Dialogue and the Creation of Transformative Social Change: The Case of Social Enterprises

Chitvan Trivedi, Shalini Misra
Informing Science: The International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline  •  Volume 21  •  2018  •  pp. 107-132

To understand the process of social change creation in social entrepreneurial ventures (SEVs), specifically emphasizing the role and nature of the communicative process in social change creation.

Drawing on data from seven SEVs from India and the US and employing a grounded theory methodology, this research scrutinizes the social change process and uncovers the role and characteristics of dialogue in this process.

Qualitative data was collected from seven social entrepreneurial organizations over a period of eight months from July 2011 to February 2012. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a wide range of members within these social entrepreneurial organizations (n=27) with additional informal interviews with field workers and volunteers. Data from the semi-structured interviews and notes from observations were integrated with analyses of archival resources.

There is little scholarship about the process of social change creation and the necessary conditions to promote social change over time. Understanding the process of social change creation and the individual, interpersonal, and organizational conditions that facilitate the process is central to design of effective trans-sector TD problem solving ventures. This paper focuses on the process of social change creation in social entrepreneurial settings, specifically emphasizing the role and nature of the communicative process in social change creation.

The reflections and experiences of the members of SEVs revealed that social entrepreneurship is a collective endeavor and this collective character is essential to its success. Collective organization and synergy, deep intra-organizational communication, and a conducive organizational context are critical for the creation of collective wisdom and knowledge networks for long-term collaborative community capacity building. Dialogue emerged as a central category linking the other categories to explain the process of social change creation. Organic organizational structure enables knowledge creation and integration through the process of organizational learning through deep and continuous social interaction, or dialogue.

This research elucidated the key characteristics of the organizational context required to support the creation of social change. It also identified the critical role and characteristics of the communicative process required to generate structural knowledge and collective wisdom at the organizational level.

For individual and organizational learning, trans-sector transdisciplinary organizations require an appropriate organizational context. Key elements of such an organizational context include (1) understanding the ecology of the social problem; (2) organic organizational structure; (3) continuous and deep social interaction among all levels of the organization; (4) employee and community autonomy and empowerment; and (5) attention to subtle environmental changes in the system. These elements in combination lead to the creation of collective wisdom. Collective wisdom then feeds back into the conception, planning, and action stages of the iterative cycle of organizational knowledge creation to create positive social change.

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Future research model theoretically and study empirically the ecology of social entrepreneurship and trans-sector TD problem solving more broadly. For example, the ways in the personal attributes of social entrepreneurs (e.g., their leadership style, networking abilities) combine with circumstances at organizational, institutional, and international levels to influence the effectiveness of their efforts to promote positive social change within local and global communities. Second, the grounded theoretical framework developed here should be further refined and elaborated through the identification of additional key contextual factors that affect SEVs’ capacity to promote positive social change and to achieve sustainability in different socio-environmental contexts. There is also a need to translate the findings from this research to facilitate the creation of more inclusive problem solving contexts and practices.

social entrepreneurship, social change, transdisciplinary collaboration, communication, dialogue, complex problem solving
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