Innovation in Europe's social systems and the role of ICT

Telecentre Europe was recently invited by the European Commission to participate in its High-Level Conference on Social Policy Innovation (Brussels, 19-20/05/2014). The conference was organised by DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion and aimed to contribute to the deployment of Europe 2020: Social Policies agenda.  

The EC firmly expects that social policy innovation and experimentation will contribute to implement structural reforms based on a social investment perspective, as defined in the Social Investment Package. Social investment seems to encompass any new social expenditure that governments or the Commission might plan on top of their usual expenditure to maintain the social protection system, and that could improve the welfare system – in times when this is in evident danger! Indeed, social policy innovation has been prioritised by the EC in the new programming period of the European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds, in particular the European Social Fund.

The Conference was conceived to encourage Member States to adopt innovative policy approaches to deliver on their commitments in the framework of the Europe 2020 Strategy, and to contribute to the promotion of strategic partnerships for social policy innovation. A large number of Member states’ and social stakeholders’ representatives met at the conference, including myself. Commissioner Andor opened the Conference, which was structured in four thematic sessions:

1. Social Policy reforms: the role of social policy innovation, social investments and knowledge-sharing

2. Social policy innovation: using the potential of ESI Funds

3. Partnerships for innovation in social policies

4. Evidence-based research relevant for policy making

There was also a rich show-casing sessions structured in four parallel sessions, one of which nicely surprised me because of its focus on ICT as an enabler of Social Policy Innovation. Fundación ONCE (Spain) presented Por Talento [For Talent], an innovative portal to match job supply and demand for disabled people, while IPTS (EC) presented two cases (from France and UK) where ICT has been used in long-term care with elderly people and their domiciliary carers (which recalls to our projects Carer+ and Carenet).

Before concluding this brief blog post, it is worth mentioning that the kind of innovation expected by the EC is what Mr Fernández López (DG EMPL) called “systemic”, that is, innovation that after experimentation demonstrates to have a true potential to improve a particular aspect of the social system of a region or a country. This dimension should be seriously tackled by grassroots organization interested to contribute to improve social policies with support of European funds.

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