Social Innovation in the European Context

#SIEBerlin: 2 days of thinking about #socinn & system change. Follow @ryanglittle and #SIEBerlin for updates. pic.twitter.com/MkOv6thcsv

— BMW Foundation (@bmwfoundation) June 22, 2015

By Aine McGlynn

How can Social Innovators advance their work in a way that relies less on luck, and more on established networks of support? Framework was delighted to be invited to participate in Ecosystems for Social Innovation: Creating capacity for systemic change in Europe, and to contribute our ideas to such questions. There were more than 70 participants in attendance – mostly from Europe, though there were also several Social Innovators from Asia, and I was happy to find a fellow Canadian in attendance – Kelsey Spitz from SIG National.

It was a packed two days as we encountered tough themes: Are the terms that we use to talk about Social Innovation mere placeholders for a far more complex and inexpressible praxis that exceeds terminology and catchphrases? To what extent has Social Innovation jumped the shark as a concept? By trying to fit it into networks and frameworks are we eliding and short-circuiting a process which is inherently messy and difficult?  These are some of the questions that were on the table at Social Innovation Europe’s 

two-day conference recently held in Berlin in partnership with the BMW Foundation.

There were some key takeaways from both frontline service providers whose work takes them closer to the heart of why social innovation is necessary, as well as from people working at the level of policy and research. For instance, a simple idea emerged: scale the process, not the innovation. This gets at the heart of the social innovation conundrum. How to develop theories of change that focus not on the end user, or on the product, but that demonstrate new ways of working which are more replicable than products or innovations which themselves are often context bound or at least, not universally translatable (see for example the damning report published last year in the New Republic about scaling innovations in the context of international development).

One of the best takeaways was learning about work funded by the EU to track and record all the organizations doing Digital Social Innovation work across Europe.  To date, the project has tracked 1102 organisations with 689 collaborative research and innovation projects. This is infinitely cool and would be super interesting to establish in Canada. And the coolest thing is that it would be easy to replicate because Nesta, the lead organizers, have made the API documentation and the project code  available on GitHub.

Intensive & inspiring 2 days of #SIEBerlin come to an end, thx to @SIEurope_SIE it was great! pic.twitter.com/lZ9t27wvsW

— Social Impact (@socialimpactlab) June 23, 2015

After having taken the last 7 weeks away from full-time work in the sector, the two days working with the amazing group of people gathered in Berlin re-energized my thinking about how Framework can share our work. We have made our web-audit methodology open for anyone to use, we have created a Timeraiser “I” model for any community to replicate the Timeraiser model, and we can do even more to help scale our processes both across Canada and much further as well.

It was exciting to hear people’s reactions to our work at Framework. Both the Timeraiser and TimeraiserPlus programs resonated with people who appreciated our work for what it is: unique, and essential interventions at the level of the individual and the small-medium sized organization.  These interventions are in themselves sometimes very small (an introduction to how to use a drag and drop website editor, a connection facilitated between an org and a skilled volunteer, a $750 cheque issued to a Calgary-based artist), but collectively are impactful.