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We need EQUAL+ 22 February 2018

Posted by cooperatoby in social innovation.
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At the Investing in People – the Way Forward conference in Sofia last week, it fell to me to revive our memories of the EQUAL programme, which from 2002-2008 engaged 20,000 organisations in innovation through transnational cooperation. It was cleverly designed to build partnerships within countries – e.g. between local authorities, research institutions and cooperatives – which then carried out projects with partners abroad, to test new solutions to employment and social problems. There was also an obligatory ‘mainstreaming’ phase to embed the results in policy and practice.

Here’s my presentation.

Asked whether EQUAL was too complicated, I said the ESF is not about spending money, it is about spending money intelligently. It is precisely the methodological support, analysis and dissemination that made the difference. And it did make a difference: many of the partnerships built during EQUAL are still alive today. One key outcome was the invention of a policy on inclusive entrepreneurship (see COPIE), which simply did not exist before.

There is grassroots demand for transnational cooperation, as is shown by the over 100 people who have registered for the ESF-TP’s Partner Search Forum in Warsaw next month.

Simplification – the answer to everything

It should not be beyond the wit of ESF policy-makers to use our new simplified rules to recreate an ‘EQUAL+‘ programme for the 2020-17 period. Using lump sums and standard costs cuts out so much of the paperwork and allows managers to concentrate on results. Flanders does this, preserving the spirit of EQUAL.

Aside from work, I remember Sofia for Wilkinson & Pickett’s presentation on The Spirit Level, the snow-capped massif of the Vitosha overlooking the city, the ruins of roman Serdica under the town centre streets, and the ornate art nouveau Balkan Hotel where we dined as ecologists demonstrated outside.


David Bowie as a tool of social innovation 29 September 2016

Posted by cooperatoby in social innovation.
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The Social Innovation Community (SIC) launched itself with élan this week. At 9:30 on Monday morning I was surprised to find myself singing along to Bowie and Bon Jovi under the guidance of Sanderson Jones, founder of the Sunday Assemblies. Sanderson turned his experience as a stand-up comedian to good account as he told us the story of how the (so far) 70 Sunday Assemblies – a sort of secular replacement for church congregations – are rebuilding communities and combating mental illness: Congregation – spirituality + science (mindfulness) + pop songs = Sunday Assemblies!

It was cheering to see the Britons who were there being so keen on European collaboration. It was inspiring to hear Fabrizio Sestini from DG CONNECT say that innovation is inherently social, and that economic innovation should be seen as a subset of social innovation: “Whenever there is a social change, eventually someone will make money from it. But that’s not the point.” I met lots of new people, and wrote all over tables covered with white paper. The two main ideas I put forward were that the 8 SIC networks (public sector, corporate social innovation, collaborative economy, social economy etc.) should formulate demands which the work packages (research, education, experimentation etc.) can then satisfy. Secondly, one key set of stakeholders that should be more involved is the funders of social innovation such as ESF Managing Authorities and foundations. But it’s still early days.

I noted two very disparate underlying models of what social innovation is: on the one hand an essentially political movement that has to challenge the financial system – and on the other hand the less disruptive idea that digital media can empower people to solve their own problems (‘tech push’). Social innovation is a broad church. In between, there is a lot of serious work to be done to measure what welfare benefits result and what return on investment social innovations produce.

It was interesting that in our final exercise, when we considered what governance model SIC should aim for, out of the three choices offered – organisation, collaboration and market – a surprisingly large number stayed on the ‘organisation’ table, rather than migrating, as the facilitator expected, to the ‘collaboration’ table. So there seems to be a long-term confidence in the value of what we are doing, and a will to establish SIC as a permanent entity.

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