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Social Innovation Policy in Europe - Where Next?

The EC’s ‘Opening up to an Era of Social Innovation’ conference (Lisbon, 27-28 November 2017) is a great opportunity for the social innovation community to take stock of our progress to date, and think about where we want to go in future.

If there’s a good time for the social innovation movement to have its views heard on where EU policy should go next, it’s now. Negotiations are beginning for the next Multiannual Financial Framework and the follow-up to Horizon 2020 (dubbed ‘Framework Programme 9’ for now).

SIC is hosting an interactive workshop on 28 November at the conference, where we aim to come up with some ambitious, actionable and (possibly even) exciting recommendations for policymakers. We’ll be broadening the exercise online after the conference.

Coming up with good policy recommendations isn’t easy. But there’s no need to start from scratch. If you’re interested in helping us work out ‘where next’ for social innovation policy, here’s some inspiration to get you started.

Taking stock

In his blog ‘Social innovation in Europe - big challenges, bigger opportunities’, Geoff Mulgan tracks how far social innovation has come in the last ten years. We now see a proliferation of social innovation centres, labs, accelerators and incubators, funds, prizes and research centres, and governments are starting to take it seriously - some backing systematic social experimentation. Yet there are also reasons for anxiety, from the broader social climate to institutional inertia. He sees three big challenges and opportunities for the social innovation movement:

  • Demonstrating inroads on the big issues of our times - like ageing, unemployment and stagnant democracy

  • Growing funding at a serious scale

  • Deepening the links between the worlds of social innovation and evidence

Looking forward

The Vision and Trends of Social Innovation for Europe report commissioned by DG-Research meanwhile looks at the big trends shaping social innovation. It proposes that a future vision should centre on three principles:

  • Human-centred, because people are the best source of innovation and the target beneficiaries

  • System-focused to turn people’s and institutions’ potential into positive results, highlighting social innovation at the level of cities and regions as grand scale laboratories

  • At the core of policy-making and the political agenda of Europe to shape a new social contract for Europe

Amassing the manifestos, digesting the declarations

Several EC-funded social innovation projects have created policy declarations or manifestos. We’ve summarised three of them in the image below. They recommend that policymakers should:

  • Invest: in skills, infrastructure and evidence

  • Lead by example: using public procurement to support social innovation, becoming early adopters of digital social innovation approaches

  • Institutionalise social innovation: setting up a new SI agency

  • Support social innovators: accelerating promising projects, increasing access to alternative finance

  • Transform innovation policy: removing barriers to innovation, valuing social as well as technical solutions

  • Raise awareness: among citizens and public authorities

We recommend you read (and endorse!) the originals too: Manifesto for Transformative Social Innovation, Digital Social Innovation Manifesto and SI-DRIVE’s Policy Declaration.

Our ten cents

What else might we put on the EU’s policy agenda? Here are five extra thoughts:

  • Turn innovation policy upside down - with much more focus on problems and missions, and less on technologies. Include challenges with measurable goals and explicitly invite problem solvers to propose a range of different types of solutions. For example if the challenge was to improve young people’s mental health, solutions could include new technologies, new therapies, new institutional arrangements, new social activities that, importantly, build on social innovation principles...

  • Make experimentalism the norm, not the exception -  try multiple methods of implementing innovative ideas and evaluate them. For example, support and compare different types of basic income experiments to see what works and why. And allow iteration!

  • Make money go further - experimenting with different types of funding instrument (Nesta’s Landscape of Funding Tools summarises 17 options).

  • Invest (a modest amount) in new mapping tools to understand the real ecosystem of innovation – make more use of data analytics to find promising organisations who could respond to funding calls. Make this data accessible through, for example, open datasets and interactive visualisations, to help applicants to find new partners, and policymakers to build new networks.

  • Bridge the vanguards and the rest -  place emphasis on adoption of innovation, not just generating new ideas. Invest in improving the ‘absorptive capacity’ of public authorities, SMEs, social economy organisations and others to adapt and adopt ideas from elsewhere.

SIC’s workshop at the Opening up to an Era of Social Innovation conference will be fun, fast and most probably pretty noisy! Come ready to work on policy ideas in an interactive session with colleagues from across Europe.

If you can’t make it to the conference, follow @SICommunity_EU (using the conference Twitter hashtag - #SocialinnovEU) or our Facebook page for other opportunities to pitch your ideas.

We look forward to hearing your views!