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Help us co-produce a European Social Innovation Declaration

Madeleine Gabriel and Sophie Reynolds

Late last November, over a thousand representatives from Europe’s social innovation community gathered in Lisbon for the European Commission’s New Era of Social Innovation conference. Given SIC’s mission is to connect, strengthen and grow Europe’s social innovation community, we couldn’t miss this opportunity to listen to the aspirations, needs and ideas of this diverse group.

On the second day of the conference, our interactive workshop ‘Social Innovation Policy - Where Next?’ tasked participants with drafting ‘policy pitches’ aimed at the EC and other EU institutions (for more background on the session read this blog). Each group was asked to identify an issue they thought was holding social innovators back from making the most impact, and then come up with some interesting policy ideas to tackle it.

Social innovation people naturally tend to gravitate towards big issues like injustice and inequality, and thorny problems like how to stop older people feeling isolated or help refugees integrate into their new countries. But we asked participants to take a step back and focus on the field of social innovation itself. We believe social innovation has an important role to play in making societies better - so how can policymakers - and in this instance EU policymakers - create conditions for social innovation to thrive?

What’s holding social innovation back?

With 10 groups and over 85 participants, we got a good indication of the diversity of priorities and needs facing those in the community:

Some groups focused on issues relating to the supply of social innovation - for example, the need to build individuals’, organisations’ and institutions’ skills to be changemakers, and increase funding for social innovation.

On the flipside, others thought the most important priority was to grow demand for social innovation - like making sure public procurement promotes fairness and inclusive economic impact, and improving impact measurement (seen as affecting credibility, access to financing, access to partners and scalability).

Several groups identified problems with governance. These ranged from fragmentation in social innovation policy to a lack of ‘self-awareness’ across the social innovation movement (seen as stopping this community connect effectively with policymakers) and a need for better collaboration for collective impact.

And a number picked up on themes of power. There were several calls for citizens to be more included in policymaking processes, and concerns about the power of corporates and lobbyists compared with the social sector and citizens.

And what should the EC be doing to change this?

Our groups worked against the clock to come up with some ideas to address these challenges. Their suggestions included new institutions and directives to improve policy coherence and governance, such as an ‘autonomous, mission-driven European Social Innovation Agency’ to facilitate participatory SI engagement across Europe, or an EC directive for social innovation.

Some thought the EC should make better use of existing EU policies, initiatives and funds to support social innovation, for example by pushing the ESF regulation to promote fairer practices or developing new impact measurement tools to be applied in current policy and programmes.

Several groups suggested initiatives to trialling new approaches to change public official's role in and awareness of SI, such as by piloting ‘field missions’ or ‘residences’ where officials spend time at the front line learning directly about the problems they are trying to make policy for, creating platforms for open (democratic and inclusive) policy making and committing to using the results of such platforms as main input to policies or making use of approaches like human centred design to help define the intended social impact of policy from the beginning.

There were also several calls for pushing funding and activity to local levels, including creating regional social innovation strategies, and to support learning and exchange between social innovators, for example through an ‘Erasmus programme for social entrepreneurs’ or supporting Social Innovation Days in every Member State.

And finally, there were a few more radical proposals. These included creating a new EU constitution that seeks to have the involvement of stakeholders and in particular those affected by challenges  - but which builds on lessons learned from participatory efforts such as the Icelandic constitutional process, or finding ways to tax lobbyists and use that money to support citizens’ voice.

What next?

The conference illustrated the Commission’s commitment to social innovation, and as it makes further progress in designing new programmes - such as the follow-up to Horizon 2020 - we’re keen to help make sure the voices of Europe’s diverse social innovation community are heard.

The Lisbon workshop was an important first step in hearing directly from some representatives of the social innovation community about the challenges they face, and how European policy can better support them. But there are many others within this community who we have yet to hear from.

We need you to share your stories with us, shape our policy ideas, and help get out the word out to Europe’s social innovators, social entrepreneurs, activists, civil society actors, cooperatives, and the many others who make up this diverse community.

Over the coming weeks, the Social Innovation Community project will be running a series of online activities and discussions to capture the rich diversity of perspectives and policy needs across Europe’s SI community, and to work with the community to shape a new Declaration that sets out a clear policy agenda for supporting social innovation.

In particular, we’re keen to understand:

  • What the the biggest barriers you face are that you think the European Commission can help address, and how are these challenges affecting you day-to-day?

  • What are the key policies and initiatives you feel could be better used to support the goals and potential of Europe’s social innovation community?

  • How can European institutions - like the European Commission - best sustain collaboration with the social innovation community in future?

Our short survey takes no more than 5 minutes to fill out. Complete it before March 25th to let us know what barriers are holding you, your organisation and/or your community back from achieving your fullest potential for social impact! 

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