Social Innovation: the great opportunity

Social Innovation: the great opportunity

By Mark MacLeod
President and CEO, ISM Canada



The use of big data and predictive analytics for social innovation provides a unique opportunity for economic development, cost reduction and service improvement for Canadians. Should we be embracing Social Innovation as the single, greatest opportunity to change the current unsustainable trajectory of our overburdened human services?

While many definitions of Social Innovation exist, I like the description as the shift from a supply based model of service delivery through which resources are invested in the supply of services in response to a demand, to a demand based model through which resources are invested in reducing that demand. Think of the old adage “an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure…”

The concept of Social Innovation is becoming generally accepted by many organizations and governments, however acceptance does not necessarily mean practice. In fact, while Social Innovation is gaining momentum, it is still very limited in its application.

The pressures on the social system include the substantively disproportionate consumption of services by a small segment of the population – a segment, that one might suggest, is not being well served by the human services system (i.e. Health, Social Services, Education and Justice (Corrections & Policing)). Using a Social Innovation approach, we are now able to incorporate the proliferation of data and use modern tools to address societal challenges. We can now begin examining outcome-based funding. We can initiate new forms of collaboration which brings together non-government agencies, social funders, and the public and private sectors. Most importantly, we are now able to derive an understanding of the causes and conditions which lead to an overburdened system.

Understanding these causes will enable social funders to allocate resources for prevention initiatives, thereby reducing escalating system and service delivery costs.

Moving to more evidence-based practices will improve the quality of social programming provided to residents. For example, ISM is, and hopes to continue playing a role in a number of exciting and successful projects, including:
•  Through the use of text analyzing software and predictive analytics, assisting a provincial facility for vulnerable youth to analyse documentation in relation to their residents. This analysis was able to show with 75 per cent confidence when a critical event (suicide/attempted suicide, aggravated assault, arson, murder/attempted murder, etc.) would likely take place, thus enabling intervention and potential prevention of the incident. In addition to reducing conflict and saving lives, the project identifies the potential for significant downstream savings in policing, healthcare, and social agency costs; and,
•  Assisting with the simple matching of names by multiple government ministries across a variety of systems, such as Maintenance Enforcement (the government program which collects and enforces court ordered child support, spousal and partner support), Income Assistance, Child Support and other human service systems. This enabled the ministries to understand that when a parent involved with the Maintenance Enforcement System became involved with the Criminal Justice system, Child Support or Maintenance payments often stopped. The ability to predict this process enabled ministries to address the needs of the now unsupported family before the lack of child support funding became a crisis.

In addition to the tremendous economic and social upside, improvements in social outcomes will reduce the “drag” on the country from the overworked social system and will lead to the creation of new jobs as new outcomes are surfaced.

Part of the challenge in driving a Social Innovation agenda lies with the lack of dedicated human services resources – resources which are currently consumed responding to a seemingly never ending demand. This leaves little to try and reduce the pressure on an already overworked system. A new way of delivering human services is needed – one that leverages partnerships with the private, public and philanthropic sector to foster the desperately needed change.

In a first step on this journey, ISM Canada has partnered with the Saskatchewan Government on a unique Social Innovation initiative. The Social Innovation Hub includes a state-of-the-art technology platform built to securely integrate multiple data sources with the purpose of using predictive analytics to provide insight and evidence based information, enabling social agencies and their employees to make better informed decisions.

There is no lack of resources in this space. New tools and opportunities to innovate in the social sector now exist. The extension of social innovation has potential to materially alter the way human services are delivered in the future. Think of intervention before the crime takes places; think of the use of artificial intelligence to assist in diagnosing (with high confidence) certain diseases and providing assistance on treatments. That is not to say that there is no resistance – quite the opposite. The potential benefits are so significant however, that addressing that resistance is critical. Together, governments, community agencies and the private sector must look through the lens of Social Innovation for the benefit of our country and our residents especially those at risk. Together, we can help to build a plan and a culture that fosters the prevention of, rather than the reaction to, the disproportionate use of our social systems.

This is an incredibly exciting opportunity. If we choose to act, this will enable us to work together to create both a new economic engine and a new social program delivery model which will benefit us all well into the future.



Mark MacLeod is a veteran of the technology industry, having built, sold, led, and resurrected more than half a dozen organizations. Under Mark’s leadership, ISM Canada has been named one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, one of Saskatchewan’s Top 100 Companies, and one of Canada’s Top Family-Friendly Employers every year since taking over as ISM’s CEO.



October 5, 2017 | Originally posted in SaskBusiness