Giving Compass' Take:

• In this story from IDR, the author discusses the "social innovation paradox" which suggests that interventions with more concrete effects are more likely to be scrutinized and intervention models that address less visible issues are more likely to get a pass.

• How might we encourage progress by allowing innovators to take risks?

• Interested in innovating and pushing the limits of philanthropy? Click here to be inspired by a few examples of boundary breaking philanthropy.

Every intervention to improve a social situation involves an unsettling of the status quo – and these disruptions may impose new costs for some members of a community or elements of an ecosystem. For example, replacing plastics with organic cotton tote bags to save marine lives sets as a condition for success the need to use the cotton bag 20,000 times to truly offset the high water costs of growing organic cotton.

Yet when the impact of social entrepreneurs and innovators is being measured, there’s a tendency to avoid assessing the full range of positive and negative impacts, and to only focus on whether there are measurable effects within the “good part of the impact spectrum.”

Ironically, the more subtle an organisation’s overall web of impacts, the more energy is usually spent evaluating its positive social outcomes, leaving far less bandwidth to examine its potential negatives.

In contrast, when a bold intervention model sets off a chain of easily observable effects – especially effects that feed into other social contexts – it is more likely to be judged based on the full spectrum of its impacts, both positive and negative, simply because the task is simpler. That means these more noticeably impactful interventions are less likely to benefit from the assumption that any negative externalities are unrelated to their work. They get less benefit of the doubt.

This inevitably leads us to a paradox: The more concrete the effects of an intervention, the higher the likelihood that it will be penalised for negative externalities and bad side effects. Meanwhile, intervention models that address less visible issues – or that have more diffuse (or less significant) impacts – get a pass.

Read the full article about the social innovation paradox by Bright Simmons at India Development Review (IDR).