Social Innovation in Western Europe

نوآوری اجتماعی در اروپای غربی

نوآوری اجتماعی در اروپای غربی

Collaboration and communication are fundamental in the process of social innovation. Policies that promote the development of social innovation ecosystems are likely to contribute greatly to the sustainability of social innovations. This article examines the situation in Western Europe and details the essential role of networks, individuals and groups in the field of social innovation and introduces examples of such networks.

Much research in the field of social innovation (NA), for example the SI-DRIVE studies, has pointed to the prominent role of networks and collaborations as the reason for success [1]. Although it cannot be categorically claimed that these factors are necessary conditions for social innovation, but in countries such as Turkey, China and Russia, the data show the necessity of government support for social innovation. Additionally, in Europe, networks and collaborations are implemented in different ways due to societal differences. In many European countries, people have a high proportion of trust in the democratic system and the government. Also, several cases in SI-DRIVE represent innovative solutions to solve social problems without the need for the involvement of public institutions. This article examines SI-DRIVE data in the following areas:

The importance of networks and collaborations;
Encouraging the expansion and scaling of NA through networks;
Institutionalization of NA and creation of NA ecosystems as examples of structural approach to networks.
Social innovation and networks in Western Europe
Although social innovations are not new, they have gained significant recognition in recent years, especially in Western Europe. These innovations are different from the projects and activities of the period before the 1990s, mainly because of the context of their activity: in times of hardship, social innovations are proposed as substitutes for public tasks. The SI-DRIVE project has examined 1005 cases of social innovation around the world, of which 256 cases are located in Western European countries.

The adoption of social innovations and the development of environments that promote these innovations are different in countries. For example, in the 2016 Social Innovation Index, the UK ranked second only to the US, while Spain ranked 28th out of 45 OECD and G20 countries. This indicates their different capacity to develop social innovation. This shows that England has a suitable organizational framework and policy context for social innovation. Measuring the extent to which other Western European countries have developed enabling environments for social innovation differs by common themes:

In the last five years, social innovations have increasingly attracted attention at the European, regional and national level. The recent financial crisis and tight policies have created a greater demand for social innovation.
There are still many differences regarding the definition of social innovations. These differences are especially true when it comes to measuring how well businesses like Airbnb and Uber can be considered social innovations.
Cooperation between institutions through networks is recognized as the most important factor for the success of social innovations.
We will focus on this last observation: How do networks help?
Key factors in social innovation
Role-playing of social innovations (SI-DRIVE) shows that the innovative environment, information and communication technology (ICT), financial resources, solidarity, governance and politics are of great importance during the development of social innovations. But “networks, individuals and groups” seem to be particularly influential. Table 1 shows that this issue is emphasized more in the European Union (with 63.6%) than in other regions of the world (51.4%). Within the EU itself, these constraints appear to be more important in the North (71.6%) than in the West (66.4%), with financial resources being a less important constraint in these regions. Closely related to “networks, individuals and groups”, solidarity is the second most important driver reported for social innovation in Western Europe (34.2%), underscoring the importance of collaboration in the region.

North West East South European non-European
Networks, individuals and groups 71.6% 66.4% 47.6% 57.1% 63.6% 51.4%
Innovative environment 20.3% 22.1% 29.4% 31.8% 24.5% 24.6%
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) 28.1% 33.3% 38.9% 40.7% 34.3% 44.4%
Correlation 5.7% 24.3% 27.8% 39.5% 29.4% 22.2%
Government and politics 36.4% 30.4% 21.1% 6.3% 28.2% 38%
Financial resources 13% 14.5% 39.3% 23.5% 20.4% 33.8%

Qualitative research conducted with 82 of the 1005 cases studied (more than a third of which were in Western Europe) shows that the factors that determine the limits and feasibility of social innovations are relatively similar in different policy areas. The analysis of the study shows that at the beginning of a project, human capacity and learning are the most important factors. Collaboration is a key mechanism in the next stages of expansion, scaling, adaptation and institutionalization. This qualitative research, given its broader scope than Western Europe, also shows that institutions and cultural environments are critical in the sustainability and growth of particular social innovations. The research also shows the critical role of a well-functioning and complete “ecosystem” in the successful scaling of social innovations.

The importance of cooperation and partnership
Among the 82 cases of our in-depth study related to the analysis of networks, individuals and groups, we observed that cooperation is more prevalent in Western Europe and outside Europe than in the rest of Europe. Furthermore, in Western Europe, social innovations operate more often with partnerships (75%) than alone (58%). In our study, partnerships are established between a variety of social actors: from collaboration between social innovators and public and private organizations to collaboration with civil societies, non-profit organizations and non-governmental institutions, as well as with research institutes and universities. However, the number of case studies does not allow to provide a deeper indication of the importance of these partnerships.

SI-DRIVE research shows that collaborations, partnerships, networks, individuals and groups play a significant role in the development of social innovations in Western Europe. In the next section, we examine the impact of EU programs as drivers of networking and cooperation.

EU programs to promote cooperation
In this section, we look at examples of EU macro programs that have played a very effective role in facilitating cooperation and creating social innovation networks in Western Europe.

Clearly, the main commonalities between these programs are support for scaling up, building and developing networks, and collaborative learning for social innovation. From these organizations, networks are created, which in turn engage and engage the society in a wider dimension. Two examples of these support networks for social innovation are ESIIN and SIAN, which originated from the TRANSITION and BENISI consortia. These two networks are engaged in identifying, promoting and magnifying through combining the skills, resources and capabilities of the members.

To understand the impact of these networks, we look at two cases, Make A CUBE3 in Italy and BEEODIVERSITY in Belgium, which have benefited from membership in the ESIIN and SIAN networks. The results obtained from the interviews and observations are presented.

Networks of this type have played an important role in the development of social innovations and have provided a ground for experimentation and communication with social innovation laboratories such as ENOLL. By doing so, these networks have helped build a social innovation community in Western Europe. “Social Innovation Community” (SIC), which is a project of the Horizon 2020 program, is one of these projects.

Conclusion: The efficiency of networks in a strategic way
We have seen that communication and cooperation in the process of social innovation in Western Europe is a vital and fundamental thing, which is based on the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and resources of people. EU programs have played an important role in creating communities and spreading examples of social innovation in Europe.

From the BENISI and TRANSITION projects, some recommendations related to communication and cooperation have been obtained:

The need to create a mechanism to strengthen cooperation and peer support is felt. Through these collaborations, accelerators can provide the best training programs, connections, and expertise related to specific dimensions.
It is possible to promote cooperation between influential companies. Starting a business to solve common challenges is something that all influential companies face.
The main value of the network is in sharing information, learning from each other, and developing for the benefit of innovators.
Future research should focus on the best strategies to support network contexts. More attention to social innovation ecosystems may be necessary. The SI-DRIVE study shows that although these ecosystems are important, universities and scientific and academic institutions play a lesser role in them than in economic and technological ecosystems. But the advantage of social innovation ecosystems in the future is that network support can become more sustainable, which will benefit innovators.

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