Brussels, 25-26 March 2010
The Europe2020 Strategy is meant to pave the way towards “a new sustainable social market economy, a smarter, greener economy where prosperity will result from innovation and from using resources better, and where knowledge will be the key input”. In order for innovation to be a critical tool to address challenges covering many societal dimensions, a broader definition of innovation needs to be adopted.
Social innovation refers to new responses to pressing social demands, by means which affect the process of social interactions. Social innovations are characterized by the production of a social return and the creation of new social relationships or partnerships which involve the end users and thereby make policies more effective.
This notion covers many sectors: the public sector and public sector innovation of course, but also the private and third sectors. Social entrepreneurs, foundations, citizens’ organisations for example can all be social innovation actors.
Although highly promising, social innovation still poses a number of questions: How to harness available potentials? How to support existing initiatives? How to scale these up (if they can be)? How to identify good practice and evaluate the outcomes of policy interventions? How to efficiently diffuse methods and good practices – and how to learn from, and spread the lessons of, instructive failures? How to organize cooperation, interaction and synergy between social innovation, public services, voluntary organizations and the traditional and nontraditional private sector? What conflicts and strains may arise, and how could these be addressed? How to support social entrepreneurship? How to create a conducive environment for social innovation at various institutional levels, particularly at EU level? How to prevent bureaucracy and divergent policy goals smothering social innovation and bottom-up initiatives?
Recognising the importance of social innovation in the current context, the European Commission is exploring the policy options to encourage social innovation at a European level.