Interplay between social innovation and sustainability in FP7 projects

تداخل بین نوآوری اجتماعی و پایداری در پروژه‌های FP7

Interplay between social innovation and sustainability in CASI and other FP7 projects
Limitation and global environmental and social challenges lead to review the role of innovation in the field of sustainable development. Sustainable development can be defined as a new model of development that introduces sustainable approaches to carrying out activities that respect environmental constraints and at the same time lead to economic and social development. It is also a form of social innovation that can impact human life and permeate all sectors of our economy and society. On the other hand, social innovation can play a key role in increasing sustainability, by changing existing social practices and creating new ways to build a green economy and life. The relationship between sustainability and social innovation is the subject of several projects under the 4th stage of the EU’s seven-programme framework, including: CASI, ITSSOIN, SI-DRIVE, SPREAD, TRANSIT, WWWFOREUROPE projects. The results of these projects are expected to bring this communication to a new level.

Innovation in the field of sustainable development
Sustainability can be enhanced if Europe is able to ensure greener, cleaner and fairer economic growth based on green business practices, environmental technologies and services, education and job opportunities for all. When considering a step towards sustainable economic growth, the main challenge is to consider innovation from an economic and environmental perspective, but also from a social perspective. Although the concept of innovation has often been linked to economic issues, environmental and social concerns (such as unsustainable access to scarce natural resources, aging workforce, environmental degradation, climate change, or poverty) have recently led to a rethinking of innovation in the context of sustainable development. European institutions have realized that they have to go beyond the traditional understanding of innovation and not focus mainly on technological solutions and market-oriented innovation. In this context, Annika Soermayer, a research assistant at Philips University Marburg, says: “From an innovation perspective, new forms of innovation – including social innovation, inclusive innovation, grassroots innovation and eco-innovation – are emerging in the scientific community and among policy makers. As the only innovations based on technology or science are not enough to solve these challenges”.

According to the report of the European Sustainable Development Network, there are strong connections between sustainable development and social innovation, but research has not yet fully focused on them. However, some projects have already paved the way to study the interaction between social innovation and sustainable development.

Sustainability and social innovation in the CASI project
The CASI project (“Public participation in the development of a common framework for the assessment and management of sustainable innovation”) is an EU project funded by the fourth phase of the FP7 seven-programme framework program for research and technological development. This project was implemented in response to one of the social challenges in the scope of the Horizon 2020 program, called “Measures of water and meteorology, environment, efficiency of resources and raw materials”. The project considers innovation as a macro driver of social progress and offers discussions on conceptual dimensions, policy boundaries and good practices between innovative pursuits and sustainability goals.

In the CASI project, the interplay between social innovation and sustainability is explored through activities such as an online survey, case studies and the creation of a database of social innovation-related practices across Europe and beyond.

An online survey was conducted among sustainability and innovation professionals across the EU. Its main purpose was to gather experts’ opinions on various issues related to the concepts of sustainable innovation and sustainable development. The analysis of the survey results showed that the participants believed that the social aspects of sustainability are very relevant to sustainable innovation and therefore need to be considered in the design and development stages of the innovation process. However, social innovation was considered less related to sustainable innovation, deferring to other types of innovation such as product and system innovation. In other words, most participants claimed that a product or system innovation is more likely to be developed as a sustainable innovation and contribute to achieving sustainable development rather than social innovation.

The interplay between sustainability and social innovation is also discussed in two chapters of the first annual report developed as part of the CASI project. The authors of the report claim that social innovations play an important role in the transition to a more sustainable society. They claimed that societal challenges such as climate change require a paradigm shift that integrates social innovation into the innovation system. They also discussed the 7th Environmental Action Program to 2020 (EAP), which is the EU’s key program for sustainability, and claimed that although the EAP does not refer to the concept of social innovation, this type of innovation can help achieve the program’s goals. Just promoting technological developments will not be enough. According to the authors, social innovations have the capacity to better respond to social issues and meet social needs. Unlike the EAP, the EU framework program for research and innovation, Horizon 2020, emphasizes the importance of social innovation and its role in achieving sustainability. It is believed that the introduction of social innovation in the context of sustainability policy can be achieved by further developing the scientific basis of social innovation, integrating the new innovation paradigm into innovation programs.

which combine technological and social innovations and the accreditation of social innovation has been facilitated in different fields.

In the CASI project, a number of sustainable innovation cases have also been mapped. These cases represent social and technological innovation practices that have explored the distinctive factors of sustainability. These cases show that sustainable innovation can also be social and social innovation can lead to sustainability. Common forms of collaborative engagement (such as fellowships and co-housing projects) have been analyzed, and it has been proven that issues related to resource efficiency can inspire social innovation and lead to sustainable solutions. One example is the UbiGo Mobility service in Sweden, which encourages citizens to choose more sustainable lifestyles and allows them to try more efficient travel methods. Environmental concerns and social issues such as poverty and limited access to good education are also areas where social innovation emerges. The Ecobus 3D mobile educational center in Bulgaria is an example of how an innovative educational tool can lead to the formation of sustainable habits related to environmental protection. Social innovators, on the other hand, have recognized the benefits that new practices can bring in areas such as environmental protection, poverty alleviation, and education.

A greater focus on social innovation in future policies that discriminate against technological innovation is recommended by the CASI project in order to complement the previous focus on technological innovation. The project believes that social innovation plays a central role in sustainability, by introducing new social practices that help create sustainable economies and lifestyles.

Other projects dealing with the interplay between sustainability and social innovation, funded under FP7, are numerous and carry out research in various areas of social innovation. Some of these projects examine the interaction between social innovation and sustainability. Besides CASI, examples of these projects are SI-DRIVE, ITSSOIN, SPREAD, TRANSIT, WWWFOREUROPE. These projects focus on concepts such as a new transformative social innovation theory, a new analytical basis for a socio-ecological transition, environmental sustainability and consumer protection in finance, multi-stakeholder dialogue aimed at creating a green life, several mapping processes of existing social innovation cases for sustainability and frameworks. Manage and develop policy proposals.

The aforementioned projects have emphasized the interplay between social innovation and sustainability in different ways. CASI created a database of more than 200 sustainable innovation practices, nearly a quarter of which are social innovation in origin. ITSSOIN investigated the impact of social innovation activities on the transformational performance of the organization. SI-DRIVE compiled seven policy analysis reports on education and lifelong learning, employment, environment and climate change, energy, transport, health and social care, and poverty reduction and sustainable development. SPREAD developed a sustainable baseline report, while TRANSIT developed a theoretical approach and WWWFOREUROPE compiled a collection of case studies on socio-indigenous transitions. Many of the projects’ activities include mapping of social innovation activities carried out in order to disseminate good practices across Europe.

However, strengthening the role of social innovation in sustainability depends on the following:

EU policies to ensure better visibility and labeling of the role and concept of social innovation.
Introduction of sustainable aspects in FP7 results along with the interaction of social innovation and sustainability and extension of the main results.
Creating appropriate frameworks and structures for social innovations.
Creating political institutions that are directly responsible for social innovations.
Ensuring a common understanding of social innovation that distinguishes it from other concepts and types of innovation.
Finding new ways to develop and expand social innovations that take into account relevant participants, civil society and even users.
In short, social innovation has the capacity to better understand the innovation process and shift the central focus of policies towards a new paradigm of sustainability in which social innovation plays an important role. Recently, it can be seen that the awareness and promotion of social innovation has increased in different countries. However, more efforts are still needed to place social innovation at the top of the policy agenda.

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