Is social innovation the solution to the challenges we face?

Last week we participated in a two-day conference on social policy innovation organised by the Commission. At the opening, Commissioner Andor admitted we are not reaching the EU 2020 targets, especially the one on poverty and social exclusion. However, social innovation can offer innovative approaches to social policies and services, that can help reach those targets. To do so, social investment, social enterprises and social innovation should go hand in hand (full speech is available here).

During the first day of the conference many interesting points were stressed. For example, the representatives from Open Society Foundations Roma Initiatives and the Ambassador EEA and Norway Grants, said that if we really want to boost social innovation, we need to be ready to accept risks of failure and be ready to manage risks. Often authorities prefer to avoid risks rather than managing them. Social innovation is a learning process: you need to experiment and evaluate interventions that can also fail. Too often we only look for success and we focus too much on results.

A representative from the Commission reminded that all policy areas covered by the ESF are possible themes from social innovation. However, from the contributions of member states' representatives, it emerged that public authorities in some countries are still in a learning and piloting process when it comes to promoting social innovation through the ESF. That is exactly why the involvement of relevant stakeholders, including CSOs, is essential in all phases of the life cycle of funds (partnership principle). It was recognised that the implementation of this principle needs to be improved at national level. At Social Platform, we hear this also from our members.

The representative of Open Society Foundations Roma Initiatives pointed out that monitoring the use of funds is not purely an administrative operation. You do not only need to evaluate how the money has been spent, but also how the intervention has produced change for disadvantaged groups like Roma, homeless people etc. You cannot evaluate the impact of a project on Roma, homeless people, migrants, if you don't involve in the evaluation people who have direct experience in working with these groups.

Conny Reuter from Solidar made the point that innovation and sustainability have to go hand in hand: you cannot boost innovation if there are no tools and mechanisms to make it sustainable in the medium and long run. He also said that if we do not want to repeat the mistake of the Lisbon agenda, in the EU 2020 we must focus on quality employment and not the creation of jobs of any kind. Social innovation should be used in this way.

The Ambassador from EEA and Norway Grants said that increasing inequalities in Europe and beyond are the biggest challenge that we all need to face.

But, is social innovation the solution to all the challenges we are facing? For us at Social Platform, definitely not. It is just a means that can contribute to finding innovative solutions, provided that it is accompanied by a supportive political and institutional environment, open to stakeholders' involvement and engagement.

Our Director, Pierre Baussand, spoke the second day in the concluding session. You can read his article here.