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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

For a Fairer, More Inclusive Europe, Sign the #SIDeclaration

While industries like pharmaceuticals and automotive are good at getting decision-makers’ attention, the social innovation community often has less influence. We want this to change.

EU policymakers are negotiating Europe’s next long-term budget. Sign the #SIDeclaration today to tell them that Europe needs innovation to benefit everyone.

Over the past year, we have asked people working in social innovation all over Europe about how EU policy could enable them achieve an even bigger impact. We heard from more than 350 people from 19 member countries.

You told us you wanted a Europe where civil society, non-state actors and local communities are empowered to define and address challenges that matter to them, such as climate change. You shared a vision for research and innovation which gives greater recognition to the contribution of civil society and the wider public. And you spoke about the need for mainstream innovators (like technologists, firms and research organisations) to rethink their role in driving direct societal benefits.

Finally, you described challenges that can stop social innovation achieving its potential: problems with public procurement, rigid funding structures that don’t allow experimentation, a lack of skills and incentives for public officials to support social innovation.

The Social Innovation Declaration sets out the core values that we want European policymakers to follow as they negotiate the new EU budget and programming:

  • Innovation should improve quality of life for all and tackle societal challenges
  • Openness, democratization and inclusivity should be at the heart of innovation
  • Social innovation should be used to improve public services, but never simply to justify cuts or leave citizens worse off

The Declaration includes 10 specific policy recommendations that we think cut right to the heart of these issues. We want to make social innovation a cross-cutting priority in all EU policies and programmes (such as the European Social Fund Plus or Horizon Europe), and have introduced a number of proposals aimed at using strategic partnerships between EU, national and regional authorities to unleash the power of communities and smaller organisations to drive change.

1. Create a cross-service European Social Innovation Action Plan

To address complex societal challenges, the EC and Member States need a more coordinated, systemic and longer view of how social innovation can respond to current and future challenges and deliver greater impact for Europe.

2. Use the Multiannual Financial Framework budget and its key instruments to create longer-term investment and strategic support for social innovation across all Commission services

Horizon Europe (the EU's next Research and Innovation Framework Programme), European Social Fund Plus, Invest EU, European Solidarity Corps Plus and Erasmus Plus could all help to create a supportive environment for social innovation.

3. Create a new European Observatory of Social Innovation Policy

An Observatory could monitor how social innovation is being supported in different countries and help spread social innovation policy approaches, for example by setting up learning exercises between Member States to help adapt, replicate or scale promising social innovation pilots, experiments and programmes from elsewhere.

4. Set up a pan-European network of evidence centres to improve, synthesise and disseminate evidence about ‘what works’ in innovating to tackling social challenges

Evidence on the effectiveness of social innovations is often limited, and this hinders them from spreading and scaling. A pan-European network of evidence centres could reduce some of the risks and costs associated with one-off evaluations of programmes, and provide insight and evidence on the impact that social innovation is having in tackling societal challenges.

5. Launch a Europe-wide initiative to expand the number of regional social innovation support organisations by 2027

A fund should be set up to support local providers and actors who can act as facilitators and multipliers of social innovation. This should include incubators, accelerators, organisers of community events and meetups, networks, physical hubs, matchmaking programmes and training initiatives.

6. Support the creation of locally-controlled asset-based community bodies in all European Member States by 2027

The EU should encourage Member States to adopt supportive legal frameworks for community development and community-run asset sharing schemes with the goal of rolling out community-led development strategies in every major town and city in Europe by 2027. To do this, funding should be directed to local and regional organisations that can help mobilise individuals, civic associations and local institutions. They could offer capacity building, leadership training and technical assistance to communities in setting up task forces and in designing strategies on how to get there, for example by using dormant assets, crowdfunding, contributions from banks and vacant land.

7. Establish ‘Social Innovation Fellowships’

Community-led change initiatives are important in tackling a range of issues from climate action to migrant integration. Yet most rely on volunteers and individual community activists, meaning a large cross-section of people are excluded from participating. Social Innovation Fellowships would provide a stipend, paid as a salary, for people working to develop local change initiatives, to cover their basic living costs and enable them to devote time to leading change in their communities.

8. Set up a strategic initiative to better enable smaller, socially-focused organisations to access EU funding

Small, nimble organisations that are well placed to test new approaches are often discouraged from seeking European funding and supports because of the complexity and monitoring burdens associated with doing so. The ‘Think Small and Social First’ initiative could include co-designing calls with social innovators; simplifying application and reporting processes for grants under €100,000; enabling grantees to pursue more responsive and iterative development approaches; making funding timescales more flexible; and allowing small sub-contracts for core tasks

9. Embed social innovation actors in governments through a new ‘Innovate4Europe’ initiative

Our consultation identified a real need to strengthen the capacity, skills and incentives for public officials and policymakers to support and draw on (citizen-led) social innovation, and to experiment with new approaches that allow citizens and social actors to be more included in policymaking processes. Modelled on Code For America, this initiative would establish a cross-European network that could help governments tackle challenges such as improving community engagement and co-design with citizens; setting up partnerships with social innovators; encouraging and supporting public officials to apply social innovation principles to their work; or opening public procurement up to social innovation.

10. Establish ‘Public Procurement Pathfinders’ (PPP) to connect government agencies with social innovation actors (including civic start-ups, social innovation-focused SMEs or social economy players)

While the 2014 public procurement directive has created a legal basis for public authorities to consider social value in procurement decisions, public procurement is still hard to access for many civic start-ups, social innovation-focused SMEs or social economy players. The PPP should support public authorities to experiment with new, more efficient ways of procuring services from social innovation actors. It should explore possibilities to use open data, open standards and open contracting to make procurement accessible to a much wider range of actors, including social innovators.

This Declaration is a statement of intent from the community to ensure that social innovation is given the political visibility and support it deserves. We need your help to show European decision-makers that we are a powerful and determined force for change in Europe.

Make history with us and sign the #SIDeclaration!

Nesta is a partner in the Social Innovation Community project which produced the #SIDeclaration. Join us on 12 and 13 November 2018 in Seville for a chance to discuss the Declaration and how to implement it at the Social Innovation Community project’s final event.

Declaration illustration by Ed Grace


Madeleine Gabriel

Madeleine Gabriel

Madeleine Gabriel

Mission Director, sustainable future mission

Madeleine leads Nesta’s mission to create a sustainable future, which focuses on decarbonisation and economic recovery.

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Sophie Reynolds

Sophie Reynolds

Sophie Reynolds

Former Senior Researcher - Public and Social Innovation

Sophie was a Senior Researcher in Nesta’s Policy and Research unit. She is now Director of Sophie Reynolds Research & Consultancy.

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