Making sense of an interconnected world: how innovation champions drive social innovation in the not‐for‐profit context

Courtney Molloy*, Sarah Bankins, Anton Kriz, Lisa Barnes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
9 Downloads (Pure)


Social innovation is critical for supporting the economic and social fabric of communities globally. Yet little is known about the processes through which social innovation occurs and how context shapes them. To date, scholarship has focused primarily on social entrepreneurs and social enterprise creation, while the role of established not-for-profits (NFPs) as agents of social innovation has received surprisingly little attention given their importance to communities. It is expected that innovation will be increasingly important for NFPs as shifts in their funding models create greater complexity in maintaining sustainability and continuity in social service delivery. This research generates a deeper understanding of the processes of social innovation within NFPs by examining how multiple levels of context influence the behaviors of a key set of agents: innovation champions. Adopting an interactionist lens, the study explores how shifts in funding policy at the macro level, and the role of leaders (CEOs and Boards) and organizational institutional logics at the meso level, influence champion behavior at the micro level. To do this, we draw on sensemaking as an important cognitive and action-enabling mechanism. A qualitative, multicase study design with 46 interviews across six case organizations allows an in-depth exploration of this under-investigated area. The findings indicate that bricolage activity can facilitate championing that supports social innovation within NFPs and that organizational context guides the direction and content of champion behavior. The findings further uncover a broader range of behaviors and outcomes than have been previously attributed to champions, while highlighting the critical role that bricolage-enabled championing can play in driving social innovation that is both directly impactful and offers significant longer-term social impact. The important roles that sensebreaking, sensegiving, and sensemaking play in connecting champions’ interpretations of their contexts to their behaviors are also outlined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-296
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Product Innovation Management
Issue number4
Early online date8 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2020


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