During this year's European Week of Regions and Cities, the Knowledge Exchange Platform gathered policymakers and experts from local, regional and European level in Brussels to discuss how cities and regions can catalyse social innovation – that is, new products, services or models that respond to social needs.
Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), opened the seminar held on 10 October. Mr Lambertz highlighted the inclusive character of social innovation, pointing out that it can improve the economic and social fabric of a region and at the same time facilitate citizens' daily life. "It strengthens social cohesion and supports the development of basic services that are accessible to everyone", he said.
President Lambertz pointed out that many social innovation projects begin at local level with the support of local and regional authorities. "Cities and regions are laboratories of new ideas, which can be scaled up to benefit all European citizens", he emphasized.
The CoR has called the European Commission to make social innovation one of the criteria in applications for EU funds, to open funds and programmes to non-traditional institutions and groupings and to allow more room for experimentation. While this is not yet the case, Frank Cecconi (FR/RE), Member of the Ile-de-France Regional Council and rapporteur for a recent opinion on Public Sector Innovation, welcomed the mission-oriented approach in EU's research and innovation policies and programmes in the 2021–2027 long-term budget, as this is blurring the boundaries between social and technological innovation.
Successful examples were presented by CoR members:
- Accessible Zagreb, Croatia: Deputy Mayor Jelena Pavičić Vukičević (HR/PES) explained that the city of Zagreb has adopted inclusiveness as a guiding idea to improve accessibility in all areas of life, putting user experience and perspective in the centre and covering fields from childcare to public transport and social services.
- Active Ageing in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy: By creating a supportive, resilient and friendly environment for everyone, Friuli Venezia Giulia aims to transform the ageing of the population into an opportunity for social and economic development. Measures include support for home care and against loneliness. "Healthy settings for older people are healthy settings for all", Member of Regional Council Franco Iacop (IT/PES) said.
The Knowledge Exchange Platform (KEP) is a concept jointly developed by the European Committee of the Regions and DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission. It is aimed at presenting new R&I solutions, innovative products and best practices in response to societal challenges facing the regions and cities of Europe. In 2019, the KEP has addressed the themes of Industry 4.0 and Social Innovation.