Inspired by the principles of open source software, the concept of Open Social Innovation aims to document social innovations so they can be more easily shared.

How can we share and transfer sustainable social practices across communities?

Increasingly, we see individuals and communities experimenting with innovative sustainable practices, pioneering new ways to communicate, think, work, live, and share together. In that context the question arises as to how best practices can be shared across communities. To facilitate knowledge sharing of the best sustainable practices, the concept of "source code of a project" was proposed by Thanh Nghiem here as a way to apply the open source model to social innovation.

In computer science, a source code is a collection of written instructions that can be executed by a computer to run a software. Likewise, the source code of a social practice or project is a set of instructions that can be executed by a user in order to implement a practice or project. Similar to the principles for a cooking recipe, a set of instructions are given in order to facilitate the replication of a cooked dish. From that initial idea, a network of organizations and individuals from France have been working on networking and scaling social innovations using the concept of open source innovation as an intellectual framework.

Use recipes to document and share social practices

A recipe is a set of instructions that describes how to prepare or make something, especially a culinary dish. Early culinary recipes often included little information and served more as a reminder of ingredients and proportions for someone who already knew how to prepare the dish, but modern recipes normally consist of several components that facilitate the transfer of knowledge:

  1. The name (and often the locale or provenance) of the dish
  2. How much time it will take to prepare the dish
  3. The required ingredients along with their quantities or proportions
  4. Necessary equipment and environment needed to prepare the dish
  5. An ordered list of preparation steps and techniques
  6. The number of servings that the recipe will provide (the “yield”)
  7. The texture and flavor
  8. A photograph of the finished dish
  9. A list variations of the traditional dish

Recipes have been successfully used to transmit culinary knowledge and their use exploded after the invention of the printing press. Although recipes have been used mainly for culinary purposes, the format can be used to document social practices.

Four principles for free/libre recipes

Although the discussion is still ongoing, recent discussions proposed to change the concept of “source code” of a project into “recette libre” (free/libre recipe) of a project, as a name that can be more explicit and easy to understand outside the open source/free knowledge community.

What does free/libre really means? Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Movement defined 4 principles for a free software:

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose;
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish;
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor;
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

In the spirit of the free/libre open source software philosophy, four principles for free/libre recipes have been proposed:

  • Show/make visible: No fabrication secrets, the recipe is provided to be read by as many people as possible;
  • Allow and facilitate reuse: Tips and tricks, difficulties are documented to facilitate reuse;
  • Allow and facilitate copy: The recipe is published under free/libre license (such as CC-BY-SA, public domain or equivalent);
  • Improve the recipe: Like software, anyone can create their own version and adapt/improve the recipe.

The french open social innovation network has started working on a standard way of documenting recipes to facilitate sharing accross communities.


Open Social Innovation Projects: A State of the Art

Inspired by the Open Social Innovation philosophy, several complimentary projects have started in France. Although independent, these projects have a loose ongoing collaboration, fueling each other’s ideas.

Bretagne Creative is a local territorial network from western France that documents social innovations to make them visible and shareable. Bretagne Creative already mapped 60 social innovations in a open format (How to use Arduino devices to measure humidity in houses, How to create an online local participative magazine, How to promote and build up digital commons, and more)

Imagination for People is a platform and a community of imaginative citizens that aims to detect and develop socially innovative projects. Since its launch in 2011 it has mapped and documented over 2,000 projects and hosted several workgroups and communities focused on numerous topics  (animation of cooperative networks, third places, innovation in Africa, and more)

MoviLab is a network, a participative site, and a methodology to scientifically document innovative projects for sustainable living in various domains (health, culture, education, industry, farming, intentional communities, and more). MoviLab builds upon a network of open sourced third spaces to detect, incubate, and deploy the best social innovations.

Outils-Reseaux has been a pioneer in sharing free/libre tutorials and teaching materials to set up cooperative tools and implement cooperative practices. As a core organizer of mousTIC, a participative event on open cooperation and social innovation, Outils-Reseaux and its network of partners produced a source-code free/libre recipe of the event to allow others to copy and reproduce it. See the “source code” of the mousTIC event, in French, and available in English, above.

Inspired by the source code of mousTIC and the potential of events as tools for transformation and culture hacking, Co-creative recipes is a free/libre library of co-creative events. The library is part of a larger open research project that aims to map a variety of event formats, tools and ingredients in order to extract underlying design patterns.


In addition to the projects cited and directly inspired by the concept of Open Social Innovation, there are several others projects around the world that are thinking along the same lines and already producing free/libre recipes, although they are implemented under a different name. Here are a few that have been identified so far:

Open Design & Hardware Community

Various people in the open design and open hardware communities are already documenting some of their processes under free/libre licences and thinking about how to document projects.

One Community is an open source project blueprinting and free-sharing everything needed to simultaneously address all the challenges currently facing humanity. This includes 7 complete and different sustainable village prototypes.

This European network has been questioning the sharing of practices in an open source manner and is planning to share its processes for organizing events and other ongoing processes.

Although its format is a magazine-style publication source, Shareable is increasingly publishing recipes for social innovation practices under free license (How to start a housing co-op, a community currency, a farmers' market, or a Repair Café; see Shareable’s How To Share for full list).

Appropedia is participative wiki website for collaborative solutions in sustainability, appropriate technology, and poverty reduction. Although it is mostly focused on hardware/technology, it does list several social practices and processes; for example, green living.

As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia has entries about a wide variety of topics including social practices, methods, and more; thereby sourcing free/libre recipes that fit the same criteria.

These are only a few of many projects that already document and share beneficial social practices in a free/open way. In the future it will interesting if these projects recognize each other as part of the same global movement of open social innovation and start thinking about ways to facilitate sharing and reuse of recipes between various projects.


Open Social Innovation: Perspectives

Although the sharing of social practices is already occurring widely online and offline, the concept of Open Social Innovation provides a new intellectual framework to promote and facilitate the sharing and improvement of the best sustainable social practices on a larger scale. Sharing social practices is not as easy as sharing code and there are several challenges ahead.

However, the success of the open source philosophy in software development, and more recently in hardware, suggest that Open Social Innovation could trigger sharing and improvement of sustainable practices at an unprecedented level. This will be achieved through integrated social initiatives, a common language, and intent.

Do you know any project or communities working on the same topics or sharing free/libre recipes? Let us know in the comments below!

Lilian Ricaud


Lilian Ricaud |

Open cooperation expert, digital nomad and music lover, Lilian has worked and taught in France, the UK, India and Senegal and currently lives in France. Originally trained as a plant