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#SIDeclaration: 12 policies to support social innovation for a fairer Europe

What should the EU do next to support social innovation? Over the past few months, we’ve been asking members of the social innovation community to tell us what is holding them back from creating an even bigger impact, and what they’d like to see European policymakers doing differently. (This blog sets out the community’s six key policy priorities).

From these discussions, we’ve drafted 12 policy ideas that we think could help social innovation in Europe to create real and lasting impact. We’re keen to improve these - so tell us what you like, what we’ve got wrong and how we could make these even better.

 



 

1. Structural Funds for Social Innovation:

A new facility for Managing Authorities to dedicate up to 10% of European Structural and Investment Funds to small-scale, experimental projects, with radically simplified eligibility and reporting requirements, accompanied by an action learning programme to support Managing Authorities to make effective use of ESIF for social innovation.

Why this is needed? 

European Structural and Investment Funds are arguably the EU’s most powerful policy tool for creating a ‘social Europe’. But these funds are not well designed to facilitate innovation. Risk aversion, pressure to spend and fear of non-compliance means that Managing Authorities tend to select ‘safer’, less risky projects.

 

2. Think Small and Social First:

A strategic initiative to better enable smaller social partners to access EU funding. This could include co-designing calls with social innovators; simplifying application and reporting processes for grants under €100,000; making funding timescales more flexible; and allowing small sub-contracts for core tasks. A free-to-use service should be set up for smaller social organisations to get information about available EU, national and regional funding opportunities.

Why this is needed?

Small, nimble organisations that are well placed to test new approaches are often discouraged from seeking European funding because of the complexity and monitoring burdens associated with doing so.

 



 

3. Social Innovation Fellowships:

A two-year stipend, paid as a salary, for people working to develop local change initiatives, such as setting up Transition initiatives, to cover their basic living costs and enable them to devote time to leading change in their communities.

Why this is needed?

Community-led change initiatives care important in tackling issues like climate action and nature regeneration. Yet virtually no employers offer jobs in areas like this. Many community-based initiatives rely on volunteers and individual community activists. This can lead to burnout - and means that initiatives often go ‘dormant’ or only make slow progress. Read more about this idea here.

 

4. Locally-controlled asset-based community bodies in every major European town and city by 2030:

In places like Scotland and Belgium, community land trust models are being used as a vehicle for place-based social innovation, tackling a variety of local challenges - such as how to create a more sustainable supply of affordable housing. The EU should enable every major community in Europe with a desire to do so to purchase or manage local community assets by encouraging Member States to adopt supportive legal frameworks for community development, working with community development intermediaries across Europe to offer capacity building, leadership training and technical assistance to communities in setting up task forces and in designing strategies on how to get there using dormant assets, contributions from banks, land, etc.

Why it this needed?

Social innovation starts with communities. Local communities, particularly underserved communities, need to be empowered to regenerate their communities and launch local place-based social innovation initiatives. Policies and initiatives exist in many European countries and regions to support communities to take control of local assets, but there's a lot of potential to spread the benefits of these approaches more widely.

 

5. 50 European SI Support intermediaries by 2025:

A fund to support intermediaries (such as incubators, accelerators, event organisers, meetups, networks, physical hubs, and training initiatives), to help develop, support and scale social innovations with the potential to tackle identified social challenges in regions where need is high.

Why it this needed?

Helping and encouraging promising innovations to get up off the ground, and at all stages of social innovation lifecycle will mean investing more in capacities and support infrastructure. Policy and funding at the European and national levels should focus support on intermediaries and support organisations such as incubators, accelerators, event organisers, meetups, networks, physical hubs, and training initiatives. This would grow a more decentralised, locally-embedded support system in which whole communities can be supported, rather than just the recipients of funding from centralised initiatives.

 



 

6. Innovate 4 Europe:

An initiative to embed social innovation ‘fellows’ in governments, modeled on Code4America. Using a range of technological or non-technological social innovation approaches, fellows could help governments improve community engagement and co-design with citizens; set up partnerships with social innovators; encourage and support public officials to apply social innovation principles to their work; or work on improving identified barriers to effective public-social partnerships, such as opening public procurement up to social innovation actors.

Why this is needed?

Our consultation identified a real need to strengthen to capacity, skills and incentives for public officials and policymakers to support and draw on (citizen-led) social innovation, and an appetite to trial new approaches to allow citizens and social actors to be more included in policymaking processes.

 

7. Public Procurement Pathfinders:

A programme that connects government agencies with civic startups and social SMEs to co-develop social products and services. A key aim would be to experiment with new, more efficient ways of procuring services from social innovation actors. To help advance social innovation procurement practices more widely, sharing and reusing effective open social contract frameworks and the establishment of learning networks should complement this activity.

Why is this needed?

€1.9 trillion is paid for public procurement every year in Europe. Yet for many social innovation organisations, this market is inaccessible due to regulatory barriers or a lack of demand from governments. While the 2014 public procurement directive has created a legal basis for public authorities to consider social value in procurement decisions, there is still a critical need to help rethink the role of public procurement in helping to open up and widen access to key markets for social innovation.

 



 

8. Horizon Europe Place-Based Missions:

The new Research and Innovation Framework Programme (Horizon Europe) will include ‘missions’ - big goals such as achieving plastic-free oceans by 2030. Alongside these global missions, there should be support for places to set their own innovation missions, like ‘cut loneliness among older people in Ghent by 25% by 2025’. These should be defined locally with input from citizens, tailored to local challenges and specifically chosen for their potential to stimulate social as well as technological innovation.

Why this is needed?

Place-based missions could bring EU activity closer to citizens, and open up more opportunities for social innovation alongside technological innovation and other actions (such as creating or strengthening local institutions and changing laws and regulations) to bring about real change.

 

9. Horizon Europe Social Knowledge Transfer Actions:

‘Bottom-up’ funding to support exploitation of academic research to create social innovation products, services and spin-outs, and link practitioners who have developed social innovations with researchers who can help them make use of evidence and evaluate their work.

Why this is needed?

Europe’s research base could be much better ‘exploited’ in production of social innovations. The role of universities in partnering with business to turn knowledge into new products and services is seen as highly important and there are well-established models for knowledge transfer and technology transfer. But while universities clearly have a key role in producing knowledge about social issues, there are fewer established means to exploit this knowledge as social innovation.

 

10. European What Works Network:

A network of research centres, based in different European institutions, whose mission is to help  improve the way government and other organisations create, share and use (or ‘generate, transmit and adopt’) high quality evidence for decision-making. Based on the UK What Works Network, each centre would focus on a different social policy issue, with success measured according to use of evidence by practitioners and policy makers rather than inputs.

Why is this needed?

One-off evaluations of EU programmes require huge investments of time and money, and the value of lessons learnt may be diminished if a programme ends and is not followed up. Evidence is often poorly organised in key public service policy areas. And even where sound policy evidence does exist, it is often not presented in a format that is comprehensible or useful to civil servants and politicians. Furthermore, at the level of policy a big gap exists between intention and implementation - with many public authorities at all levels lacking the competences and know-how to set up and evaluate social policy experiments effectively.

 

11. Social Innovation Observatory:

A research centre (within a single institution or network) responsible for surveying social innovations, identifying emerging fields, exploring policy developments, building a network of national correspondents, commissioning further analyses and acting as a hub for impact assessment of programmes.

Why this is needed?

EU-funded research projects like SI-DRIVE, CASI, Digital Social Innovation have gathered data on social innovations and conducted case studies, but with the dynamism of the field, these datasets and research results are ageing fast and it may not be followed up with further analyses beyond the duration of projects. An observatory could do these things more continuously, providing current, ongoing insight on the development and impact of social innovation.

 



 

12. Using the European Semester to support a Social Europe:

EU institutions should signal their serious commitment to delivering the Pillar of Social Rights by using the European Semester as a tool to support social reform and learning at the Member State level. As well as tracking progress against social indicators, this could help spread of social innovation across Europe by incorporating measures that monitor how easy it is to set up, sustain and scale social innovation in all EU Member States.

Why this is needed?

A lack of good data and inconsistent reporting make it difficult to quickly understand and assess the state of play when it comes to Member States’ policy frameworks for social innovation. According to our survey respondents, unfavourable national and regional policy and regulatory regimes play a significant barrier for many in Europe’s social innovation community.

 

We’re keen to hear your views! Email sophie.reynolds@nesta.org.uk or follow Sophie on Twitter @SophsASophist  to make your voice heard.