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SIC Conference on Social Innovation in Cities and Regions

Cities and regions, civil society organisations, universities and think tanks from different EU member states, together with EU institutions and organisations,  met in Brussels on 16 April 2018 to discuss social innovation at local and regional level and its contribution to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

The event was organised by the European Network of Cities and Regions for the Social Economy (REVES aisbl) in cooperation with the University of Bologna and hosted by the Committee of the Regions of the EU.

(Visual) greetings by MEPs Marie-Christine Vergiat and Lambert van Nistelrooij welcomed participants and gave a short overview on the policy context and challenges ahead at EU and national level.

Marcelle Hendrickx, Member of the Executive Council of the City of Tilburg (NL) and rapporteur of the Committee of the Regions on social innovation introduced the main theme of the event from the point of view of a local politician.

In the following sessions the 97 participants had the occasion to get inspired by concrete practice cases of social innovation in different fields such as job creation, social service provision and public procurement, promotion of accessible housing, promotion of diversity and living together or participatory town planning (Zero Long-Term Unemployment Zones, Social Innovation Navarra, the Elephant path initiative, Alternatives to Public Procurement developed by the City of Brescia, the Gdynia dialogue on quality in care services, Brussels Community Land Trust, the Zagreb for me initiative and the Diversity policy of the Belgian city of Mechelen).

A world café session offered the opportunity to deepen the exchange with the presenters of the practice cases and discuss potential or obstacles to realize similar initiatives in other cities or regions.

During the final panel discussion, Anders Bro from Region Örebro county - who shortly shared his own experiences with a regional social innovation strategy – discussed with representatives of DG Employment, the Cabinet of Commissioner Creţu (Regional Policy) and the Social Platform (Platform of European Social NGOs) possibilities to re-connect grassroots initaitives and policies at local level with policy-making at a higher level.

Some main points raised during the conference (more to come in the conference report):

  • Exchange of good and bad practice at European level is stimulating and requested by many policymakers and practitioners. However,  be careful with ‘scaling up’ ideas!  It might not work in every case! Cities and regions do have a number of challenges in common. Yet, each of them has its very specific features. Solutions need to be tailor-made.

  • Cities and regions need more (legal) space for experimentation!

  • Despite the necessity to be attentive to current developments and counteract a number of them (i.e. precarious work etc.): The future of work, but also social services and living together should not be presented only as a future of problems. Narratives need to be changed in order to mobilise people and all their potential!

  • Social innovation starts with persons and their capacities. Policies and strategies in the social field (and elsewhere) often forget to take this into account. An analysis of and dialogue around needs, but also potential and a common vision is crucial!

  • Cities and regions generate social innovation most often when they co-design solutions together with different type of stakeholders, with citizens. A bottom-up approach has to be combined with a willingness to take political leadership wherever this might help to further strengthen initiatives and their impact.

In a conclusive session, SIC partners invited participants to become part of the Social Innovation Community and a community of practice on social innovation in cities and regions - also by taking part in upcoming SIC activities such as the  Summer School in San Sebastien or Samsun, the drafting of the Social Innovation Declaration, Policy Roundtables, SIC Social Learning Relays etc.

A detailed  report on the conference will be published soon on the SIC website.

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