Innovation, societal challenges and alpine area, ways of reflection on yesterday and tomorrow

The INTERREG Alpine Social Innovation Strategy (ASIS) project has been completed for 5 months. But what this project wanted to impulse, the very heart of the project, is only at the very beginning…

This period of new school year is an opportunity to capitalize on this European experience and explore the field of possibilities for the future.

Birth of the ASIS project, a raison d’être:

This project was born out of the desire to bring about a change in the very vision of public innovation policies. Current innovation policies seek to encourage a knowledge-based economy and support the economic development potential of innovations, but they are still insufficiently thought of as contributing to new societal opportunities, providing new solutions to our social and environmental challenges, and playing a key role in new forms of organization and functioning of society.  Policies to support research and innovation are still very compartmentalized and guided by very different issues and objectives: on the one hand, technological innovation, which echoes economic criteria, competitiveness, disruptive innovation and risks, and on the other hand, social innovation, which echoes poorly satisfied social needs and the general interest.

In a rapidly changing society, where social and environmental issues are more important than ever, cooperation between innovation players (local authorities, universities, private players, civil society) is fundamental in order to respond collectively to these issues, which should be the driving force behind all forms of innovation. The way in which innovation policies are conceived and constructed leads to compartmentalized policies, with their own specific issues, and multi-speed policies.

This ASIS project thus had several ambitions: 

  1. Not to make social innovation a separate category, but to consider the criteria of social innovation as transversal, common to all forms of innovation.

  2. To decompartmentalize the forms and actors of innovation, in order to respond collectively, through innovation, to the same goal. Whether this innovation is technological, social, organizational or in terms of use, the main driver could be the relevance of the collective response to a societal issue, and not just the potential for economic development.

  3. Impulse a change in the construction and implementation of new public policies. Indeed, the criteria of social innovation can be applied both to the projects that emerge in our territories and to the way in which the policies themselves are constructed and deployed.

This ambitious project therefore sought to change several levels: how to think and build a new public policy? how to support and accompany innovation in order to address the societal issues of today and tomorrow? And for this, a change in the very vision of innovation was necessary…

What ASIS has developed:

Our project therefore set out from the outset to define a common vision of innovation in the Alpine area, which takes up the criteria of social innovation: 1. a new answer to social needs or societal challenges, met by Alpine area, regardless of the nature of the innovation (technology, services, new uses…), 2. through a collaborative approach that involves beneficiaries, users and affected stake holders, 3. that has a positive, sustainable and measurable impact. 

Our project then identified the common issues to be addressed in the Alpine area, with regard to the specificities of our territories, in order to bring out the strategic axes of collective actions.

As the paradigm shift we were trying to impulse in this vision of innovation was important, we then focused our efforts on the development of numerous tools, guides and trainings in order to raise the awareness of actors to the criteria of social innovation and to the way they can be applied. Thus, our guides allow to better understand the notion of social impact, cooperation, experimentation of new policies, financing of innovation (here), our trainings deepen these notions in order to better master the concept of social innovation, to better identify and accompany projects, to manage risks or to build new policies (here), our simulation tool is dedicated to the evaluation of innovation projects when you are a public actor, an agency or a cluster that accompanies these projects (here). 

Finally, the outcome of this project was the production of concrete recommendations to develop new innovation policies, both at the local and transnational levels. Our White Book gathers all these recommendations, which are now ready to be tested and deployed (here)!

All these resources must be accessible to as many people as possible, which is why they have been translated into all the languages used in the Alpine area. 

ASIS, what’s next? 

There is still a long way to go for the results of the ASIS project to bring about a change in scale. This project was a first step (strategic policy development) in order to question in depth the question of the vision of innovation in the Alpine arc and to raise awareness of the criteria and challenges of social innovation. It has allowed the production of numerous supports and tools and above all of detailed public policy recommendations. However, it has not been possible to initiate a second, more experimental stage, dedicated to a pilot test phase of the main recommendations resulting from this project.

At the Alpine level, we note that progress is still very disparate. At the level of the INTERREG Alpine Space program, the notion of social innovation is mentioned in different places in the new work program, in a transversal way and then applied to specific themes (such as digitalization, energy efficiency) but we do not identify any axis on the transformation of the vision of innovation and on the methodology itself in order to co-construct, deploy and evaluate a new public policy. At the level of EUSALP, we do not find any reference to social innovation, however some action groups have a field of intervention that could echo social innovation, such as action group 1: “to develop an effective research and innovation ecosystem = identification of key strategic sectors where cooperation in R&I can impact either in economic or societal terms”. At the level of the Alpine Convention, the 6 priorities do not refer to social innovation criteria either.

Thus, we can identify 3 issues at the end of this ASIS project: 

  1. To contribute and intensify our participation in the dynamics of European policies and in particular in the policies of the Alpine space in order to disseminate the 3 criteria of social innovation as a prerequisite for innovation today and tomorrow.

  2. Continue to raise awareness and disseminate our results: tools, guides, training, recommendations and White Book in order to increase our impact and encourage a change of scale.

  3. To test in real conditions several recommendations of the White Book (pilot actions) in order to concretely experiment, on several territories of the Alpine space, the criteria of social innovation in public policies of innovation. To do this, work was carried out during the summer to identify the most mature recommendations. The challenge in the coming weeks is to identify public actors ready to contribute to this change of vision and to experiment with new ways of doing things.

So, if you are a public authority and you want to experiment new approaches and new policies in the field of innovation, please let us know…!

By Christine André, project coordinator

Oxalis scop, a cooperative of entrepreneurs that experiment new ways to work and to cooperate