Recovery through innovation
"The European stimulus plan is about promoting innovation in all sectors", said President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso on the final session of the workshop on Social Innovation I had the opportunity to participate this week in Brussels (official press release here). On the same day, it was announced that President Obama will create an Office of Social Innovation.
This ad hoc meeting, very well organized by the Bureau of European Policy Advisors, gathered 40 social innovators and 20 EC policy makers, including Commissioner Danuta Hubner (Regional Policy), Commissioner Vladimir Špidla (Social Affairs), the VP of European Investment Bank, and several Directors of different departments of the European Commission (from DG Employment, including the Director of the European Social Fund, DG Enterprise including the Director of Innovation, DG Health, etc).
Foster sustainable growth
"The financial and economic crisis makes creativity and innovation in general and social innovation in particular even more important to foster sustainable growth, secure jobs and boost competitiveness. This meeting contributed to shape our collective thinking on how social innovation can be promoted at all levels for the benefit of our citizens and societies", Barroso said. He reinforced the "smart green growth" message on the stimulus plan and the role new infrastructures (broadband, smart grids, e-heath) play on the transition to a low carbon knowledge base economy. The President of European Commission committed to support social innovation through various programmes, in particular the structural funds, and to encourage the creation of networks for further reflection and the exchange of good practice.
The first afternoon was devoted to the presentation and discussion of leading experiments in terms of education, public sector, health; funding for social innovation was discussed over dinner and today's morning was a roundtable with leading political actors. I had the opportunity to present to the European President the conclusions of this event.
Here are the main points I mentioned:
What is social innovation...
Social innovation is the application of a new idea or a new application of an existing idea that creates lasting social value. As mentioned by Commissioner Vladimir Špidla on the oppening of this workshop: “We need new ideas. Social innovation exists to help us to answer social challenges.”
.. Why we need Social Innovation and why we need it now ?
i) Emerging problems like chronic disease, ageing, climate change require new solutions - business as usual is just not enough,
ii) Because we are living unprecedented crisis and a time of extraordinary change;
iii) The recession requires rapid and urgent innovations in solutions, macro and micro (cities, regions, etc). Every part of the world will be tested on the way it will face it.
iv) Europe has no shortage of innovations, but has few dedicates institutions, few resources, power performance on transforming small projects
v) Communication and collaboration technologies opened new opportunities
Social innovation is relevant...
Europe has great traditions of social innovation and needs to revive these. The ability to innovate in ways that deliver better services and social justice is seen around the world as one of Europe’s unique achievements, and has given the world everything from the cooperative and consumer movements to the worldwide web
There is no shortage of creativity. There are many promising projects and we can learn a lot from them. However, something is missing: the system for turning promising ideas to scale is inadequate and far inferior to those in science and business.
…. and urgent action is needed
i) Europe needs to devote as much attention to developing a social innovation system over the next 20 years as it has in the past to the more familiar innovation system for science and industry.
ii) Mobilize European society to play its part in reviving Europe’s economy. 21st Century policy is about policy "with the people" not just "to the people".
iii) We have to recognize that the crisis is an opportunity for Europe to take the lead in field of social innovation.
iv) Cities and regions will need to quick learning on how to mitigate the crisis.
v) Europe’s long term challenge is how to ensure that the recession doesn’t damage not just the competitiveness of European industry but also the resilience and effectiveness of European society and public services.
Social innovation is at the heart of public sector future...
Social innovation is about new solutions for the biggest challenges we face - like improving education and health systems, climate change, new models of social care for ageing populations sustainable cities, etc.
Connected world opens new frontiers
Pervasive connectivity became a key enabler of social innovation, a platform for cross-sectoral collaboration and innovation and co-creation in fields like education and healthcare where expert patients and expert learners are becoming partners to professional service delivery organizations and where global resources can be pooled to improve access, quality and affordability. ICT can provide better eldercare, allowing the elderly or disabled to stay living in their communities with support. And have a role to play on environment and urban reconfiguration, fostering new ways to work, travel and create together.
The workshop allowed excellent conversations with practitioners that are creating new solutions and paradigms, like Simon Duffy (founder of In Control/Self Directed Support, a glimpse of what public services 2.0 would look like, by turning people into participants in the design of services, tested in 122 local authorities in the UK), Christian Bason (Director of MindLab, a Danish cross-governmental incubator for innovation on public sector), Anna Maybank (founder of the Social Innovation Camp) or Lionel Urdy (Director of the Second Chance Schools, France), amongst many others. The main european social partners shared their vision, insights and concerns in a very interesting debate.
Around the world social innovation is moving the margins to the mainstream. As mentioned, in Washington President Obama has announced that he will have an Office of Social Innovation in the White House. Denmark has been integrating innovation into the work of its main government departments, from tax and social affairs to industry. Italy has set up a bank for social enterprise (Banca Prossima). Australia and New Zealand are both setting up centres for social innovation (with our collegue Martin Stewart-Weeks as it's leader) ; Spain is setting up a ‘Social Silicon valley'; Korea's Hope Institute has been at the forefront of using the web to link citizen ideas to government. Foundations in the US have been experimenting with new forms of social investment, as well as using online collaboration to speed up problem solving. This facts highlights how Social Innovation will became a mainstream top public policy, all over the world. Social Innovation Exchange is a great platform to share best practices.