Social innovation (SI) has been championed as an integral feature of community-led rural development. However, the choice of the term “innovation” prompts a number of questions about the intensity and novelty of SI initiatives. In this paper, these issues are examined through the lens of radical and incremental innovation theory. By analysing features of radical and incremental SI, we can better understand the different social reconfigurations that can respond effectively to a range of rural needs and opportunities. The article aims at explaining the meaning and operationalisation of radical and incremental SI in rural areas. A multiple case study method was adopted for the research. Empirical data was gathered from two initiatives located in rural areas of Spain and Scotland and the main methods used were semi-structured interviews and qualitative content analysis. The findings illustrate how radical and incremental SIs can lead to sustainable development and social change. However, they imply social reconfigurations of different intensity that respond to the different attitudes and aspirations of the actors involved. The paper shows three diverging development trajectories for SI initiatives and discusses the role of conflict, skills and planning in these processes. Further, the more fluid nature of SI compared to technological innovation is clarified. In the conclusion we argue that public actors should identify the different aspirations of local actors and set the stage for the activation of the local society. In radical SI processes, conflict management mechanisms and new skills need to be promoted.