our student, even joined us as a co-writer. I was also driven to write about these projects because they are great examples of how social innovation is creating values through new ways of rearranging social relations and collaborations, and not necessarily focusing on making a business out of the initiative. What they bring to the community, which includes a sense of belonging and empowerment, a caring neighbourhood, connection to nature and people, are values that most people would appreciate, but are difficult to measure or monetize. I am hoping that by highlighting these initiatives, the op-ed would raise awareness that these represent the kind of innovative community spirit that should be recognized and promoted.


The first draft of the op-ed, originally in English, was carefully and skilfully translated by Gerd Marie and Sigurd into Norwegian, and later successfully published after some rounds of additional editing with everyone involved. The limit of five thousand characters was a challenge, but we managed it and I am grateful for this experience. To add to our surprise, the op-ed has not only reached the public as we have intended, but following its publication, the Smart City section of the Stavanger Municipality reached out to us with much enthusiasm and wishes to meet. We are happy to report that since then we have started a dialogue on possible collaboration on future projects, and we are looking forward to seeing what this will bring in the exciting new year to come.


[1] In Norwegian this would be called a “kronikk”, a similar but not totally equivalent concept to “op-eds” in English Newspapers. According to Store Norske Leksikon, kronikk is “an article of an enlightening or reasoning nature about a current topic written for a general audience in a newspaper or magazine . As a rule, the article will be written by someone who is not himself employed by the newspaper or magazine, but who has special knowledge of the subject.” (https://snl.no/kronikk) After much discussion, we decided to use the term op-ed anyway for the lack of a better translation.


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