Declarations and Social Innovation

I always get nervous when declarations are made. Over two days in the middle of September, 2011 in Vienna a “Vienna Declaration” was made determining “the most needed social innovations and related research topics”

Maybe it is the way it has been written as a declaration but I’m left uncomfortable. When you read within the declaration document:

the ‘deliberations’ took place on what could be done to strengthen the social sciences capacity to play a prolific role in conceptualising and research of social innovation, and thus favour desirable development of the globalised knowledge society. This led to the idea of a Vienna Declaration that should identify critical areas of social and scientific development, and state a number of equally important corresponding research topics

The rationale behind the declaration states the Vienna Declaration is the first and immediate Core Deliverable of the Conference, created and established during the conference by joint efforts of all participants.

This makes me even more nervous, those that went decided to make a ‘universal’ declaration but OK, I can’t fully comment as it is difficult to see the whole context for this meeting. it remains unclear if it has a pivotal role or not within SIE in Europe, on behalf of the EU, on behalf of society within the EU? I’m left really not sure.

The declaration rationale then went onto stating:

The topics selected and prioritised do not represent the completion of the process of determining the most needed social innovations and the corresponding research issues. In fact the whole operation was built on being courageous enough to start the process of getting there, while at the same time remaining modest enough to know that this is just a beginning. It is perceived and shall be read, commented, and considered as the starting point in further clarification, specification, and operationalisation of important research topics social sciences shall deal with in an attempt to support processes of identification, development and implementation of the most needed social innovation of the 21st century. In addition, of course, social sciences also are requested to also study, analyse, and assess the societal impact of innovations in general, and of social innovations in particular

Finally the report suggests three main ways to build on the results achieved by the Challenge Social Innovation. (their wording)

  1. To collect questions, recommendations, comments of support and critical assessment alike, the first and unchanged result of the identification, wording and voting processes of the Vienna Declaration is published for discussion in an open forum at Any entry in this forum from 1st until 31st of Oct. 2011 will be recorded and analysed by the Steering Committee, (steering committee of the very people involved in the declaration?) feeding in to the revised and commented version of the Vienna Declaration in the first week of November.
  2. The revised version, taking into account suggestions and remarks to the initial version, will be broadly published and brought to personal attention of EC Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Ms. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, on Nov. 11th, 2011……..  At this stage of development it is neither possible to predict a certain impact in research and innovation support programmes, nor is there any guaranty that policy makers will really take into account proposed topics highlighted in the Vienna Declaration.
  3. The sensational high interest in Challenge Social Innovation – with 371 participants registered and many more who could not register any more because of extreme overbooking – together with high standards of presentations, discussions, and results delivered emphatically call for establishing further collaboration and community building. The European School of Social Innovation, formally based in Vienna, is conceived as an international Competence Network, reaching out to European and global scholars and institutions involved in social innovation research, academic education and vocational training. The proponents will organise a formal inaugural meeting later this year to establish the Board and other Organs of the Association, and to kick-off first concrete activities to become executed during  2012

This is a clear opening response to social need or is it?

It does sound like the conference was an overwhelming success for the participants. They are agenda setting, they are goal defining, they are research shaping. They are raising social innovation as a high sense of urgency to organize around. The question is for whom? For themselves to become an effective influencer independent of EU structure or an arm of the body set up to lead this?

They have adopted a set of research themes going forward made in response to major societal challenges  the Europe 2020 strategy sets measurable targets such as Employment of 75% of the workforce, investment of 3% of the EU GDP in Research, Development and Innovation (RDI), adapting to the challenges of Climate Change (20% less greenhouse gas emissions, 20% increase in energy efficiency, 20% of energy from renewable resources), reducing school drop-out rates below 10% and enabling 40% of age cohorts to complete third level Education, and reduce the number of people in or at risk of Poverty and Social Exclusion by 20 million.

I by the way have trouble with these strategies for Europe.

So far all I’ve seen does not tell me where we are coming from in regarding these measurable targets. Also I’m not clear how these strategies really does tackle real social problems of chronic health, promoting growth and well-being not only for, but also with the citizens, a stated objective of the initial social agenda documented by the European Commission. Where the citizens engaged in determining these? Does it offer effective ways or just more of the same ‘push’ of existing policies? These measurable results, have they been challenged, debated or discussed- I might have missed that.

This declaration leaves me concerned. Let me explain why

The explanation, I felt actually was very dismissive, as captured in the declaration:

“To aim at such specified targets involves the determination of a multiplicity of objectives and the need to co-ordinate scientific as well as practical activities in the wide domains of employment, RDI, climate change, education, and social inclusion. What is required here is only to a limited degree further development of business innovations and new technologies”. (my bold emphasis)

The declaration went on…..

The most urgent and important innovations in the 21st century will take place in the social field. This opens up the necessity as well as possibilities for social sciences to find new roles and relevance (my bold again)  by generating knowledge applicable to new dynamics and structures of contemporary and future societies”

In the present way this document is written it seems to have a narrow agenda where social science is seeking out its new role and relevance but what I found constantly missing was the social good that it will deliver?

For me social innovation needs scope, scale and impact in all we focus upon, otherwise it will not ‘shift the gauge‘ on social issues needing urgent action.

Is this socially reflective enough?

I’m just worried that the momentum behind this declaration is not as well thought through, balanced out, social inclusive, socially reflective enough.

If the wording is right “What is required here is only to a limited degree further development of business innovation and new technologies” then social innovation may never get off the ground. This cannot be right surely?

I still subscribe to the barriers that were identified in a document dated May 2010 entitled “Empowering people, driving change: social innovation in the European union”

It stated:

Social innovation is a risk-taking operation that requires imagination, perseverance and confidence to develop a creative idea of a product or service, and then implement a participative process and establish strong partnerships for its implementation and subsequent scaling-up. Social innovators are confronted with barriers that are often linked to an incompatible audit or regulatory culture.

Reviews and evaluations of EU programmes managed by the Commission have highlighted a number of obstacles to the development and mainstreaming of social innovations, including the traditional risk-averse and cautious organisational cultures of administrations, closed systems which favour single-issue solutions developed within clusters of organisations lacking mutual awareness, communication, networking and trust, fragmented capacities (resources, infrastructures and intermediaries) and skills (training, design tools, monitoring, validation and evaluation) preventing the development of a rich ‘eco-system’ for enabling social innovations, and insufficient stable, seamless and sustainable funding throughout all stages of the innovation cycle”

I must be missing something here– maybe social innovation inclusion

I seem to be reading another message with the Vienna Declaration from the above EU document. I’m certainly having a hard time to equate to this declaration. For me it needs an awful lot more contextual work and linking it back to all the social validation that has gone on before it needs to take place. Maybe I’m just reading this declaration wrong. Maybe I’ve missed some critical steps on how we got here.

I do get nervous on declarations, a lack of contextual background and timelines that allow for little constructive response. The implementation of any declaration is within the details and this misses much for me as it presently stands,  not in their enthusiasm but in relationship to what has been developed before this declaration, in policy outlines and direction of social concepts.

Declarations can be noble but the wider community needs fully engaging for any implementation otherwise it becomes, in this case just a further body of academic suggestions that might miss the real mark.

One thought on “Declarations and Social Innovation

  1. Pingback: Declarations and Social Innovation | Innovation really matters |

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