Social innovation, the new challenge for europe

2008Social innovation, the new challenge for Europe; is an article about the meaning and the importance for Europe of workplace innovation; in the Netherlands they refer to the concept with ‘social innovation’.

Workplace innovation (i.c. ‘social innovation’) is a broader concept than organizational innovation. The former Dutch National Centre for Social Innovation (NCSI, 2006 – 2012) examined workplace innovation, promoted and developed it in cooperation with its partners.

Workplace Innovation
Workplace innovation or  Social innovation is seen as complementary to technological innovation and includes elements such as dynamic management, flexible organization, working smarter, development of competences and networking between organizations. 

Reasons for Workplace Innovation
There are roughly four reasons for workplace innovation:

  1. The need to improve labor  productivity to maintain  our level of welfare and social security in the near future (also in view of the aging population);
  2. The intention to develop and use the competencies of labor force to enhance the added value of a competitive and knowledge-based society;
  3. The improvement of the profitability of technological innovations for companies and public organizations, since technological innovations only succeed when embedded in workplace innovation.
  4. Workplace innovation itself  appears more important for innovation success (75%) than technological innovation (25%).

Dutch National Centre for Social Innovation
The Dutch National Centre for Social Innovation (NCSI) was founded  in 2006 by trade unions, employers’ organizations and universities. (In 2012 these founders decided that the mission was completed and stopped the institution delegating the tasks to other societal institutions.)
These founders occupied  the board of the foundation. The foundation itself was led by Ton de Korte, director, a management assistant, a person for Public Relations and communication, and five program leaders. Several companies and institutions supported  the NCSI financially, they occupied the Programme Council. The Programme Council  had  a say in the activities of the NCSI. In addition there was a Knowledge Platform where knowledge and experiences were shared. The activities of the NCSI were also politically and financially supported by three ministries and the former Innovation Platform. However NCSI was no national program, deliberately the government did not participate actively in the center.

Activities of the NCSI
Several organizations developed their activities in collaboration with the NCSI. These included  training, workshops, applied research, experimentation, describing and disseminating best practices and a trainee program.

Health and productive work
Individual and group behavior is not only a result of motivation and job satisfaction, but additionally of engagement and involvement in the work and the organization. This can be stimulated by the creation of – among other things – autonomy and learning opportunities. These are the same factors as those that reduce psychological stress risks. Also an ergonomic design of the workplace promotes both health and productivity. Several studies show that the productivity benefits when stress prevention and ergonomic design of the workplace are included in the promotion of working smarter and using the skills and competencies of staff.

The involvement of the employee
There are three ways to develop engagement and social innovation:

  1. co-determination ( by the works council and in collective labor agreements)
  2. direct participation (by the design of the organization)
  3. self-management (‘Management on the basis of trust ‘)

New enthusiasm, new concept
In the Netherlands the concept of workplace innovation slowly got more meaning. Also in the European Commission more attention is paid to the “non-technological aspects of innovation." Further, more and more research is done on workplace innovation, and it is included in the European Innovation Scoreboard (since 2006). In 2007 at the European Productivity Congress the need for a more comprehensive approach to productivity was expressed. This is accepted by the European Association of National Productivity Centres (EANPC).
(In the mean time workplace innovation is an important part of the agenda of the European Commission, in the frame of the strategy of innovation and growth to pull Europe out of the crisis (“Mission for Growth’). One of the tools in this strategy is a European learning network for innovative work organization (EUWIN) started in 2013) 

See the annex for the article: Social innovation, the new challenge for Europe(2008) by Frank Pot and Fietje Vaas in the International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management vol. 57,  No. 6, p. 468-473.