Enabling transformative social innovation

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The creation and establishment of post-growth alternatives based on revitalisation of ecologically and socially regenerative commons, their mobilisation as enterprise ecologies and the establishment of multi-level structures for inclusive governance towards these ends, all rely on process of social innovation by individuals, organisations and networks dedicated to transformative change. Two major recent EU-funded research projects on social innovation have each released a key statement that stresses that importance and highlights the conditions necessary for social innovation's potential to contribute to transformative change in Europe.

Two major recent research projects on social innovation have reached a common conviction that it represents an essential feature of transition to sustainability and resilience in Europe. Each has undertaken extensive consultation with individuals, organisations and networks dedicated to social innovation, and on this basis released a key statement that stress that importance and highlight the conditions necessary for social innovation's potential to contribute to transformative change in Europe.

Transformative Social Innovation Manifesto

The Transformative Social Innovation Manifesto was the result of a highly collaborative process involving input from researchers and participants in the EU-funded TRANSIT project, during the project's closing stages in 2017. It sets out 13 principles, which collectively describe the necessary enabling conditions for innovation of the type and scale necessary to enable transformation.[1]

  1. Access to physical spaces for experimentation, which offer freedom to think and act in unconventional ways.
  2. Alternative and diverse economies, united by common social and ecological values, critical attitudes towards capitalism and mainstream economices, and commitment to changing existing power relations.
  3. Combining and integrating new and old ways of thinking, including by recovering old ways and adapting them to current contexts by creatively combining them with innovative methods and technologies.
  4. Establishment of social relations based on relational values such as trust, reciprocity, equality, collectiveness, sharing, solidarity, inclusion and transparency, and development of the collective capacities to enable this.
  5. Recognition of the interdependence of social and material change, and need to combine social and technological innovation.
  6. New forms of collaboration of civil society, governments and business, recognising and supporting social innovation in all these sectors and creating new hybrids that blur their boundaries.
  7. Social innovation that complements and supports provision of essential public services, without legitimising their contraction or withdrawal
  8. Translocal empowerment via effective networking at all levels among community-scale initiatives, providing an alternative form of bottom-up globalisation.
  9. Fostering belonging, autonomy and competence: fundamental human needs that enhance collective action and empowerment.
  10. Transparent and inclusive decision-making via methods such as deep and deliberate democracy or ‘do-ocracy’, systemic consensus, sociocracy holacracy, all of which require shared ownership structures, cultures of open and transparent communication, and maturity, social competence and willingness to take responsibility and be self-reflective on the part of participating individuals.
  11. Alternative and diverse narratives that communicate and clarify complementary perspectives on why the world has to change, who has the power to do so and how this can be done.
  12. Higher levels of mutual recognition and strategic collaboration, including via meta-networks such as ECOLISE that provide spaces for encounter and reflection, including constructive confrontation and debate.
  13. Embracing paradoxes, particularly that between innovation and mainstreaming, in order to overcome social and political barriers, work intersectionally across diverse social struggles, and maintain flexible and dynamic strategies that reconcile wide acceptance and uptake of core values and practices with continued integrity of purpose.

Lisbon Declaration on Social Innovation

Building on the TSI Manifesto and a number of related documented, the Lisbon Declaration was released in 2018 as an outcome of the EU-funded Social Innovation Community project. Its pillars are three core shared values identified within the project as underpinning social innovation in Europe:[2]

  • The purpose of innovation is to help improve quality of life for all and address societal challenges
  • All innovation should be based on openness, democracy and inclusivity
  • Social innovation to improve public services needs to complement, not replace, their adequate resourcing and delivery by governments

The Lisbon Declaration identifies five priority strategies for Europe to incorporate social innovation fully into its social programme: [3]

  1. Resourcing small-scale experimentation, its spread and the scaling of impact
  2. Enabling local change initiatives based on community-led innovation
  3. Enabling policy-makers and government officials to support and take advantage of social innovation led by citizens and communities.
  4. Leveraging the potential of public procurement to support social innovation.
  5. Supporting establishment of social innovation in places that need it most.

It argues for three central principles on which to base a policy agenda to support social innovation in Europe:

  1. Acknowledge and cater for the diversity of the social innovation community
  2. Move from award-based support to embedding social innovation within EU policies, programmes and principles across all areas, involving a broad spectrum of societal actors in doing so.
  3. Treat social innovation as a fundamental ingredient of the EU's social agenda at all levels, not an add-on.

To support delivery on these priorities, in alignment with these principles, it suggests the following concrete policy measures.

Embed social innovation as a cross-cutting priority in EU policies and programmes through:

  1. Development of a social innovation action plan
  2. Strategic investment in and support for social innovation through major financial instruments within the EU Multiannual Financial Framework.
  3. Creation of a new European Observatory of Social Innovation Policy
  4. Establishment of a pan-European network of evidence centres to improve the evidence base on social innovation

Enable strategic partnerships at all levels of governance (EU, national and regional) that empower communities to become drivers of needed change through:

  1. Significant growth in the number of regional social innovation support organisations across Europe
  2. Support instruments for creation of bodies to enable and leverage community ownership and control over local assets in all EU Member States
  3. Creation of Social Innovation Fellowships for people developing local change initiatives
  4. Improving access to EU funding for smaller organisations, enterprises and facilitators who have a social focus

Foster social innovation in the public sector through:

  1. Embedding social innovation actors in governments and public-sector bodies
  2. New mechanisms to connect government agencies with social innovation actors