Symbiotic Innovation 2017-10-05T14:43:45+00:00

What is Symbiotic Innovation?

It is becoming increasingly clear that traditional models of social assistance are failing to meet the needs of those experiencing disadvantage. This is no truer than in the refugee community where members continue to experience significantly higher non participation rates in employment and considerably lower rates of personal well-being than established Australians.

Traditional approaches to social challenges place the welfare agency, whose focus is crisis management, at the center of designing and implementing social solutions. With the best intentions, this ‘agency centric’ approach is ultimately undermining community collaboration and resilience.

Community Four is charting a new path. We use our unique model of Symbiotic Innovation as the foundation of our community hubs, which we call ‘SymLabs’.  SymLabs are places where community members can design and test their social projects in collaboration with skilled corporate professionals, social investors and government and non government agencies.

Humanitarian Symbiotic Innovation is a new way of delivering services to displaced people and their communities.

The term Symbiotic Innovation (SI) describes the essence of our groundbreaking approach.

Symbiotic – existing in symbiosis, or having an interdependent relationship

Innovation – the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods

The creation of the SI model was in response to a growing view that today’s large scale, one-size-fits-all approaches to social challenges are not only failing to meet the scale of need – they may in fact be contributing to the problem. This is because through our agencies we have created an artificial relationship with the communities we work with – a relationship where ‘service users’ are reduced to the sum of their needs and agencies assume responsibility (and authority) for deciding how these needs are met.

SI challenges this paradigm. This unique model is used to facilitate a relationship of equality and commonality between service users and agency staff – until the boundaries between both become porous. This approach of mutual learning through mutual action promotes a nurturing environment for the creation of relevant and scalable solutions beyond the jurisdiction of the agency. The SI philosophy is that solutions can only be sustainable if they are born of and thrive within the community – as it is the community members themselves who need to embrace these solutions in their day to day lives.

In essence, SI puts the humanity back into humanitarian work – the agency becomes home to a community of equals, striving for a shared purpose, rather than a meeting point for service providers and service users.

 The 8 Principles of SI

Symbiotic Innovation, like any type of innovation, cannot be enforced from the top down or by any one person or group as it is an organic process. People need to be led by their own interests, ideas and creativity and any attempt to control the scope of these will have a negative effect on the overall outcome. Our role in facilitating SI is to implement a model which creates the conditions that are conducive to SI’s occurrence.

Symbiotic Innovation is based on the combining of two theories/concepts:

  • Control Theory, the timeless and natural process of collective and adaptive creativity. The 8 Principles utilise the process elements of Control Theory to create an environment where SI can thrive.

  • Emergence Theory, the phenomenon of something novel arising out of a seemingly chaotic environment that is governed by certain principles. Websites like Wikipedia are good examples of emergence. Here, basic principles set by the website creators bring about an environment for previously unconnected participants to interact with each other to build something ordered, something new, something greater than the sum of their individual contributions. In the SI model, Emergence Theory not only guides us to provide the right environment for creative solutions to emerge, but also to nurture them when they do (even those solutions that challenge us from the perspective of the host community).

A shared purpose can connect a diverse range of people, both intellectually and emotionally, around a concept or cause. A shared purpose is not just about identifying problems to be overcome – it’s also about having a common vision of the impact we are trying to achieve and what success looks like beyond those challenges.

SI involves the combining of two entities, the agency (generally made up of the host community) and the service user or service user community. These parties are integrated in a mutual learning through mutual action model that allows them to become interdependent. This gives rise to the shared experience – the cornerstone of the SI model.

Recognition, put simply, is about recognising what resources and solutions already exist. The first place we should look for these is in the populations we are there to assist. The aim of Symbiotic Innovation is to develop solutions that live and thrive in the community.  Therefore, we should focus first on what strengths and solutions already exist in these communities. It is far more effective to support successful solutions that have been created by the community, rather than exert the energy to construct solutions from scratch.

The Principle of Creation relates to solution development as a process in itself. Human beings are incredibly creative and industrious creatures. Look around you right now. Wherever you are I’m sure you’ll find some evidence of solution focused creativity or innovation. The fact is most of it was not created by a person using an innovation model. What really drives innovation is that old mother of invention, necessity.

Influence is about the power of action as a teacher, a connector and bonder, and even as a healer. Action can even be transformative, such as the act of two people working alongside each other for each other. There is no more important principle in SI than the ability for the change agent to be able to influence the agency, their community and the wider world around them. Influencial action is the foundation of self-empowerment.

The Symbiotic Innovation model relies on a  feedback system that draws its information from multiple sources (people at different stages, with different backgrounds and experiences) to ensure that any decision making takes into account the fuller picture of what is occurring. Feedback is less about surveying and focus groups and more about an ongoing dialogue between the service user and the service provider. Through the principle of Integration, the equal working relationship between these two groups gives rise to what is termed Dynamic Feedback and mutual learning through mutual action.

Innovation requires an iterative approach to problem solving. Solutions must have the space to be able to develop through strategic trial and error. For SI to thrive we need to create an environment where risk and failure are not just accepted, they are expected.

Reinforcement is about strategic support for those things that work. Here we’re not just talking about new solutions. It could be something that already exists but requires nurturing. Positive patterns of interaction and support happen organically within community. What we understand as “service delivery” (one entity imparting its skills or resources to another lacking in these aspects) is already a common part of everyday interactions between members of the service user communities. Such examples are informal child care, English lessons, financial assistance, housing, employment, etc. The role of the service agency is to understand how it can reinforce these interactions to thrive – either through skills development or providing resources, rather than taking over responsibility for these arrangements itself.

Further Resources

Additional reading and resources can be found here.

Symbiotic Innovation Training

Community Four provides training and technical assistance to community development professionals and empowerment practitioners wanting to apply the SI principles in their organisation’s own unique context. Contact Us for further information.