I have to confess at the beginning of this article that I have little knowledge of the history of societal innovation in the UK, Europe or anywhere else for that matter.
When I think about societal innovation however it leads me to think about one of my passions in life, social inclusion.
Innovation of course comes from people, very often groups of people collaborating to find solutions to the ills of society and occasionally the odd genius beavering away on his or her own.
Western democracy and therefore the countries of the EU have a flaw when it comes to societal innovation for me and that flaw is on the issue of social inclusion and the nature of democracy itself.
I am of the opinion that we have not yet found a way to tackle social exclusion satisfactorily to be able to truly and honestly socially innovate and in our attempts at cooking up societal innovation we are leaving out many of the best and most vital ingredients.
We seem for the most part to have accepted the fact that a certain percentage of our population will never make a contribution to society and so we have come to ignore the potential of that percentage to harm or compliment our efforts.
There are statistics to be read on the rates of social exclusion in varying EU member states but as far as I’m concerned the figures do not tell the whole story. Leaving aside the statistics it is my distinct impression that we are nearing a position in which a critical mass of people believe they do not have a real voice in how they are governed.
The Arab Spring is a revolt by people against dictatorship, the way they are governed and the Arab Spring has implications for Europe as well. People want a new form of governance that is more inclusive and responsive. In effect social exclusion is reaching the middle classes and they are beginning to make some noise. The current financial climate does not suggest that noise is going to die down any time soon.
So societal innovation is one thing but it might be societal breakdown we need to worry about right now. If we don’t concern ourselves with this the innovation may come as it has so often in the past out of a bonfire of all that has gone before.
We will get real societal innovation when the collective will of the people is clearly seen in the behaviour of our representatives in government. Unfortunately this is not currently the case.
New technologies including the development of the world wide web and the current use of social media will speed up the demands for more representative government and the demands will only become louder as we see governments continuing to respond in a way that can only be described as static.
One might even say that societal innovation is here and that the people are beginning to believe they have the means to demand it. Governments need to respond and respond quickly before they’re thrown on the bonfire!