Stream 9

Social Innovation and Self-organization in Social Policy


Stream convenors:
Social Innovation is high on the European (research) agenda in recent years. The EU has funded many research programmes on social innovation (WILCO, SI-drive, TRANSIT, CRESSI, SOCIETY, ITTSOIN, etc.), thereby promoting third sector initiatives, local community building, the development of civic engagement and of social enterprises in the assumption that these contribute to fulfilling social needs and stimulate social participation. This EU policy focus seems to fit neatly to transformations of European welfare states, shifting from institutionalized corporatism to decentralized stakeholders ‘participatism’. In this new constellation citizens, professionals, enterprises and local governments are assumed to cooperate in creating innovative practices and processes, which should result in ‘better outcomes’ in regards to social needs, more equal power relations, and democratic participation (Moulaert et al, 2014). Reviews of the social innovation literature however, indicate that the concept of social innovation is still highly debated, both in the definition of ‘social innovation’ and whether it includes mainly outcomes or processes, as well as how to evaluate private versus public value (Ruëde & Lurtz, 2012). Many ‘social innovative cases’ relate in an ambiguous way to social policy.

Social innovative practices mainly exist in:
  1. small-size local projects depending on private initiatives lacking institutional embedding
  2. one issue innovations (in the field of care, housing, neighbourhood facilities, education)
  3. depend on voluntary self-organisation (Evers, Ewert & Brandsen, 2014).

Social innovative participatism therefore can be discussed as either an addition to social policy in its democratic participatory focus including co-production of multiple stakeholders (marginalized citizens, social entrepreneurs, new social movements), in the process of the making of social – and environmental – welfare. It can also be discussed as a fragile substitute for social policy because of its silo-focus, lack of institutional embedding and dependency on self-organization.

This stream proposal  invites scholars to contribute to the analysis of social innovative practices in relationship to social policies, and in the context of (comparative) welfare state reforms. We suggest to refer to the following questions:

⟨ List of Stream Themes

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