Community Innovation

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
- Albert Einstein

Community Innovation is: Change, for good, with and within a community. In other words, Community Innovation is a community-championed change with benefits that are meaningful to the community. What makes Community Innovation different from other forms of Social Innovation is the focus on community – placing community members as both the champions and as the arbiters of change.

As dynamic ‘living labs’, communities offer the perfect container for innovation. Our experience with community change has taught us to appreciate that to be effective, Community Innovation requires an appreciation of both the issue one is hoping to address, as well as a deep understanding of the unique characteristics of the community – the place and the people within it – where the innovation will be implemented. Successful Community Innovation is context specific. Solutions that have been proven effective in one community can, at best, serve as a source of inspiration for another community. These innovations, however, must be adapted and modified to reflect the unique strengths, challenges and leadership of the community where they are being replicated.

Innovation creates a solution that is distinct from – and more ambitious and uncertain – than continuous improvement.  It is also important to note that innovation exists in a number of different forms. These include: program; product and/or service innovation; funding innovation or, system innovation. Karen Pittman, founder of the Forum for Youth Investment, illustrates this distinction well: “Programmatic interventions help people to beat the odds but systemic interventions seek to change the odds.” System innovation moves beyond the better alignment of programs and services within an existing system to challenge the system’s conventional norms and look beyond proven or accepted practices to create new, never-before considered solutions that are usually based on a fundamentally different set of assumptions.


Featured Resources

Getting Started

Asset Based Mapping

Human Centered Design Toolkit, 2nd Edition


The Human Centered Design Toolkit is an essential resource that provides new frameworks and ways to hear your constituents, create new solutions, and deliver on long-term goals. 

This free resource was produced by IDEO, a global design company comitted to creative positive impact.

2019 Introduction to Community innovation Square-1

The Introduction to Community Innovation

By Galen MacLusky 

In this series we will learn what community innovation is, how it has changed the way we look at community change and how you can apply different innovation methods and lenses to your work in a meaningful way.

This webinar series explores how the practice of Community Innovation can help you create effective community change, how the practice of Community Innovation relates to other community change practices, and some of the most common Community Innovation methods.

Taking It Further

Brenda Zimmerman SpeakingPreventing Snapback: The Challenge of Resilient Systems

By Brenda Zimmerman

In this video, taken at Tamarack's 2014 Collective Impact Summit, Brenda Zimmerman discussed the concept of snapback in relation to community innovation, and the difficulty involved in creating resiliency in change.


Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation

By D Magellan Horth & J. Vehar, Center for Creative Leadership

This free resource was developed by the Center for Creative Leadership, and outlines the difficulty of pursuing innovation in the face of day-to-day duties. It empahsizes the need for organizational support, focus, and a culture that nurtures creativity. 

2021 Inno Save the Date CCT

Community Innovation 2021: Cultivating Capacity for Transformation

March Workshop | March 11, 2021 from 1:00 – 4:30 pm ET with coaching in April
April Workshop | April 13, 2021 from 1:00 – 4:30 pm ET with coaching in May

Participants in this interactive learning session will deepen their understanding of what’s needed to create optimal conditions for community innovation to thrive and will be provided with opportunities to learn and apply an array of simple, yet powerful tools for making the practice of community innovation a reality.

Register for the Next Workshop