Organizational Pathways for Social Innovation and Societal Impacts in Disability Nonprofits

  • Rachel Taylor
  • Nuttaneeya (Ann) TorugsaEmail author
  • Anthony Arundel
Original Paper


Using data from a sample of 301 Australian disability nonprofit organizations (NPOs), this study applies configurational thinking to identify combinations of organizational capabilities that lead to Nonprofit Social Innovation (NSI)—a new service or process that promotes social inclusion of people with disabilities—and examines whether NSI is a sufficient condition for high societal impacts to be achieved. The conceptualization and components of the NSI framework were developed in our previous research through a two-month researcher-in-residency at disability NPOs. In this study, we employ fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis to identify several “recipes” of capabilities (varying by organizational size and geographical location) for NSI development. The analyses find that high societal impacts from NSI occur when organizations adopt diverse perspectives, and embrace either person-focused approaches or operate in a risk-tolerant environment. These findings provide valuable linkages to managerial practice in nonprofits and advance emerging theoretical understandings of social innovation.


Capabilities Disability nonprofits Qualitative comparative analysis Social innovation Societal impact 



The lead author would like to acknowledge financial support received through an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Argyris, C., & Schön, D. A. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Regional Population Growth, Australia, 20122013. Accessed February 10, 2017.
  3. Ayob, N., Teasdale, S., & Fagan, K. (2016). How social innovation ‘came to be’: Tracing the evolution of a contested concept. Journal of Social Policy, 45, 635–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barraket, J., Collyer, N., O’Connor, M., & Anderson, H. (2010). Finding Australia’s social enterprise sector. Brisbane: Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies.Google Scholar
  5. Barton, R., Robinson, T., Llewellyn, G., Thorncraft, K., & Smidt, A. (2015). Rural and remote perspectives on disability and mental health research in Australia: 2000–2013. Advances in Mental Health, 13, 30–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burnes, B. (2005). Complexity theories and organizational change. International Journal of Management Reviews, 7, 73–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Butkevičienė, E. (2009). Social innovations in rural communities: Methodological framework and empirical evidence. Social Sciences, 63, 80–87.Google Scholar
  8. Byrne, D. (2005). Complexity, configurations and cases. Theory, Culture & Society, 22, 95–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chalmers, D. (2012). Social innovation: An exploration of the barriers faced by innovating organizations in the social economy. Local Economy, 28, 17–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chalmers, D., & Balan-Vnuk, E. (2012). Innovating not-for-profit social ventures: Exploring the microfoundations of internal and external absorptive capacity routines. International Small Business Journal, 31, 785–810.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chesbrough, H. (2006). Open innovation: A new paradigm for understanding industrial innovation. In H. Chesbrough, W. Vanhaverbeke, & J. West (Eds.), Open innovation: Researching a new paradigm. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cohen, W. M., & Levinthal, D. A. (1990). Absorptive capacity: A new perspective on learning and innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 35, 128–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Connellan, J. (2014). Big disruptive and here to stay: The impact of the National Disability Insurance Scheme on not for profit housing and homelessness agencies. Parity, 27, 23–24.Google Scholar
  14. Crutchfield, L. R., & Grant, H. (2012). Forces for good: The six practices of high-impact nonprofits. San Francisco: Wiley.Google Scholar
  15. Davies, A., Mulgan, G., Norman, W., Pulford, L., Patrick, R., & Simon, J. (2012). Systemic innovation. Brussels: Social Innovation Europe.Google Scholar
  16. Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FAHCSIA). (2011). 2010–2020 national disability strategy. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  17. Eppel, E., Matheson, A., & Walton, M. (2011). Applying complexity theory to New Zealand public policy: Principles for practice. Policy Quarterly, 7, 48–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Farmer, T. K., Robinson, S., Elliott, K., & Eyles, J. (2006). Developing and implementing a triangulation protocol for qualitative health research. Qualitative Health Research, 16, 377–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fereday, J., & Muir-Cochrane, E. (2006). Demonstrating rigor using thematic analysis: A hybrid approach of inductive and deductive coding and theme development. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 5, 80–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fiss, P. (2007). A set-theoretic approach to organizational configurations. Academy of Management Review, 32, 1180–1198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gerometta, J., Hausermann, H. H., & Longo, G. (2005). Social innovation and civil society in urban governance: Strategies for an inclusive city. Urban Studies, 42, 2007–2021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goldstein, J., Hazy, J. K., & Silberstang, J. (2010). A complexity science model of social innovation in social enterprise. Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, 1, 101–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Green, J., & Mears, J. (2014). The implementation of the NDIS: Who wins, who loses? Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal, 6, 25–39.Google Scholar
  24. Gronbjerg, K. A., & Nelson, S. (1998). Mapping Small Religious Nonprofit Organizations: An Illinois Profile. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 27, 13–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gupta, A., Smith, K., & Shalley, C. (2006). The interplay between exploration and exploitation. The Academy of Management Journal, 49, 693–706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hallahan, L. (2013). In all its unfitness: The public’s framing of the NDIS. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change, 1, 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hammack, D. C. (1995). Accountability and nonprofit organizations: A historical perspective. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 6, 127–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Howaldt, J., & Schwarz, M. (2017). Social innovation and human development: How the capabilities approach and social innovation theory mutually support each other. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 18, 163–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hsiao, J. P. H., Jaw, C., Huan, T. C., & Woodside, A. G. (2015). Applying complexity theory to solve hospitality contrarian case conundrums: Illumination happy-low and unhappy-high performing frontline service employees. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 27, 608–647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jankel, N. (2011). Radical (re)invention: A white paper. Accessed November 4, 16.
  31. Kabeer, N. (2005). Inclusive citizenship. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  32. Laub, J. (2010). The servant organization. In D. van Dierendonck & K. Patterson (Eds.), Servant leadership: Developments in theory and research. Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  33. Laursen, K., & Salter, A. (2006). Open for innovation: The role of openness in explaining innovation performance among UK manufacturing firms. Strategic Management Journal, 27, 131–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lettice, F., & Parekh, M. (2010). The social innovation process: Themes, challenges and implications for practice. International Journal of Technology Management, 51, 139–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Meyer, A. D., Tsui, A. S., & Hinings, C. R. (1993). Configurational approaches to organizational analysis. Academy of Management Journal, 36, 1175–1195.Google Scholar
  36. Mulgan, G., & Pulford, L. (2010). Study on social innovation. London: The Young Foundation.Google Scholar
  37. Neumeier, S. (2012). Why do social innovations in rural development matter and should they be considered more seriously in rural development research?—Proposal for a stronger focus on social innovations in rural development research. Sociologia Ruralis, 52, 48–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nicholls, A., & Murdock, A. (2012). The nature of social innovation. In A. Nicholls & A. Murdock (Eds.), Social innovation: Blurring boundaries to reconfigure markets. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Nussbaum, M. (2012). Creating capabilities: The human development approach. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  40. O’Cathain, A., Murphy, E., & Nicholl, J. (2010). Three techniques for integrating data in mixed methods studies. British Medical Journal, 341, 1147–1150.Google Scholar
  41. Ordanini, A., Parasuraman, A., & Rubera, G. (2014). When the recipe is more important than the ingredients: A qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) of service innovation configurations. Journal of Service Research, 17, 134–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Phillips, W., Lee, H., Ghobadian, A., O’Regan, N., & James, P. (2014). Social innovation and social entrepreneurship: A systematic review. Group and Organization Management, 40, 428–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Phills, J., Deiglmeier, K., & Miller, D. (2008). Rediscovering social innovation. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 6, 34–43.Google Scholar
  44. Pol, E., & Ville, S. (2009). Social innovation: Buzz word or enduring term? The Journal of Socio-Economics, 38, 878–885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ragin, C. C. (2000). Fuzzy-set social science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  46. Ragin, C. C. (2008). Redesigning social inquiry: Fuzzy sets and beyond. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sanzo, M. J., Álvarez, L. I., Rey, M., & García, N. (2015). Business-nonprofit partnerships: A new form of collaboration in a corporate responsibility and social innovation context. Service Business, 9, 611–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stainton, T. (2000). What is self-determination? In Proceedings of the first international conference on self determination and individualized funding, Seattle, 29–31 July.Google Scholar
  50. Stainton, T. (2002). Taking rights structurally: Disability, rights and social worker responses to direct payments. British Journal of Social Work, 32, 751–763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Taylor, R., Torugsa, N., & Arundel, A. (2018a). Leaping into real-world relevance: An ‘abduction’ process for nonprofit research. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 47, 206–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Taylor, R., Torugsa, N., & Arundel, A. (2018b). Thriving within the turbulence: A complexity theorizing approach to social innovation by nonprofit organizations. In C. Dogru (Ed.), Handbook of research on contemporary approaches in management and organizational strategy. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.Google Scholar
  53. Toepler, S. (2003). Grassroots associations versus larger nonprofits: New evidence from a community case study in arts and culture. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 32, 236–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Torugsa, N., & Arundel, A. (2017). Rethinking the effect of risk aversion on public sector innovation. Research Policy, 46, 900–910.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Torugsa, N., Arundel, A., & Robertson, P. (2018). Applying configurational thinking to identify recipes for producing service innovation in the service sector. International Journal of Innovation Management, 22, 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Torugsa, N., & O’Donohue, W. (2016). Progress in innovation and knowledge management research: From incremental to transformative innovation. Journal of Business Research, 69, 1610–1614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Uhl-Bien, M., Marion, R., & McKelvey, B. (2007). Complexity leadership theory: Shifting leadership from the industrial age to the knowledge era. The Leadership Quarterly, 18(4), 298–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. von Hippel, E. (1986). Lead users: A source of novel product concepts. Management Science, 32, 791–805.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Westley, F., Antadze, N., Riddell, D. J., Robinson, K., & Geobey, S. (2014). Five configurations for scaling up social innovation: Case examples of nonprofit organizations from Canada. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 50, 234–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wills, G. B. (2004). Cognitive testing: A tool for improving questionnaire design. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  61. Woodside, A. G. (2010). Case study research: Theory, methods, practice. Bradford, UK: Emerald.Google Scholar
  62. Zapf, W. (2003). Sozialer Wandel. In B. Schafers (Ed.), Grundbegriffe der Soziologie. Opladen: Leske und Budrich.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© International Society for Third-Sector Research 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Federation Business SchoolFederation University AustraliaBallaratAustralia
  2. 2.Ratchasuda CollegeMahidol UniversityNakhon Pathom, BangkokThailand
  3. 3.Tasmanian School of Business and EconomicsUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  4. 4.UNU-MERITMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations