Social Innovation on the Rise: Yet Another Buzzword in Time of Austerity?

Friday, July 10, 2015
S13 (13 rue de l'Université)
Francesco Grisolia , Magna Graecia University of Cantanzaro, Italy
Emanuele Ferragina , Oxford Institute of Social Policy, University of Oxford
Social innovation, commonly defined as new ideas (products, services and models) that simultaneously meet social needs and create new social relationships or collaborations, is considered both good for society and capable of fostering collective involvement in the provision of social services. Over the last two decades social innovation has gained significant popularity in Italy (and in other Mediterranean countries) as a strategy to tackle new social risks within healthcare and employment policy.

The Italian NHS is paradigmatic of broader trends toward decentralisation, marketization and a new balance between public and private funding. Inspired by a mere logic of cost-effectiveness and indiscriminate cuts, the restructuring of the NHS is contributing to increased inequalities and territorial disparities. Experiments in social innovation have been also implemented in the labour market in order to cope with new social risks, i.e. precarious employment and the inability to reconcile work and family life. However, the Italian welfare state has not been structurally reformed to deal with these new risks yet.

In conclusion, we question the idea that social innovation can substantially address the inadequacies of the Italian welfare state, counter-balancing the retrenchment of public social provisions. Against this backdrop, general calls to social innovation may contribute to a shift in political attention from public to private responsibility and be instrumental in avoiding heated discussions on structural inequalities. In absence of a structural reform of the Italian welfare state, social innovation might then become a buzzword echoing neoliberal mantras in times of austerity.

  • Social innovation in a time of austerity-useful resource or convenient buzzword.doc (195.0 kB)