What is the aim of the project idea? What are the issues, problems, opportunities you want to address?
Three are the main protagonists of European Structural Funds policies for local development: public administrations, knowledge-production centres (universities and research centres) and businesses. As regards businesses, their role and contribution has largely been associated with the management line, because of their decision-making capacity. Hence, the contribution of workers to the decision-making process and to making investment choices has been very limited. Conversely, fostering innovation in terms of application of the products of knowledge requires the highest possible social consensus and involvement of all project stakeholders. Additionally, from the public administrations' side, as their ultimate mission is social welfare more than just the success of single projects, an increased involvement and dialogue with social partners would be desirable, with a view to foster vertical and horizontal cooperation among the local development stakeholders and the citizens, thereby promoting positive social innovation practices.
This model has actually already been applied through the Smart Specialisation Strategy (RIS3), which has enabled the definition of the ERDF operational programme contents. Despite the model is solidly based on the dialogue between different social partners (including the workers' representatives), the former has rarely been reproduced, even though the strategy has been designed to respond to the increasing changes in the working and production methods that have been advancing since the beginning of this century.
At this moment, the biggest issue with technological innovation is that at local level technology can bring economic development without actually resulting in an increased employment rate or improved common wealth. Even worse, because of the robotization process, technological innovation may even reduce the number of individuals employed, increase employment insecurity and job disparity. The most recent evolution in the working and production methods caused by technological innovation, globalization, and changed demographic phenomena, has opened space for reflection. The concept of work and probably of business, is changing. While in the past work used to be based on a mainly "work against salary" relation, the focus has now moved to the recognition of workers' autonomy and professionalism, thereby increasingly enlarging the gap between high-profile and low-profile jobs. Therefore, besides facing the issue of the quantity of jobs available, concern is growing regarding the quality of jobs, thereby challenging traditional schemes in terms of contracts, remunerations, organization of work, and to some extent even the traditional categories of employees and self-employed. Today's debate increasingly targets organizational models. They have become more flexible and less hierarchical because of the growing awareness that more direct involvement of workers will result in higher productivity levels. Hence, such new approach towards work has generated new methods and styles, such as teamwork, lesser hierarchy, an increased level of responsibility for the workers, but also greater recognition of their expertise by their employers and better awareness of the importance of lifelong learning. In this framework, the mediation role of the unions between employees and employers, which was historically aimed at obstructing and slowing down the immediate effects of technological innovation, is nowadays perceived by businesses as a threat. As it is clear, such scenario of unprecedented fragility in the industrial system ties requires a scheme revision for all stakeholders, including the unions. Programming decisions for local development, as well as area-specific interventions call for a full involvement of the workers' representatives. This approach has actually long been encouraged in the ESI funds programming and it has been specifically tackled in the 2014-2020 programming through a specific regulation - Commission Delegated Regulation EU n.240-2014 on the European code of conduct on partnership in the framework of the European Structural and Investment Funds -. Art.9 of the regulation specifically requires Member States to provide detailed information on "the planned actions to ensure the participation of the partners in the implementation of the programmes". Despite the rule, no satisfactory application seems to have been implemented by ESI funds managing authorities in the different Member States, especially as regards a desirable level of networking in the single interventions.
For the Regulation to find practical application, it is imperative to revise existing relations between decision-makers in Operational Programmes and local stakeholders, thus guaranteeing the effective implementation of the regulation. Among the stakeholders, the role of social partners proves to be crucial, with representatives of the business compartment on the one side and of the workers on the other side. Equally fundamental appears to be the institutions' capacity to promote connections and networking between all the stakeholders. As a matter of fact, this would guarantee providing the most appropriate and economically sustainable response to the different needs, thanks to their diversified competencies and expertise.
In this framework, because they represent the public interest and are responsible for the full application and implementation of structural funds, local public administrations should address solutions able to guarantee an adequate participation of all the stakeholders through the implementation of a social innovation process. In particular, social partners should be involved again in the discussion and negotiation process, starting from project design, so as to guarantee effective and positive changes in the social model and in the quality of life. Additionally, it seems imperative that such networking process as well as the negotiation between businesses and workers, does
address the actual beneficiaries of the investments. In such perspective, public administrations should promote and foster the development of new scenarios, participation practices and tools for the workers and their representatives both to business life and to their local territories, thanks to the implementation of such social innovation process. To reach this goal, not only public administrations, but all the local stakeholders will be required to innovate their practices and processes. Especially social partners will be called for an increased capacity to analyse social, economic and political events and to network and liaise with the relevant stakeholders according to their sense of society, social innovation and development. Such deep involvement in the negotiation process will result in increased decision-making power for the social partners, thereby triggering worthy social innovation processes at the different local levels. This social innovation may be an effective lever to enhance new models of sustainable development, as it is aimed at the general wellbeing of a territory from a holistic point of view and it is not limited to just the productive element. Thanks to social innovation, new ideas, products, services, models can be introduced, to better and more effectively meet social needs. This social innovation approach implies transformation in products (the services offered) and in processes (who and through which resources services are offered).
The subject of the social innovation practice, here proposed, has actually become particularly relevant in this phase of transition from the present to the next 2021-27 ERDF programming period when question of contents and implementation methods began only just to be undertaken.
Taking into account the previously mentioned social challenges, the DIALOG partners from X regions and nations intend to face it together in the context of their innovative investment carried out within their 2014-20 ERDF or ESF OP or present local development programme
Thank to this project their objective is to improve the effectiveness of regional development policies through the creation of a networking, negotiation and exchange model that can involve all the local stakeholders, not only in the design, but also in the implementation stages of local interventions. This will be done through the activation of an effective social innovation model based on valuable networking among all the stakeholders, to include decision-makers, operators and beneficiaries.
What are the planned activities and expected results?
Europe is has made a number of experiences in the innovation field, including social dialogue and partnership. Despite that, such variety is likely to remain unknown, if experiences are not analysed, enhanced and disseminated. It will therefore be imperative to firstly research, in different local contexts, all the most significant experiments having triggered innovation processes that are aimed at defining new forms of multi-stakeholder and multi-level governance and a more consistent involvement of local actors in directing and implementing interventions, in particular those financed by ERDF funds.
In this framework the following project activities will be implemented:
Identification and analysis of the strengths and weaknesses each project partner is facing in the implementation of the policy instruments proposed;
On the base of the results of the previous analysis, detection of the best practices which, referring to the implementation of the policy instruments envisaged by each partner, are characterized by high levels of discussion, involvement and responsibility of the local actors, including civil society;
Modelling the best practices in order to make them easily transferable among partners and involvement of relevant stakeholders in the region potentially contributing to the success in project activities;
Implementation of a transnational benchmarking of the best practices identified;
Definition of a social innovation model based on pre-selected best practices and aimed at making the participation and contribution of social partners and representatives of civil society in the implementation of the policy instruments more effective;
Circulation, discussion and sharing of this social innovation model among partners and relevant stakeholders involved in the implementation of the policy instruments considered;
On the basis of the results of this process, definition, at the different local levels of the project partners, of action plans aimed at improving the policy instruments considered thanks to the innovation model chosen. The measures to be implemented of each actions plan will be developed taking into account the specific competencies gained thanks to the exchange of experiences and best practices among the stakeholder who have had a potential or effective role in the implementation of programming in those territories;
In order to ensure the sustainability of the project results, a permanent "platform" of exchange, collaboration and learning will be implemented. This platform has the aim of improving the implementation of the social innovation model defined above, by circulating it among the stakeholders of the territory involved of each participating region. Monitoring and evaluation of the proposed project.
The main project results can be summarized as follows:
a) strengthening the social partners' and civil society representatives' participation to the decision-making process and implementation of innovative investment projects for the different partner regions;
b) implementation of Action Plans in each partner region aimed at strengthening the role, skills and participation capacity of the social partners and civil society in the definition and implementation of the policy instruments to which this project addressed and as recalled under the OP ERDF 2014-20 of the project partners;
c) setting up a permanent "platform" of exchange, collaboration and learning aimed at strengthening the role, skills and participation capacity of the social partners and civil society representatives in the regions involved in the implementation of the present ERDF innovative investments and the definition of those that will be carried out within the operational programmes 2021-27.
d) increasing cross collaboration and cross fertilisation in the implementation of the social innovation model developed by the project also in relation to other policy issues and instruments of the ERDF 2014-20 OP of the project partners;
e) improving the social partners and civil society representatives capacity to effectively contribute to the definition of the planning and implementation of the ESI Funds for the period 2021-20Proposer