Knowledge phases allow the researchers to follow the entire life-span of an innovation, from its first conception to its dissemination. Mulgan, Ali, Halkett, and Sanders (2007, cited in Tanimoto, 2012, p. 269) define social innovation as a problem-solving process ‘which tackle(s) social problems with a view to their resolution’. This view is closely related to Engestrom’s (1999) model that argues innovation takes place in a seven-phase process of problem-solving, through which the participants collaboratively transform existing knowledge into new knowledge to deal with an identified problem more effectively. These seven-phases were adapted for the social entrepreneurship context to include five main knowledge phases:
- 1. Questioning and criticizing current intervention(s) to a social issue
- 2. Developing new intervention(s)
- 3. Implementing intervention(s)
- 4. Evaluating intervention(s)
- 5. Consolidating intervention(s) (e.g., sharing knowledge and/or scaling up).
It is important to note that knowledge phases rarely progress in a linear manner, nor does the process of innovation necessarily end once a new intervention is consolidated (Paavola et al., 2004). Rather, various phases might occur concurrently (e.g., phase 2 and phase 3—when the intervention is continued to be developed during initial implementation) or there may be loops between these phases (e.g., between phase 4 and 1, before proceeding to phase 5), until a desirable intervention is achieved. This is particularly true when dealing with social issues, as uncertainties and unexpected outcomes often emerge when the intervention interacts within the complex social context. Moreover, Engestrom (1999) emphasized that the knowledge phases are an heuristic tool for expansive learning only, and that innovation should be viewed as an iterative, flexible, dynamic process constituting various attempts to understand the problem and refine possible solutions.