This Monday April 16th 2018, a networking conference was organised at the Committee of the Regions on the initiative of the REVES Network, the Social Innovation Community and the University of Bologna. The event aimed to reflect on “Using social innovation policy approaches to help cities and regions realise the potential of the European Pillar of Social Rights” through sub-themes : employment and fair working conditions, social protection and inclusion, equal opportunities, concluded by a panel discussion on “experimentation as a way to reconnect bottom-up solutions and top-down policy making”.
The conference started with the necessity of Social Innovation, as current times’ crisis and challenges strike a substantial number of people that cannot wait for some “saving feat” coming from the (theoretically) powerful. Especially as Marcelle Hendrickx (member of the executive Council of the City of Tilburg – Netherlands, member of the Committee of the Regions and CoR rapporteur on “Social innovation as a new tool for addressing societal challenges”) began with the statement that, on paper, European countries are considered having recovered from the crisis but that there is still a lot to do. According to her, Social Innovation is a tool to adapt to the coming changes of the labour market and not only the technological ones.
The first couple of speakers agreed to say that today social innovation is recognised up to the European Commission and one of the challenges is to share experiences. Social innovation is not new anymore and the time has come to take stock of what it is and what it can achieve, where and how it is implemented. Marie-Christine Vergiat (MEP, Co-president of the social economy intergroup) went on to remind the audience that the social innovation had the advantage to give an outlook on the future in a longer perspective than the market one, especially with the concern of social inclusion inherent to its approach.
Mrs. Hendrickx also warned of a political need to control every step of the way; social innovation is much broader and comprehensive, and reducing it to a political issue would be a waste. However, this does not mean that politicians should not have a part in the discussions for some initiatives.
Many people attending the event being social innovative actors were invited to present their initiatives during the day. The morning presentations “Innovation in/through design, experimentation and implementation of strategies, action plans and policies” featured social innovation as a solution for our current challenges and those to come, as well as for all concerned.
Fighting long term unemployment through non-competitive activities in two experimental neighbourhoods of some small towns near Lille (France), re-appropriation of public space in Zagreb (Croatia), or a bottom up approach to employment by creating a platform for people to test their activity before fully engaging into it in a specific area of London (United Kingdom). The first one removes the competitive dimension of economic activities, the other helps people to affirm their personal ambitions and start their own activity, or public space being revitalised and appropriated again – each project is multi-facetted and includes the human dimension in its scope.
Through other examples – the reorganization of the welfare system in the city of Brescia (Italy) and the revision of the territorial quality standard for the social services of Gdynia (Poland) – the importance of the co-design and co-creation process was stressed out as another key of success for creating the right answer to the situation addressed.
Shared governance is a possible illustration of the necessary dialogue needed for such a construction. Communication between all the stakeholders involved is crucial to the successful outcome of the project in social innovation. Communication – hopefully entailing transparency – is also a component of the adoption of the project by the target users, a key to success – as well as maybe an invitation to take part to the quest for a fairer situation.
One issue that came up a few times was about scaling up those initiatives. It was argued that this is possible but should be done carefully as each territory is different and thus their needs and their way of seeing the situation differ. It cannot be done with an easy, quick and simple copy-paste of some successful initiative tackling unemployment elsewhere in a similar territory. The sense of ownership was highlighted, going hand in hand with the trust created through the process, two keys of a fruitful social innovation approach in tackling any challenge.
The conclusions of the world café underlined the need for a “positive narrative” on those initiatives, the importance of a political leadership as well as the involvement of all stakeholders (as hard as it might be to achieve), and the current lack of a global ecosystem for social innovation in the economy.
Lastly, the ultimate talk related more to the EU policies and funding role in social innovation. Dominique Bé (European Commission, DG Employment and Social Affairs) reminded that the EU should be there for innovation, that innovation cannot be dictated and that we were facing more of a lack of ideas rather than a lack of money. This statement was nuanced by Patricia Scherer (Social platform/EASPD) saying that EU funding was indeed essential to innovate and to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, but sometimes even the member states do not provide the basic services with their own budget to start with. The current MFF talks were mentioned, as well as the call for administrative simplification and the risks to lose “richness” in that process.
In conclusion, according to Luigi Martignetti (REVES aisbl), people rise up with and through social innovation in reaction to the current situation, to build a new vision, as it provides a comprehensive approach as a way to “change the game”.