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Understanding social innovation

Written by Nora Milotay,

© alphaspirit / Fotolia

Social innovation has become an important concept in European policy-making, cutting across sectors and disciplines. However, despite the increasingly frequent use of the term there is no consensus as regards its definition. As a result, in part of extensive research work at EU level, it is currently interpreted as a ubiquitous concept that entails new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs (more effectively than alternatives) and create new social relationships or forms of collaboration. The concept is strongly related to notions of solutions and transformation.

European policies promote social innovation in several sectors, such as the single market, employment and social affairs, health, education, energy, environment, and research. Within the EU, numerous policy and financial tools together with the (previous and current) research programme contribute to this process. However, there is still much to be done in terms of finding a comprehensive and well accepted theoretical approach to social innovation, efficient funding and regulatory environments, and also a way to measure its social (added) value. Without these social innovation runs the risk of becoming an empty buzzword in policy-making.

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