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The potential of social policy innovation and partnerships across sectors: conclusions from a high-level conference


On 19-20 May 2014, the European Commission’s DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) organised a conference including major stakeholders from several sectors, with a view to mobilising and examining the potential of social policy innovation to solve complex policy problems. The event brought together civil society and NGO representatives, public sector actors, private companies and academics to share evidence on social policy innovation, and to showcase ongoing developments in Europe. Presenters and keynote speakers emphasised the importance of partnership, notably to meet the EU2020 targets on inclusive, smart and sustainable growth. A full report of the event, including presentations, can be found on DG EMPL’s website.

Core themes discussed

The two-day event revolved around three main themes, namely the role of knowledge sharing in social policy innovation and the development of evidence-based policy research; the EU’s infrastructure for social innovation and its investment funds; and the role of partnerships for innovation. The introductory, keynote speech by Commissioner László Andor on the way forward for social investment argued that one major aim was to ensure that the MSs have the capacity to implement social policy innovation and reform, and pointed out that this conference was an opportunity to lay the groundwork for the EU’s future approach to social policy. Then, Professor Frank Vandenbroucke provided a theoretical framework for analysing social innovation, arguing that the EU as a union of welfare states should aim for greater consensus in the social union. Speaking for the Commission, Dr. Lieve Fransen explained that several EU Member States do not yet use EU funds sufficiently, and that often, results from projects may lack in clarity, hence the EC’s focus on investing in social innovation to enable learning and to facilitate knowledge sharing. Various speakers pointed to the tensions between economic imperatives such as maximising employment, and trade-offs including minimum wage provision, among others.

The state of social innovation in the EU

Following the keynote speeches, participants in the conference benefitted from a ‘field update’ in the form of showcasing sessions demonstrating how various social innovation initiatives operate. Some of the sessions focused on youth inclusion for children in difficult situations, investment in children and work-life balance, as well as opportunities through financial inclusion, social entrepreneurship, and active ageing, among other themes. Panellists from a wide range of EU Member States such as Spain, Finland, the United Kingdom and Romania provided insights into their projects in small group sessions which provided opportunities for participants to ask questions. The EPIC team presented alongside Community Mothers, a ‘best practice’ listed on the EPIC website, and attended showcase presentations from the EU Network of Social Integration Enterprises, the Portuguese Banco Inovação Social, and the European Microfinance Network. Presenters introduced some of the day-to-day challenges they face, notably in terms of replication and setting up appropriate financial framework.

The May 2014 Social Policy Innovation conference provided an opportunity for stakeholders and actors in the field to get together to learn more about the EU’s priorities and mechanisms in this area, but also to get together to foster future collaboration to help Europe meet its targets.