In the face of increasing pressure to change and adapt to the needs of highly competitive business markets, it is not unusual for management to focus on the commercial payback on technical innovations and to downplay social processes. Typically, company survival is explained in terms of an 'innovation imperative' where new products and services are part of the dynamic business environment for securing and maintaining competitive advantage. Historically, the focus has been on how to translate innovations in science and technology into commercial applications. We contend that whilst largely downplayed, social processes have always been essential tounderstanding innovation and that with the growing public concern with societal well-being, there is an increasing interest in the broader elements associated with social innovation. From aselective historical examination of innovation, we examine the conceptual links and various attempts to delineate the 'social' and 'technical' aspects of this process. Some of the earlier academic work on the social shaping and social construction of technology is considered and the use of Socratic dialogue as a tool for accommodating different viewpoints in assessing processesof innovation is discussed. We conclude by calling for more debate and critical assessment on this concept of social innovation and the need to clarify how this contrasts and compares with related concepts of technical and business innovation.