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What does the future of social innovation in the public sector look like?

This is a collection of interviews with key participants from the SIC Summer School in San Sebastían. The focus of the Summer School was social innovation in the public sector. Participants who were interviewed represented a number of different sectors, from local government, to makerspaces, to intermediary, to civil society organisations. Translations from Spanish to English were done by the author. For event highlights, and more Summer School content, please click here

Speakers/participants interviewed

  • Jake Morgan-Stead- Head of Community outreach at Apolitical, UK

  • Nicolás Monge- Coordinator of the Social Innovation Unit at Corfo, Chile

  • Vasyl Zadovny-  CEO of Prozorro, Ukraine

  • Asier Gallastegi- Consultant, coach, BHerria, Basque Country

  • Diana Franco- Hirikilabs, Basque Country

  • Ainara Arostegi- Basque Government Department of Employment and Social Politics, Basque Country


How do you see the future of social innovation within the public sector?

Jake Morgan-Stead: From my experience of working with public sector innovators is that there has definitely been an increased awareness over the last few years of the need to bring in people from the social innovation community, into the work that the public sector is already doing. We’ve seen recent studies, coming out of Denmark, that has showed 68% of all innovations involved collaboration with another sector, and often with people from the world of social innovation.

Historically the government has been relatively good at collaborating with business and with other established, formal interest groups, but they’ve been less good at bringing in grassroots, community groups and other system players. I think that they are slowly getting better at doing that, and we’re seeing more collaborative processes being developed. A big challenge still is the difficulty in the public sector of understanding the needs of people in the social innovation space and vice versa. Often public servants feel like they are expected to move a lot very quickly, by people who haven't got experience of their system. Likewise people sitting outside of it say ‘Why aren’t we moving faster, quicker and more boldly?’. So I think that the two have a lot to learn from one another.


Nicolás Monge: I see both a good future and present. Nowadays more and more governments are trying to foster social innovation because they realise that it is a new approach to reach sustainable development in their countries.


Vasyl Zadovny: In the modern world, it’s probably one of the only ways that we can change the way that our society works with the public and private sectors. I really believe that without close collaboration, nothing can be changed. This collaboration can only be achieved through an active and probably aggressive social innovation agenda. It has to be not just about implementing technology, but about changing the way that people behave.


Asier Gallastegi: I see social innovation as a space for conversation. I think the public sector needs the citizenry to be able to design, get right, check, verify, and look forward to identify future challenges, in order to deal with them in the most efficient way.  Social innovation principles are crucial to this, in terms of bringing in and hearing from a diverse range of people, identifying what our future challenges might be and helping to bring creative and emotional elements to the process. These principles also help as a means of experimenting, testing, and implementing at whatever size and level. The public sector and citizens are required to collaborate to collectively and collaboratively answer the challenges that face us.


Diana Franco: I think a lot of the time here in the Basque Country social innovation is more closely associated with political innovation. There is a part of this which is fair and true, but for me, social innovation is about shifting the roles of citizens from being passive to being active, and helping people to become changemakers. What is most interesting for me is when a society has the ability to understand what is happening at the public level, and it is able to provide and contribute appropriately.


Ainara Arostegi: I see it as a necessary adaptation that is already occurring in certain circumstances. The systems of organisation, governments, councils for example, should be more open towards citizens, allowing them to ask questions, whilst listening to them. If this doesn't happen then institutions go in one direction, whilst the lives of people go in the other, so the needs of citizens are not covered or addressed.