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Social Innovation in the Basque Country

Author: Social Innovation Europe
Published Date: 4 April 2016

Building on Social Innovation Europe (SIE)'s country profiles which demonstrate a variety of views on what social innovation means to different kinds of organisations in a particular country, SIE also looking at how social innovation is carried out in different regions across Europe.


SIE recently interviewed Innobasque to learn more about social innovation in the Basque Country. The following interview builds on Innobasque's contribution to the country profile: Social Innovation in Spain.


How do the different roles of government support social innovation in the Basque Country?


Social  innovation  has entered  in  the  public  agenda tightly  related to public  innovation  policies and new  initiatives  to  foster a  social  open  innovation model.  This is because social innovation measures its success by its ability to have a disruptive impact on an institutional framework. As part and parcel of that institutional framework, public authorities have led the way with regards to turning social innovation into a device for systemic change.


In any case, the Basque public sector has a complex structure as it comprises three levels of administration (regional, provincial and municipal). These levels cover very different areas of responsibility but are accompanied by a solid structure of public companies which ensures that the promotion of social innovation falls on various levels. These three tiers are practically playing an active part in promoting social innovation by taking on four main roles:

  • Operational agents by incorporating social innovation into their structures and projects (as direct service providers and executors of policies). We must not forget that social innovation is strategy and therefore implies the need to create an impact more effectively, tackling the issues that really matter and doing so in a different way. The Basque authorities are designing and implementing new avenues for generating results by combining different resources, processes and policies in order to create public value. They are therefore exploring a participatory system for democracy and developing models for citizen participation and involvement in discussions and public decision making.
  • Financiers by promoting new  funding mechanisms for social innovation projects (new calls for applications for funding, prizes for the best initiatives, public-private partnerships when launching initiatives, etc.), as well as breaking new ground with regards to obtaining funds and allocating (using) them. Areas that are being addressed include designing and executing participatory public budgets, or redesigning tax structures and financial traceability in order to promote social innovation initiatives.
  • Catalysts for new ideas by promoting the creation of ideas and unlikely connections. In a crisis situation where there is a climate of conservatism, when structures are leaning towards homogenisation and there is a lack of diversity, Basque institutions have turned their focus on promoting forums for discussion, interaction… shared social learning with the clear objective of generating new perspectives, new partnerships and new solutions that result in experimental projects.
  • Promoters of a network for developing social innovation which allows the mass adoption of social innovations which demonstrate their impact during the experimentation stage. Basque institutions are helping to create a “market” which supports social innovation by incorporating it into their management process and into government structures and instruments (legislation, institutional development, etc.).

There are many initiatives being carried out which are based around these four roles. Basque Government,  for  instance,  has  included   the   promotion   of   social   innovation   in   several of   its   plans  -­The   Science,  Technology  and  Innovation Plan ,  the Public  innovation  Plan-. Furthermore, the  three  Provincial  Governments of Bizkaia,  Gipuzkoa and  Araba,  have developed  different  policy  instruments for  the   generation   and   selection   of   social   innovation   initiatives,   including   a   set   of   very   useful financial   instruments.  Municipalities are   also   focusing their  work   on   social   innovation,  by  developing  the  idea  of  social  smart  cities  and  promoting  citizen participation. In any event, there are still major challenges that must be resolved with regards to publicly promoting social innovation in the Basque Country, such as the scalability of social innovations or the development of new public-private relationship models. Nevertheless, when public institutions promote social innovation, there is probably one major common goal which enables the concept to take root, i.e. to measure and assess the real added value, the increase in shared public value which is generated by social innovations. 


How is the region organizing the social innovation players in the regional smart specialisation partnership? 


The Basque Country approved its Smart Specialisation Strategy and the strategic aims of the Science, Technology and Innovation Plan for 2014-2020 (STIP 2020) in order to create real benefits for companies and society by improving the productivity of the region´s innovative ecosystem. 


RIS3 has outlined the vertical priorities based on a triangle that takes into account: 1) the existence of scientific skills and distinguishing technologies, 2) the existence of a competitive production network, and 3) a focus on areas of opportunity. The final selection of vertical priorities includes energy, advanced manufacturing, biosciences and health, as well as certain niche areas that are linked to the region.


A series of horizontal priorities have also been outlined as the other key vector for transforming the system. These priorities are as follows: reorganisation of the Basque Science, Technology and Innovation Network (RVCTI), which is a network that brings together all the agents that have links with R&D&I in the region, better alignment between the university subsystem and specialist areas, talent management, internationalisation, innovation in public management, business transformation and innovation and social innovation.


In this cross-cutting axis, which aims to create an innovative and interconnected system, social innovation is regarded as an opportunity to offer a holistic and structured response­ to the major challenges of Basque society, such as employment, education and ageing. Science and technology play an important role in these processes but they need to be combined with a large dose­ of social innovation in order to facilitate the necessary changes in behaviour and get people and communities involved in the search for shared solutions.


In light of this, the Strategy for Social Innovation in the Basque Country which is outlined in the STIP2020 seeks to acknowledge the existence of social innovations, promote specific projects which involve good practices and form a network with European programmes. It is ultimately based on the following fundamental principles...


Read the full interview here. It includes:

  • More on the Strategy for Social Innovation in the Basque Country
  • How social innovation has been written into the ESF Operational Programme including how it has been done and what the budget is available for it
  • Calls for social innovation and eary projects being financed
  • The results hoping to be achieved at the end of the programme period