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Narratives of change: How social innovation initiatives construct societal transformation

Social innovation initiatives do not only propose new ways of doing and organising, but also engage in the construction of reality through new ways of framing and knowing. To analyse this work, the authors of this article -including DRIFTers Julia Wittmayer, Flor Avelino and Bonno Pel– propose a tripartite framework to analyse and discuss the content, construction and role of these narratives in four social innovation initiatives.
 
Narratives, metaphors and imaginaries play a major role in sustainability transitions. What are the futures that we (can) imagine? What are the policy visions being implemented? What are the stories we tell ourselves about which world is possible?
 
This publication proposes to diversify our imagination about how desired futures look like, how these can be reached and what the role of different actors therein is – and to focus on narratives of change as sets of ideas, concepts, metaphors, discourses or story-lines about societal transformation. Having studied societal initiatives with transformative ambitions, it is acknowledged that these initiatives do not only propose new ways of doing and organising, but typically also engage in the construction of reality through new ways of framing and knowing.
 
To analyse this ‘future work’ of social innovation initiatives, the article proposes a tripartite framework to analyse and discuss the content, construction and role of these narratives in four social innovation initiatives. These are (1) Ashoka – a global network of social entrepreneurs; (2) Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) – a network of ecological intentional communities, (3) Réseau Intercontinental de Promotion de l’Économie Sociale et Solidaire (RIPESS) – a network of networks and political movement for the promotion of social and solidarity economy across the globe and (4) Shareable – a network for the sharing economy.
 
The analysis shows that the narratives of change of all four networks suggest alternative economic arrangements that challenge the current neoliberal, capitalist system, including the dominant policy narrative of (social) innovation for economic growth. They reveal the failing of current systems, but do not pause there but also suggest alternatives. They way these narratives are constructed mirror the model of change (e.g. more deliberative, or more hierarchical) of the social innovation initiative in question. The analysis further highlights the pivotal role these narratives play in constructing individual and social identities and thereby lure actors into enrolling with social innovation initiatives since they offer opportunities to engage in meaning-making.
 
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Citation
Wittmayer, J.M., Backhaus, J., Avelino, F., Pel, B., Strasser, T., Kunze, T., Zuijderwijk L. (2019) Narratives of change and the construction of alternative futures. Futures. Online first. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2019.06.005


Date
October 2, 2019