Barriers to Grassroots Innovation: The phenomenon of social-commercial-cultural trilemmas in remote indigenous art centres

Janice Jones, Pi-Shen Seet, Tim Acker, Michelle Whittle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Despite substantial research on grassroots innovation, there is a lack of understanding on the barriers to grassroots innovation. We examine paradoxes that arise as a consequence of multiple, often conflicting, objectives in remote art centres, social enterprises that are key sites for grassroots innovations. We investigate how social, commercial and cultural logics in remote Indigenous art centres contribute to an on-going trilemma that acts as a barrier to the development of grassroots innovation. We also explore the challenges and opportunities managers encounter in reconciling these multiple, often conflicting, logics. The results indicate that although art centres have dual social and commercial missions, cultural differences between Indigenous arts workers, and non-Indigenous managers, contribute to social-commercial tensions that social enterprises experience. This manifests in a social-commercial-cultural trilemma which inhibits grassroots innovation. The results also show this trilemma provides opportunities for arts workers with latent managerial capacity to transition to management and evolve the traditional Indigenous art centre model to Indigenous managed art centres. The research also gives examples of how these trilemmas can be resolved, in particular via working through key Indigenous family groups and by providing better support and mentoring for non-Indigenous art centre managers. In so doing, remote Indigenous art centres are able to serve as special but important sites of grassroots and inclusive innovation by supporting viable development pathways for socioeconomic improvements in remote Indigenous communities in Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119583
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Barriers
  • Commercial, social, cultural logics
  • Grassroots innovation
  • Paradox theory
  • Remote Indigenous art centres
  • Social enterprises


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