Alex Steffan has a really interesting idea over on worldchanging.com – that maybe we should have Special Innovation Zones to encourage major social innovations. His main point is that many green innovations are stymied by zoning regulations, resistance from established interests like power companies, or other systemic reasons. His proposal is that we should take areas that are economically damaged in some way (like Detroit, or New Orleans), and create regions with limited regulations, in order to encourage experimentation with large-scale, socially positive technologies. There are some fairly obvious practical obstacles to this, but I think it’s a pretty intriguing idea. It is one way to get around the fact that governments don’t fail enough to innovate as much as they could.
(the link is to an abstract of an article by Jason Potts on the topic of public service innovation – the article itself is firewalled – if you’re interested in reading it, send me an email…)