La innovación social en servicios sociales en las comunidades autónomas de España. Un estudio empírico de las tendencias actuales.

Sandra Siria, Miguel Laparra


El concepto de innovación social forma ya parte habitual de los discursos académicos, profesionales y políticos de numerosas esferas de la actividad humana. Para conocer cómo se están aplicando las estrategias de innovación social en el contexto de los servicios sociales se ha desarrollado una investigación descriptiva para identificar y analizar cuantitativa y cualitativamente las actuaciones innovadoras en los servicios sociales en España entre 2016 y 2022. Los resultados permiten establecer una aproximación inicial sobre las líneas de actuación que se están considerando innovadoras en servicios sociales y valorar en qué medida están preconfigurando futuras transformaciones del conjunto del sistema.


Social innovation is a concept that is currently a regular part of political, academic, and professional discourses. One of the most widely used definitions is that of the European Commission (2013), which identifies it as “new ideas as products, services, and models to meet social needs and create new social relationships or collaborations. It represents new responses to pressing social demands, which affect the process of social interactions. It is aimed at social wellbeing. Social innovations are innovations that are social in both their ends and their means. They are innovations that are not only good for society but also enhance individuals’ capacity to act”. In general, it can be understood as any action in which people are involved with the aim of seeking different ways to satisfy social needs, although, depending on the field of action in which it is applied, the definition and the elements that comprise it may vary. This article will address social innovation in the framework of social services. Since the economic crisis of 2008, its use in the field of social policies has become widespread at European level. However, although social innovation in social services can be understood, in general terms, as all those transformations that respond to current socio-demographic and political challenges by modifying service policies and social relationships generating a real impact on the daily lives of citizens (Crepaldi et al., 2012), there is still a lack of uniqueness in its definition, as well as some criticism of labelling as innovative some actions that might not be so. The absence of a homogeneous positioning, therefore, makes it difficult to describe it and to establish criteria to distinguish between innovative actions and those which would not be innovative according to theoretical conceptualizations. Through this research, a theoretical review of the different approaches that have been made on this concept has been carried out to identify and analyze the practices that are being recognized as innovative in the field of the Spanish social services by relevant agents of the system, as well as the elements that characterize them. The empirical analysis has been carried out from a territorial perspective, which allows to compare the lines of action in terms of social innovation in social services that are being developed in each Spanish autonomous community. A descriptive research through documentary analysis has been carried out. The aims were to identify and to analyze quantitatively and qualitatively the innovative initiatives in social services in the Autonomous Communities of Spain between 2016 and 2022. A systematized search of those initiatives identified as innovative by relevant agents in social services was carried out through social innovation awards from public and private, national and international entities and through the websites of the departments responsible for social services of all the regional governments. Finally, 155 initiatives were included in the study. The variables that were collected from them were those related to the type of the entities that had promoted the initiatives, the field of social intervention, the target population group, the formal involvement of other protection systems, and the presence of theoretical elements that characterize social innovation. The results show an unequal territorial distribution of social innovation in social services. Of the 17 Autonomous Communities and two Autonomous Cities in which the Spanish territory is organized, some show an elevated number of recognitions while in three of them no innovative initiatives were found. Thus, it can be seen that some Autonomous Communities have developed a policy of promoting and/or disseminating social innovation through awards or through their own particular communication strategy. In this same line, we can also observe a greater dynamism towards social innovation in the different autonomous social services systems, which means that there are more entities that promote innovative projects and that also apply for the aforementioned awards obtaining the resulting recognition. It is also noteworthy that it is the social entities that have mostly implemented these innovative initiatives, while the initiatives from the public sector barely account for 33% of the sample. This trend is replicated fairly homogeneously in virtually all the Autonomous Communities. Regarding the field of intervention, there is a majority concentration in all the territories of initiatives in the field of inclusion with different population groups, but especially linked to sociolabour insertion. They are followed by initiatives in the field of dependency aimed at the elderly or at people with disabilities and, at a much lower level, those aimed at the field of children and families. With regard to the elements that characterize social innovation according to theoretical definitions, the person-centered care (PCC) model has been found to be widely used in all areas of social intervention. To a lesser extent, about one in four initiatives are guided by a community-based intervention approach or use new technologies. There seems to be an incipient tendency to promote and recognize as innovative: the integration of services or the interinstitutional collaborations, especially at the socio-health level; the processes of deinstitutionalization, particularly with people in situations of dependency; the development of initiatives in rural areas in response to their particular needs, promoting self-management and environmental sustainability; and the use of standardized instruments for intervention and evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of the initiatives. This research shows the actions that, in recent years, are being considered innovative in the Spanish autonomous social services systems and how these initiatives respond to the presence of one or more of the elements that are theoretically identified as social innovation. Here is an updated overview of how an innovation strategy is envisaged and what are the trends in the implementation of an innovation strategy at the regional level. However, the social services system as a whole needs a profound transformation that goes beyond specific actions if it is to meet the challenges it faces. In this regard, it has not been possible to identify a clear strategic line of development, scaling, and extension to the entire system of social services. The exploratory conclusions presented here allow us to progress in the reflection on the innovative potential of the initiatives and in the identification of the transformations that the social services system as a whole should face in the future. To achieve this, a strong determination on the part of the public administrations would be necessary since they are the ones who have the capacity to formulate changes at a structural level.

© Revista de estudios regionales 2014 Universidades Públicas de Andalucía