Wednesday 7
Histories of Innovation and transformation in complex systems
Ola Tjörnbo
› 11:35 - 12:30 (55min)
› Rondelet
“One Test: How a new idea about what differentiates cognitive ability shifted social outcomes and shaped valuation over the 20th century"
Katharine Mcgowan  1@  
1 : University of Waterloo  (UW)  -  Website
200 University Ave W, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3G1 -  Canada

As part of the proposed session, “Histories of Innovation and Transformation in Complex Systems,” this paper considers the intelligence test as a social innovation that emerged from a novel conception of individual cognitive capacity, to a test that its administrators believed could reliably differentiate or categorize children, to a policy tool in determining investment and medical intervention in the pre-war United States, to its eventual repudiation as associated with eugenics and the Nazis and re-imagination as a socio-economic leveler.

The path of a social innovation, from the emergence of a new idea to the new product, process or program that disrupts basic resource and/or authority flows is hardly singular or simple. The role of combination or bricolage in the aha! moment of invention (Arthur, 2009; Biggs et al, 2010; Thagard in press); the importance of a protective niche for a product to mature free of the competition of the open market (Geels, 2006); the role of policy windows (Kingdon, 1990), and; institutional entrepreneurs in advancing or championing a new idea or new product (Antadze & Westley, 2010). Each of these theories seeks to explain a phase or partial driving force in that path of a social innovation's life cycle.

The relative role of these individual phenomena, and many others associated with social innovation, can be observed and/or tested across multiple historical cases. This case forms part of a preliminary investigation (which this proposed panel encompasses), into the origins and pathways of a social innovation, and the relevant cross-scale behaviour of the complex systems (social, socio-ecological, socio-technical and otherwise). This case in particular considers the role of new phenomena and combination (Arthur, 2009), and the importance of institutional entrepreneurs in the form, direction and successful scaling of an innovation. 

The institutionalization of the intelligence test, a confluence of medical-scientific and social-legal perceptions and concerns, relied in part of the tireless, opportunistic advocacy of a small group of medical professionals who perceived exogenous shocks (such as the First World War) and broader ideological trends (anti-immigration sentiment in the pre-war period) as opportunities to showcase or advance their cause. Historical innovations can provide a rich tableau against which to measure assumptions about the characteristics of social innovations in complex systems because, simply put, “historically we can see what happened” (Byrne, 1998: 26). The case of the intelligence test permits a nuanced portrayal of the work on institutional entrepreneurs navigating through the phases of the adaptive cycle, first to introduce, then institutionalize, and eventually remove or repurpose the tests, as expectations and experiences created variant opportunities.


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