Open Journal Systems

Beyond bricolage: social innovation as systematic, consistent and repeatable process

Timothy Curtis


This paper provides empirical research demonstrating that there are clear, consistent and repeatable processes at play in social innovation, calling into question the currently hegemonic postmodernist concept of ‘social bricolage’ in social innovation literature. The paper applies a critical realist & systems analysis approach, utilising Checkland’s (1981/2000) Soft Systems Methodology (SSM). The research project investigated 8 neighbourhood and community policing projects using a handbook called Locally identified Solutions & Practices (LISP). LISP was implemented in a range of different social contexts to construct context-mechanism-outcome (CMO) chains (after Pawson, 2013) in a two-step process to identify which social innovation mechanisms contributed to what outcomes in which contexts. The paper reports on empirically based evidence of social innovation processes that do not rely on the characteristics of the individual social entrepreneur or the serendipity of social bricolage ‘freeplay’ (Derrida, 1970). The paper makes the case that social innovation is more than ‘bricolage’ (Derrida, 1970; Di Domenico et al., 2010), not an eclectic mysterious craft of innovation that relies on the skills and characteristics of the social entrepreneur, but instead a systematic, consistent and repeatable process.


bricolage; soft systems; community policing; social innovation

Full Text:



Albury, D. (2005). Fostering innovation in public services. Public money and management, 25(1), 51-56.

Baker, T., & Nelson, R. E. (2005). Creating Something from Nothing: Resource Construction through Entrepreneurial Bricolage. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50(3), 329-366.

Bhaskar, R. (1975 (2013)). A realist theory of science. London: Routledge.

Camillus, J. C. (2008). Strategy as a wicked problem. Harvard Business Review, 86(5), 98.

Checkland, P. (1981). Systems thinking, systems practice. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Checkland, P. (2000). Soft systems methodology: a thirty year retrospective. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 17(S1), S11-S58.

Curtis, T., & Bowkett, A. (2014). Locally Identified Solutions and Practices: Intensive Community Engagement. Northampton: University of Northampton.

Curtis, T. (2021). Locally Identified Solutions and Practices: a critical realist investigation into the processes of social innovation in the context of neighbourhood policing. University of Northampton. Doctoral Thesis (July 2021).

Dees, G. (1998). Enterprising non-profits: What do you do when traditional sources of funding fall short? Harvard Business Review, 76, 54-67.

Derrida, J. (1970). Structure, sign, and play in the discourse of the human sciences. [Structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines]. Lecture presented at Johns Hopkins University on 21 October 1966

Desa, G., & Basu, S. (2013). Optimization or bricolage? Overcoming resource constraints in global social entrepreneurship. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 7(1), 26-49.

Desa, G., & Basu, S. (2013). Optimization or bricolage? Overcoming resource constraints in global social entrepreneurship. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 7(1), 26-49.

Dey, P., & Steyaert, C. (2018). Myth in social entrepreneurship research: an inquiry into rationalist, ideological and dialectic practices of demystification. In Social Entrepreneurship. Edward Elgar Publishing.

Di Domenico, M., Haugh, H., & Tracey, P. (2010). Social bricolage: Theorizing social value creation in social enterprises. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 34(4), 681-703.

Fuglsang, L., & Mattsson, J. (2009). An integrative model of care ethics in public innovation. The Service Industries Journal, 29(1), 21-34.

Glor, E. D. (2002). Innovation traps: Risks and challenges in thinking about innovation. Workshop on Public Sector Innovation, February 9-10. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 7(2), 1-20.

Guba, E. G., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1989). Fourth generation evaluation. London: Sage.

Hanekamp, G. (2005). Business Ethics of Innovation. Poiesis & Praxis: International Journal of Ethics of Science and Technology Assessment, 3(4), 310-314.

Hartley, J. (2005). Innovation in Governance and Public Services: Past and Present. Public Money & Management, 25(1), 27-34.

Hu, X. (2018). Methodological implications of critical realism for entrepreneurship research. Journal of Critical Realism, 17(2), 118-139.

Hu, X., Marlow, S., Zimmermann, A., Martin, L., & Frank, R. (2019). Understanding opportunities in social entrepreneurship: A critical realist abstraction. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 44(5), 1-25.

Janssen, F., Fayolle, A., & Wuilaume, A. (2018). Researching bricolage in social entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 30(3-4), 450-470.

Johnson, C. (2012). Bricoleur and bricolage: From metaphor to universal concept. Paragraph, 35(3), 355-372.

Kickul, J., Griffiths, M., Bacq, S., & Garud, N. (2018). Catalyzing social innovation: is entrepreneurial bricolage always good? Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 30(3-4), 407-420.

Kirk, D. (1995). Hard and soft systems. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 7(5), 13-16

Lach, D., Rayner, S., & Ingram, H. (2005). Taming the waters: Strategies to domesticate the wicked problems of water resource management. International Journal of Water, 3(1), 1-17.

Leadbeater, C. (2007). Social enterprise and social innovation: Strategies for the next ten years. A social enterprise think piece for the Office of Third Sector,

November 2007. UK: Cabinet Office of the Third Sector.

Mair, J., & Marti, I. (2009). “Entrepreneurship in and around Institutional Voids: A Case Study from Bangladesh.” Journal of Business Venturing 24 (5), 419-435.

Mayne, J. (2017). Theory of change analysis: Building robust theories of change. Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 32(2), 155-173.

Mitroff, I. I., & Mason, R. O. (1980). Structuring III‐structured policy issues: Further explorations in a methodology for messy problems. Strategic Management Journal, 1(4), 331-342.

Molnár, G., & Havas, A. (2019). Trajectories of Social Innovation: Tackling Marginalization with a Complex Approach. In Creating Economic Space for Social Innovation. Oxford University Press.

Mulgan, G., & Albury, D. (2003). Innovation in the public sector. Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office, UK.

Nelson, R., & Lima, E. (2019). Effectuations, social bricolage and causation in the response to a natural disaster. Small Business Economics, 54, 721-750.

Newman, J., Raine, J., & Skelcher, C. (2001). Developments: Transforming Local Government: Innovation and Modernization. Public Money & Management, 21(2), 61-68.

Owusu, W. A., & Janssen, F. (2013). Social entrepreneurship: Effectuation and bricolage approaches to venture establishment in west Africa. 4th EMES International Research Conference on Social Enterprise, Liege.

Pawson, R. (2013). The Science of Evaluation: A Realist Manifesto. Los Angeles, CA and London: Sage.

Pawson, R., & Tilley, N. (1997). Realistic evaluation. London: Sage.

Servantie, V., & Rispal, M. H. (2018). Bricolage, effectuation, and causation shifts over time in the context of social entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 30(3-4), 310-335.

Steyaert, C., & Dey, P. (2010). Nine verbs to keep the social entrepreneurship research agenda ‘dangerous’. Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, 1(2), 231-254.

Taylor, W. C., & Labarre, P. G. (2006). Mavericks at work: why the most original minds in business win. New York: Harper Collins.

von Bertalanffy, L. (1950). An outline of general system theory. British Journal for the Philosophy of science, 1(2), 134-165.

Vries, K. d. (1977). "The Entrepreneurial Personality: a person at the crossroads." Journal of Management Studies, 14(1), 34-57.

Webber, M. M., & Rittel, H. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy sciences, 4(2), 155-169.



  • There are currently no refbacks.