This book addresses the potential and the implications of Digital Social Innovation (DSI) on the reform of the European welfare state.
We are aware that talking about DSI and welfare reforms together may appear at first sight antithetical, or even almost an oxymoron, as DSI is fundamentally promoting grassroots initiatives to address localised societal problems while welfare reforms are considered a matter of top political and professional elites committed to an ultimate grand design. However, we believe that the flourishing of social innovation initiatives, with their localistic and case-based approach, can help solve the enormous structural problems that welfare democracies are suffering. On one side, social welfare is marred by wicked problems that have already falsified the standard approaches and need counterintuitive moves. On the other side, DSI succeeds in attracting the attention of policy makers and contributing with democratic experimentalism to the public debate on options for systemic social change.
Under the research viewpoint, in the last few years leading-edge research from welfare studies, digital technology and social innovation have separately informed our understanding of social welfare’s evolution in the digital age. According to ScienceDirect, in the period 2010–2020 more than 20.700 publications concerning “social welfare” have been published. It is surprising to note that only a 3% of them is related to changes in welfare systems with the use of digital technology. From the innovation viewpoint, there are 2,168 contributions on social innovation in general. Only 15 contributions focus on “Digital Social Innovation”, of which 8 also involve the welfare system. We believe this is a promising but still insufficient wealth of contributions to address the numerous open questions relating to the topic.
In this book, we aimed at extending this knowledge by focusing on key issues, such as the nature of social innovation and its effects; the requirements for its scaling up to address structural problems and make systemic change; new social risks and challenges; the role of digital thinking and emerging technologies; public governance approaches oriented towards social experiments; tolerance of institutions for the diversity of approaches and risk of failures; how the welfare system integrates innovation; and the empowerment of marginalised citizens.
These topics are examined from an integrated and multi-disciplinary perspective, which takes into consideration not only the current debate in EU on policy trends for social protection, but also the nature of digital transformation and its effects on social change, from the path dependency and complexity of the welfare systems to the political paradigms that drive their change.
The chapters examine some key trends that can support welfare redesign, which include the rise of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the public sector; social changes and their challenges to the current policy settlement; and the burgeoning initiatives of social innovation in the welfare system. To this end, we collected a selected set of empirical studies involving different EU countries and policy areas. By drawing on these experiences, the book offers analyses, proposals and critical viewpoints that reflect the high diversity of approaches characterizing Digital Social Innovation, strengthening the theoretical bases and inspire further praxis.
Digital social innovation is a young area that deserves more research from academia, attention from policy makers and resources from governments. Drawing contributions from welfare studies, political science, sociology, psychology, law and computer science, this book shows the advantages and potential of integrating the perspectives of researchers, practitioners and policy makers.
On the other hand, the book also aims at highlighting the adoption barriers, limitations and failures that constellate this emerging approach. Welfare failures, such as inequality, poverty, segregation and deprivation, have been exacerbated by COVID-19. The pandemic is a health problem but also a new (or very old) social risk, as social protection scholars understand. The European Union is reacting laudably by putting aside the financial compact and investing in society and the economy as never before from its foundations. These are appropriate times for laying the foundation for the future welfare state.
Fabrizio Davide, Andrea Gaggioli, Gianluca Misuraca
Rome, Milan, Seville