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More than just mapping

On 21 January 2015, over 800 social innovation practitioners from all over Portugal gathered at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon to celebrate the end of the first phase of the MIES project which mapped 100s of innovations across the country.

SIX's Louise Pulford spoke to Filipe Santos, the recently appointed Director of the Social Innovation Fund in Portugal about why mapping innovations in this way is integral for governments to develop the right kind of support structures for such initiatives to develop and thrive. Below are a few key excerpts.

What was it about the MIES project that made you want to be a part of it?

This is a project that I saw the initial birth of, and almost co-founded with the IES team. At the beginning, we set up a pilot project mapping the municipality Cas-Cais and it worked very well so the project kept going. Suddenly, we were asked to map the entire country. This is very powerful because we can see what is being offered, what are the innovations and we can build networks among the social innovators/social entrepreneurs.

This is a project that was innovative globally – there are very few mappings of social innovations. I think we need to be able to measure social innovation to be able to support it. It is fundamental and we don’t have good metrics. We can measure many things but innovation is hard and social innovation is particularly difficult and so we’re trying to be able to identify the most promising ones.

The methodology for this project is very thorough, which is positive but it also means that it takes a long time; it’s a big investment. Are there any extra benefits that you have seen as a result of taking the time to do this right?

When we did the mapping of Porto a few years ago, we saw the network became more dense and more vibrant. They gathered together, and they had events. The municipal association got involved as well. We saw a lot of regional energy being created because people started to know each other and were able to connect and exchange and network. So I think the benefits would be felt more at a regional level in creating more cohesive networks, allowing people to have an identity as social innovators/social entrepreneurs and being able to gather together.

In terms of public policy, having a book like the mapping of 134 initiatives described is a partial argument to take to the government or authorities to show they need to promote and help these institutions grow.

Despite this being the final event of the MIES project, this is certainly not the end. Where do you see this going now?

We have the attention of stakeholders, the attention of the authorities. I am personally involved now in a new government initiative called Portugal Social Innovation, which will be the public policy arm for social innovation and particularly for financing. In this case, data from MIES would be fundamental to understand where to place the support and what are the needs of the organization. We have already identified that the area of impact measurement is a gap of almost all projects across the board and investment in that is very important.

The area of support for growth is also key because many projects are very good in the communities where they are deployed but they don’t have the ability, and sometimes not the desire, to grow although they are great innovations that could have value elsewhere. So this is useful data to know for public policy and now we have the instrument and we’re developing it. At a European level, it is the first country to get organized in terms of having a hub for social innovation using European structural funds. We are following other countries like the UK who have been a pioneer in the social investment market. So we’re hoping to able to channel these trends in a virtuous way into the ecosystem to support social innovators.

Listen to the full audio interview: