HEInnovate for Social Innovation - fostering social inclusion in education through knowledge exchange

The HEInnovate webinar held on the 24th June 2021 hosted a discussion on the role Higher Education institutions can play to foster social inclusion through knowledge exchange, and included the presentation of an experimental project that used the arts to achieve better policy-making and boost social innovation. The speakers presented their wide range of experiences, drawing from projects and experiments carried out in Europe and in the rest of the world. The webinar attracted an audience of 66 people and was moderated by Zsuzsa Jávorka, Managing Consultant at Technopolis Group.

The first panellist was Alfredo Garmendia, Head of International Affairs at Centro San Viator, a vocational education and training (VET) school in Spain which is committed to promoting social inclusion and provides support to organisations that need help in introducing social inclusion practices. Alfredo introduced the topic and presented his experience of being part of a number of EU initiatives focussing on social inclusion for example through the Centres of Vocational Excellence, or pilot VET mobility schemes for the Western Balkans or with Africa (SAAM - Supporting Alliance for African Mobility).

Centro San Viator is a partner in the Erasmus + project VET in 3D which seeks to raise awareness on the three key dimensions of vocational education training (VET):

  • Entrepreneurship education (both in a pedagogical sense and in a more organisational sense – i.e. how school environments can influence internal communities by fostering entrepreneurial mindsets
  • Social inclusion (by aiming to improve employability and active citizenship)
  • Technology enhanced learning (to promote digital and AI supported learning)

VET in 3D is aimed at improving the competences of VET members of teaching staff with regards to innovative teaching methodologies. It also seeks to create more opportunities for Vocational Education Training organisations by sharing examples of best practice; the thematic seminars established by VET in 3D are open access. 

Mark Majewsky Anderson, Director of Research and Innovation at Glasgow Caledonian University, UK, discussed the role of universities in fostering social innovation. In the context of a higher education institution, the promotion of social innovation revolves around identifying and fostering ways that knowledge can be externalised, exploited and exchanged, refocusing innovation support on social needs, in order to create social value. 

Although not all universities yet have mechanisms to support this process, Mark explained how universities have a specific role to play in mediating between innovators and policy makers and in creating a social innovation ecosystem that offers support for: 

  • Capacity building
  • Mentoring training
  • Provision of spaces for networking
  • Selection and evaluation of expertise
  • Lobbying

He presented an Erasmus+ funded Knowledge Alliance project called SIKE, Social Innovation through Knowledge Exchange. The SIKE project has developed a platform where social innovators can establish a knowledge exchange linking up their projects with other social innovators in over 40 countries and over 340 universities/organisation and sharing best practice. It aims to facilitate the exchange, flow and co-creation of knowledge and stimulates social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial skills while developing innovative approaches to teaching and learning through its training programmes and online tools. 

Mark was asked how Universities might support social innovation more effectively. The first step is to establish institutional commitment by integrating social innovation into universities’ core mission. Senior buy-in can be secured by bringing in external funding and opening up to external partners. His view was that within five years all universities will have units dedicated to social innovation. 

Dr Melanie Sarantou, Adjunct Professor and Research Fellow at the University of Lapland, Finland, presented the work carried out through the Horizon 2020 funded Acting on the Margin: Arts as Social Sculpture (AMASS) project. The research carried out in the project focusses on how creative and artistic processes might contribute to societal change and to shaping policy development. The approach of AMASS is experimental: there are 35 artistic experiments in eight European countries (FI, SW, UK, PT, IT, MT, CZ, HU), which constitute the test beds for the different experimentations within AMASS. The project aims to create opportunities for people to work in the arts, with a focus on marginalised communities, and to use service design to harness societal innovation and create impact through policy recommendations by developing policy roadmaps. Through using co-design mechanisms, the project also aims to address the lack of assessment and rigour for measuring the impact of the arts in general, and on policies. 

The experiments are about understanding what works to further social inclusion, for example by understanding how to foster creative expression of marginalised communities through activism, ‘artivism’ and ‘craftivism.’ The experiments have shown that there is a potential for the arts but there are also drawbacks:  the arts are not similarly valued by all. The use of the arts in workshops requires more time and resources, can be seen as threatening by some people, and poses challenges for some participants who are not familiar with working on digital platforms.

All speakers agreed that the deep relationships that form during project collaborations are important and exciting, but that a long road lies ahead and much work remains to be done in order to raise awareness of social innovation practices and of the use of creative energy to impact on policy making.

You can access the presentations below and watch the recording of the webinar here.