Supporting social innovation

Kit departementalESS N°10

June 2021

Réseau des collectivités Territoriales pour une Economie Solidaire (RTES)

In connection with the renewal of departmental and regional executives in June 2021, the RTES is proposing a DepartmentalESS kit to raise awareness among candidates and provide tools for future teams wishing to support the social and solidarity economy (SSE).

This kit will include about twenty practical sheets, based on the principle of the MunicipalESS Kit published in 2020, illustrated with examples, and presenting in a synthetic and concrete way how a regional council can include the SSE in its policies.

Sheet No. 10 presents the driving role of the departments in the social innovation sector.

Social innovation encourages the joint construction of responses to the needs of territories, by bringing together public actors, citizens and businesses, and is often a factor in breaking down the barriers between public policies.

Supporting social innovation for a department is undoubtedly inventing the solidarity of tomorrow!

What is social innovation?

« Social innovation consists of developing new responses to new or poorly satisfied social needs under the current conditions of the market and social policies, by involving the participation and cooperation of the actors concerned, particularly users. These innovations concern the product or service as well as the mode of organisation, distribution, (…). They go through a process involving several steps: emergence, experimentation, dissemination and evaluation ». Source: Conseil supérieur de l’Économie sociale et solidaire.

What does the law say?

The law on the SSE of 31 July 2014 itself defined social innovation in its Article 15 by highlighting either the responses it provides to « social needs that are not or are poorly met », or the way in which it does so, via « an innovative form of enterprise, through an innovative process of producing goods or services or through an innovative mode of work organisation. » Social innovation is therefore a broad concept that affects both results and processes.

There are several possible levers for action:

Encourage spaces for the identification and emergence of citizen innovations

Social innovation is part of a territorial and citizen-based approach, calling on the local mobilisation of citizens.

As far upstream as possible, monitoring by the Department’s elected officials and technicians will make it possible to identify emerging needs and solutions that emerge as close to the ground as possible.

Consultative bodies, such as the departmental SSE council in Pas-de-Calais or the SSE advisory committee in Ille-et-Vilaine, are places where projects can be identified and brought to light. Innovation fairs, citizen forums or creative evenings with residents are also possible spaces for emergence.

In 2019, the Gironde departmental council launched Solutions Solidaires, which is both an annual meeting to cross-reference, compare and project social innovations; a factory of new solidarities, mutual aid and cooperation; and a digital platform to lead a wide-ranging debate and organise an abundance of ideas to invent the solutions of tomorrow.

Pas-de-Calais: from social innovation markers to the citizen budget

Since 2018, the Department has highlighted the potential for social innovation of SSE actors in Pas-de-Calais with the launch of an innovative citizen budget. This budget only finances initiatives led by residents, collectives and SSE companies and not by the departmental authority. Project leaders can submit their ideas on the website and are directed to « citizen initiative counters » to guide them in their discovery of the SSE at the launch of the project. Subsequently, citizens can vote for the projects they wish to see financially supported by the Departmental Council.

This citizen’s budget follows the Department’s mobilisation of the Godin Institute, a social innovation R&D centre, to develop a common reference framework for social innovation at the local level. Co-constructed with SSE actors gathered within the Departmental SSE Council (CDESS), this approach led to the implementation of 11 « social innovation markers » (see resources).

Providing financial support for the emergence of projects

The departments can finance the emergence phases of SSE initiatives with several possible modalities.

This can take the form of a call for expressions of interest such as the Boite à Initiatives Départementales 54 in Meurthe-et-Moselle, launched in 2020 to support the emergence and experimentation of new ideas that meet the criteria of social innovation and cross the department’s competencies.

This funding can also be provided through a social innovation rebound fund, such as that of the Haute-Garonne department. This aid finances the expenses linked to the start-up of the activity (carrying out an operational study, feasibility study, qualification of the impact, recruitment of a first employee).

The departmental council also proposes to support project leaders and local authorities in order to strengthen the territorial anchoring of SSE projects (third-party locations, short circuits, circular economy are among the most recurrent themes in recent years). The projects must respond to a social, societal and/or ecological need not covered in the territory, be led by an SSE structure and be part of a strong territorial development logic

An experimental site

In Ille-et-Vilaine, financial support for initiatives in the emergence phase is part of the support system for the emergence of collective territorial projects. The projects must « respond to an unmet need in an urban or rural area, whether expressed by residents, local authorities, SSE structures, businesses, etc.". But they must always be built in consultation with SSE actors, inhabitants and communities: « The ownership of the project by the territory is decisive ».

Among the winners is the association Graine d’oasis, which has created an experimental place, generating social links in the heart of the Val-Couesnon commune. The aim is to develop a culture of participation in the surrounding communes with a view to creating services in rural areas. With a bistro, a grocery shop, a shared garden and a performance space, this association has 150 members and has created its first job.

Anticipating the innovations of tomorrow… and the day after tomorrow

In 2014, in his report for the départements, Remi Chaintron drew the attention of the départements to « the innovations of tomorrow »: the circular economy and the energy transition; the uses and potential of digital technology; the silver economy, etc. Today, with, for example, recycling centres, citizen energy production projects, free and digital associations, medico-social structures that put home automation at the service of seniors, etc., these are themes that have been widely explored by the SSE. It is interesting to note that the « innovations of tomorrow » in 2014 are innovations that are emerging now.

The Moselle department’s « Social Innovation in Moselle » call for projects has thus supported in 2019 and 2020 a mobile recycling centre that criss-crosses the department, a mobile geolocation and alert application for victims of cardiac arrest, and an online portal to manage the collection of small quantities of foodstuffs from local shops for solidarity associations, etc. The department can set up a foresight unit with these committed actors to better anticipate the challenges of the future.

Monitoring and support

In Occitania, the « YESS Academy » aims to identify SSE projects as early as possible and enable them to make significant progress in two days of meetings during which each project is coached by financial, legal or communication experts. Workshops are organised throughout the region to help identify projects. Led by Adefpat ("Acteurs projets territoires"), the approach is financed by the départements (Lot, Lozère, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne).

To go further

  • RTES newsletter n°31, Collectivités & innovation sociale (including the insert dedicated to social innovation markers) 2019

  • The Avise social innovation file and the Avise guide « L’innovation sociale, mode d’emploi ».

  • The association: a space for democratic innovation? Expériences et pratiques de gouvernance de participation et d’accompagnement », Injep, Cahiers de l’action, n°53, March 2019.

  • Les départements, pionniers des démarches d’innovation publique », on the 27th Region website.

  • Rémi Chaintron, mission report on innovation-driven departments.