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Challenges for a Future Innovation Policy

SI-DRIVE Policy Declaration: Social Innovation on the Rise – Challenges for a Future Innovation Policy

Taking up the main results of the Conference “Challenge Social Innovation”, summarised in the Vienna Declaration 2011, the EU-funded project SI-DRIVE – Social Innovation: Driving Force of Social Change (2014-2017) further elaborated the theoretical and methodological frame for social innovation. SI-DRIVE provided for the first time an evidence based overview of various types of social innovation in different world regions and central policy areas (education, employment, environment and climate change, energy supply, transport and mobility, health and social care, and poverty reduction and sustainable development). The global mapping of more than 1,000 social innovation initiatives and the in-depth analysis of more than 80 examples from around the world demonstrate the variety of conditions and approaches leading to success of social innovations.

Against this background and based on the theoretical and empirical findings of the project, the SI-DRIVE Policy Declaration is summarising the consequences for an innovation policy of the future. Social Innovation is understood in terms of changing social practices to overcome societal challenges, to meet social demands and to exploit inherent opportunities in better ways than done before. While SI-DRIVE has shown that societal challenges can be tackled with social innovations, it remains an important task for policy to establish proper framework conditions for social innovations. Current economic, social and innovation policies in the EU member states are too general to create these conditions. In the following, the most urgent requirements for a new innovation policy are presented.

  • There is a need for a clear framework reflecting the diversity of social innovations:

A key task is finding the right incentives and support schemes for social innovation. Funding, sustainability modes and support in-kind formats need to be developed enabling impulses for the development, experimentation and diffusion of social innovations, building on the input of actors in relevant sectors as well as public funds and supports. The incentive structures should facilitate social innovators to combine social and technological innovations in a synergistic way. The incentive approach should allow crossover actions, mainstreaming social innovations and integrating the user and beneficiary perspective into solutions and initiatives. We need to learn about differential financing and sustainability models to initiate and upscale social innovations, and about the timely phase-out of public or other funding (for example by philanthropies, businesses and crowd-funding) once social innovations have become mainstream and sustainable. These models do not always need to end-up as market solutions, but need to take into account solutions in which civil society actors can continue their activities. Valuing social impact should be an accepted model alternative to technological or market related added values.

  • The potential of social innovations needs to be unfolded in order to enable systemic social change:

Such social change requires a fruitful context in which acceptance of social innovations is guaranteed. Policy has a role to play in providing venues for new human resources development in support of social innovation. Appropriate experimental spaces and living labs are needed to optimise the learning process with social innovations. Especially in policy fields with highly regulated formal systems (like education, employment, health) there should be new and more open governance structures guaranteeing new leeway for experimentation.

  • There is a need for new governance of ecosystems to create sustainable social innovations with a high societal impact:

The holistic, cross-sectoral approach of social innovation brings the different societal sectors and a surrounding ecosystem for social innovation on the scene. To solve the problems and demands in a social innovation process, activating all the relevant stakeholders from all the societal sectors concerned (public, economy, civil society and science) new and dynamic governance systems have to be established. This includes a new role of public policy and government for creating suitable framework and support structures, the integration of resources of the economy and civil society as well as supporting measures by science and universities. Policy-makers need a vision of the role of social innovation in society on the on hand, and have to include social innovations in their own actions on the other hand. New governance systems and innovation friendly environments are needed to connect important stakeholders, supported by open governance systems to enable and foster experimentation.

  • More involvement of universities and research centres to support social innovations is needed:

Universities and research centres can support social innovators and innovations in manifold ways, including knowledge exchange, the integration of new technologies, monitoring and evaluation, impact assessments including, pilot and demonstration projects, supporting managerial competences, providing space and processes for self-reflection. Inclusion of societal actors in research and knowledge transfer at an early stage is considered an important feature of universities’ participation in social innovations.

  • There is a need for an EU resource centre and focal point for social innovation in the form of a European Social Innovation Agency:

Given the political and administrative investment done so far and the reaffirmed need to find innovative solutions to the challenges faced by European economies and societies, an agency would be the natural place to develop counselling on new forms of governance. It would make sure the availability of appropriate financing and engage with stakeholders and policy-makers on the importance of capacity building. Furthermore, it would become a resource centre where the data and case studies researched so far could be documented and made available to feed research and practitioners. The idea is not to discharge institutions of their responsibility to develop innovative policies that work, but on the contrary, to support and advise them in their tasks, and to better connect all existing initiatives and policies with an active citizenry.

The SI-DRIVE Policy Declaration concludes reflecting on the next steps in social innovation research. Here, three major topics are considered as priority:

  • The (international, national, regional, cultural, social, economic, political) context of Social Innovation - what is going on pertaining to the modes, dynamics and forces (including real power structures in spheres of economies and politics) of social change?
  • Further insight into the possible and favourable outcomes and impacts of new practices, ranging from improving the living and working conditions of vulnerable or disadvantaged social groups to triggering, enhancing or driving favourable social change and/or limiting/compensating the impact of less beneficial social change.
  • The relationship to technological and business innovation in processes of transformative change (e.g. the ‘digital transformation’, the socio-ecological transition, etc.).

The further development of social innovation research will strongly depend on an interconnected, agile and learning community. The SI-DRIVE Policy Declaration emphasises that institutionalised social innovation networks and communities, such as the European School of Social Innovation (ESSI) and the European Public & Social Innovation Review (EPSIR) are very important to support community building, mutual learning and knowledge exchange in social innovation research and beyond.


You can download the full version of the SI-DRIVE Policy Declaration here: