Written by Clare Ferguson,
The events of 2016 have made it clear that citizens expect policy-makers to come up with some new ideas to meet their needs and contribute to creating a more inclusive and cohesive society through promoting new processes and relationships, innovative solutions, and thus transformation. The EU aims to address this need for innovation to improve society across sectors such as the single market, employment and social affairs, health, education, energy, environment, and research under the notion of ‘social innovation ’.
Although the definition of ‘social innovation’ is somewhat contested, policy-makers need to agree on the definitions of the issues at stake, to ensure that they are all ‘on the same page’, and policy research at EU level underpins this aim. Social innovation produces new practices, relations, and products, regardless of the policy area in which it is applied – welfare, or urban development for example – often based on active citizen participation and the subsequent increased ‘buy in’, based on five key dimensions:
- conceptual analysis of social practice;
- centring policy proposals on social demands, societal challenges and systemic changes where possible;
- analysis of available resources and capabilities and the constraints and conflicts which might require action to empower or build capacity;
- embedding good governance, networking and actors in social policies aiming at change and development;
- establishing process dynamics.
In 2017, EU policies will continue to promote and fund social innovation in several sectors, such as the single market, employment and social affairs, health, education, energy, environment, and research. Several EU programmes finance social innovation in these sectors. For example, under the Employment and Social Innovation funding umbrella, one programme in particular, Progress, seeks to obtain solid analytical data on which to base EU social policies. Another, Eures, focuses on employment and encourages professional mobility, while the Microfinance Facility helps social enterprises, providing start-up finance for vulnerable groups to set up their own companies.
Developing policies and programmes that strengthen the social dimension of the European Union is one of the initiatives which the European Parliament, Council and Commission recently pledged to ‘fast track’ in 2017, giving proposals for practical policies to boost youth employment and social security coordination priority treatment in the legislative process.