Workshop Report: Social innovation and Interreg – an odd couple or a perfect match?

We would like to say thank you to all speakers of the #socialinterreg workshop on 10 December 2020. For updates on future workshops, please check this website regularly, follow the #socialinterreg hashtag or send us an email.

Social issues are the responsibility of the European Social Fund! And innovation is a topic for high-tech industries and IT start-ups! This is what some people seem to have thought when the transnational cooperation programmes of the 2014-2020 funding period were designed. However, the #socialinterreg initiative, funded by the German Federal Programme Transnational Cooperation, has shown that this falls short. In an online conference on 10 December 2020, around 70 project and programme actors from seven programme areas met to discuss how the interaction of social innovation and Interreg worked in the expiring funding period and what the prospects are for the new Interreg programmes from 2021-2027.

In the 2014-2020 funding period, the various Interreg B programmes have supported social innovation projects to a different extent and with diverging focuses. While the North Sea Region Programme was largely limited to promoting innovation in the public sector and the Baltic Sea Region Programme included a rather unspecific funding objective of “non-technological innovation”, both the Central Europe and the Danube Region Programmes very specifically and explicitly supported capacity building and the testing of funding opportunities for social innovation.

How Interreg projects support social innovation

Despite (or perhaps because of) these different framework conditions and definitions of social innovation, an impressive variety of projects on this topic have developed in recent years. Thus, with Interreg support, among others

  • new financing mechanisms for social entrepreneurship were tested,
  • founders in the field of social entrepreneurship were trained and coached by successful entrepreneurs,
  • disadvantaged groups such as migrants, single parents or young people without prospects were systematically involved in the development of new social services or municipal decision-making processes,
  • new strategies for maintaining social and public service provision and establishing a welcoming culture in rural areas were developed, and,
  • recommendations for smarter, more digital and more targeted public sector services developed and implemented.

Social innovation in Interreg conference

The online conference on 10 December was opened by Jens Kurnol from the BBSR (Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development), who is himself involved in the programming for the new funding period. In his presentation, Jens Kurnol emphasised that territorial and social cohesion are mutually dependent and that social innovation makes an important contribution to ensuring that rural areas also remain liveable. This is also confirmed by the recently adopted renewed Territorial Agenda 2030.

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Howaldt, Director of the Social Research Centre in Dortmund, gave a keynote speech on how social innovation can be defined in science and practice and what the role of cooperation between different actors in the development of an ecosystem for social innovation means. He called for greater consideration to be given to social innovation in innovation policy, both at national and European level, and for innovation to be seen not only from the perspective of growth, but also of overcoming social challenges. He recommended project actors in the Interreg sector to think outside the box and not only refer to social innovation in the social sector. Rather, it could make diverse and essential contributions to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Social innovation in the upcoming funding period

Afterwards, four Interreg projects had the opportunity to present themselves. It became clear that a cross-programme area exchange on methods and results of the projects would have enabled many synergy effects. Such an exchange was also suggested for the coming funding period. The initiators of #socialinterreg promised to continue the networking efforts in 2021.

The Interreg programme secretariats also had their say, represented by Jana Valkova from the Central European Programme and Stephen Halligan and Marius Niculae from the Interreg Danube Region Programme. In their speeches and in the subsequent fishbowl discussion, they underlined the importance of the project results of the current funding period, especially in equalising social and geographical inequalities. Like Julia Eripret from the Interreg Northwest Europe Programme, they were optimistic, in view of the final spurt in shaping the content of the new Interreg B programmes, that the importance of social innovation would be more strongly recognised by those responsible for the programmes and that its promotion would be expanded rather than restricted in the new programmes. To this end, the programmes would refer to the policy goals 1 “A smarter Europe” and 4 “A more social Europe”. Social innovation is also increasingly seen not only as an end in itself, but as a means to achieve goals, e.g. in the area of climate change or the circular economy.

In the afternoon, three specific aspects were discussed in workshops, including the role of social innovation in macro-regional strategies using the example of the Baltic Sea Region, the measurability of the impact of social innovation and cross-sectoral cooperation.


Date: 10 December 2020 from 09.00-12.00 and 14.00-16.00 CET
Agenda: (PDF)


Plenary Session

Workshop 1: Does social innovation have a place in the EUSBSR?

Workshop 2: How to measure the success of social innovation projects?

Workshop 3: How to initiate collaboration on social innovation across sectors?