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Connecting Europe: creating a community of connected social innovators

Shannon Downey and Monica Nagore

Network facilatators, Shannon Downey and Monica Nagore reflect on their experience facilitating the SIC networks Community-Led Innovation and Intermediaries.  Shannon and Monica manage the SIC networks on behalf of The Young Foundation and worked together in developing¸ growing and connecting both networks during the three years of the project.


The aim of the SIC networks is to strengthen, connect and grow existing social innovation communities under the premise that we need more open innovation approaches to effectively address societal challenges. The networks reflect 11 key social innovation themes including digital social innovation, public sector innovation, intermediaries and community led innovation. Most of them are interlinked in many different ways such as content overlaps like public sector organisations working with communities, challenges they have like the lack of SI learning opportunities, approaches to solve similar issues, organisation roles like intermediaries supporting community-led projects, etc.

Connecting and growing existing social innovation communities is an important and difficult task. There is a vast range of ways to network and methods of managing networks. Networks facilitators were aimed to manage the networks in an open, accessible and collaborative manner but with no restrictions in terms of approach. A blank sheet was in front of us. An open door to be creative.

After several workshops with intermediaries and social innovators to understand how our network should look like, several – many actually – meetings with our SIC facilitator colleagues to exchange our experiences – and failures, some unsuccessful trials like creating a google community platform we defined a set of activities that would help us to connect and make links within our network community and network themes: online webinars, attending various events and conferences to promote the networks, acting as disseminators of the work of our networks members and actively participating in other projects and activities in SIC.

Throughout the three years of the SIC project we have organised a range of different webinars on key social innovation themes such as “The Social Challenge Competition” attended by local organisations involved in the SIC co-creation experiments, about this funding opportunity for social innovators, “Supporting community voices: the power of ethnographic, participatory and peer research”,  “Creative ways to address housing exclusion” or “European Day of Sustainable Communities” on the importance of community-led initiatives working for climate change. In these online webinars we invited networks members such as EBN,  Ideas for Change, FEANTSA and The Eden Project to co-host the webinar and facilitate an open discussion, knowledge exchange and the sharing of insights.

The activities we ran along the project life allowed for the organisations involved and networks members to connect with each other, share their learning and experiences and to discuss and promote their own work. The webinars provided a learning platform for social innovators across Europe to connect with each other, share the inspirational work they are doing and to share their own ideas and work they have done.

The events we attended, activities we participated in and research we did allowed us to connect with organisations and individuals with potential interest in SIC and the work done by all facilitators. But, how did we engage them? What did we offer to them?

Social innovators – including unusual suspects, those who didn’t call themselves such as – were contacted and invited to have a chat with us about SIC and what the project and ourselves could offer to them. The ongoing SIC activities were conformed an interesting offer for them specially at the end of the project where the activity level was higher. Nevertheless, the most engaging offer was the dissemination of their work, learnings and upcoming events on the SIC website and with our networks and this garnered a lot of interest and acted as an incentive to join the network. This is the most important work the network does to connect social innovators across Europe. The articles, interviews, events and blogs sent to us by members provide a picture of the different work being done across both networks and the range of amazing projects and organisations working in social innovation.

Over the past three years we have built up a range of blogs, articles and interviews from our networks members and they give a brilliant insight into what work intermediaries and community-led social innovators are doing. Kennisland, an organisation that researches and designs social progress, shared a blog on their thoughts of how we talk about the impact of social innovation instead of the root cause of social issues. Transform Tilburg, a small community group who came together to work on social change in their community, shared their story and why they succeeded. PlusValue shared about their experience working on the innovative OpenMaker project and what they learned during the project. Roots of Impact shared a blog on the Social Innovation Academy on line course that is a part of the Social(i)Makers project they work on. The Social Entrepreneurship Akademie shared an article on their online course “Enabling Entrepreneurs to Shape a Better World”. Hannah Rich from The Young Foundation interviewed SoCentral on their thoughts on co-defining local challenges and solutions. This collection of blogs, articles and interviews make an invaluable resource for social innovation learning that will last beyond the end of the SIC project.

After some ups and downs we feel we – together with our network facilitator colleagues – built a sense of community and a community of social innovators that will continue growing beyond SIC. It’s been a journey of growth in many ways.